By Andrew Attilio, Contributing Blogger
If you are looking to take a scenic vacation this fall, look no further than the United States national parks. With diminished crowds and cooling weather, this is an opportune time of year to discover beautiful landscapes and watch the foliage explode with color. Fall is also a wonderful time to hike without dealing with the heat of summer, and the national parks are full of immersive trail systems. Let’s explore a few ideal national parks for a fall road trip.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Tennessee
For an unbelievable display of fall colors, make sure to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee. This rolling landscape is home to nearly 100 species of trees, most of which are deciduous and drop their foliage in the fall months. During early to mid-October—at elevations above 4,000 feet—visitors are treated to a warm array of autumnal foliage when overlooking the vast forest. It is recommended to arrive early in the month of October to beat the cold temperatures and influx of visitors.
Grand Teton National Park - Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park, located in northwestern Wyoming, is another great place to experience stunning fall colors as the foliage changes with the cooling temperatures. The change in scenery usually begins in mid-September and lasts until early October, so plan to arrive earlier in the season. Make sure to travel to Oxbow Bend for a magnificent view of Mount Moran reflecting off the calm waters of Snake River. This famous corner of Glacier National Park is rich with fall colors in late September and will reward any traveler with a peaceful and breathtaking vista.
For stunning views of the jagged Teton Range peaks, make sure to head south along Snake River to Schwabacher Landing. There are hiking trails that follow the banks of Snake River, where there is an abundance of wildlife, including beaver activity such as dams and lodges.
Glacier National Park - Montana
Uniquely scenic, especially in the fall season, Glacier National Park is a wonderful vacation spot. Because of the variety of trees found in Glacier, there are multiple waves of fall colors that occur during the season. The aspen changes first, starting in mid-September, while forests of western larch start to shift in mid-October. This warm display of fall leaves is complemented by the beautiful landscape, which can be viewed perfectly from the summit of Big Mountain. It is about 8 miles to hike to the summit, but once there, visitors are rewarded with an expansive view of the land and the red, orange, and yellow foliage.
Grand Canyon National Park - Arizona
If you are looking to escape the cold weather and enjoy a sunnier vacation this fall, Grand Canyon National Park is the perfect place to visit. This northern Arizona landmark treats visitors to awe-inspiring views of its expansive canyons, while offering daytime temperatures around 80 degrees in early autumn. This is also one the best times of the year to hike inside and around the canyon.
There are plenty of trails and guided tours that take visitors to unforgettable places inside the hollowed landscape. The most visited is the South Rim trail, where hikers can trek along the southern canyon rim and take in the unbelievably vast scenery. Along the South Rim, there are also many trailheads that lead down into the canyon, but be careful to only choose one that works with your skill level. Any trail that leads into the canyon will require much more work when hiking back out, so make sure you know what you are getting into before committing to one.
According to the National Park Service, over 250 people are rescued from the canyon every year, and most cases are due to poor preparation. Trekking into the Grand Canyon is an amazing experience, but only when done safely!
Zion National Park - Utah
Just across the northern border of Arizona and into Utah is Zion National Park, a world-renowned landscape known for its majestic canyon formations and stunning water features. The park is full of hiking trails that allow travelers to experience its many scenic landmarks, and the fall season is the perfect time to explore in cool, comfortable weather. Angels Landing is a famous hike known for its amazing views of Zion Canyon. The 5.4 mile trail takes hikers on a climb up the eastern wall of the canyon through a series of switchbacks known as "Walter's Wiggles." Once through, hikers have the opportunity to ascend a narrow 500-vertical-foot ridge that leads to the legendary summit. Hikers brave enough to make this trek are rewarded with 360-degree panoramic views from over 1,000 feet above the canyon floor.