The Best National Parks for Fall Foliage—and When to Visit Them for Peak Leaf-Peeping

·5 min read
Moose in autumn forest reflection
Moose in autumn forest reflection

Wayne Boland / Getty

As the summer gradually transitions to fall, the beauty that comes with the new season includes everything from crisp temperatures to changing leaves. The latter is always a sight to see each year, as lush green trees get tints of red, orange, and yellow all around. Even though this transformation happens nearly at the same time every autumn, it never gets old—especially when you visit new spots to take in all of the fall foliage. If you're in search of different views outside of those around your neighborhood, taking a trip to the most scenic national parks across the United States is your next best bet.

Related: The Best Road Trip Routes to See All of the U.S. National Parks

Shenandoah National Park

Virginia's Shenandoah National Park is filled with over 100 expansive miles of countryside. And as autumn approaches, the foliage across the landscape turns into stunning red, orange, and yellow hues. The best time to see the stunning sight is from September through October. This national park also has a fall color webcam that shows the changing leaves virtually on a week-to-week basis through the peak of the season.

shenandoah national park
shenandoah national park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Mid-October to early November is the best timeframe to pay a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see fall foliage. Embedded in the Appalachian mountains across North Carolina and Tennessee, the array of over 100 tree species—such as sugar maple, scarlet oak, and sweetgum—change from green to yellow, orange, red, and even purple hues. The best views of the 4,000 miles of foliage are from mid to lower elevations, as this is where the leaves reach their peak.

great smoky mountains national park
great smoky mountains national park

Yosemite National Park

While Yosemite National Park is known for its popular waterfalls—such as Vernal, Nevada, and Bridalveil—it also gets some shine during fall for its foliage. The peak season is in mid-October for this California park, as trees like big-leaf maples and Pacific dogwoods slowly begin to change to orange-like tints.

yosemite national park
yosemite national park

Olympic National Park

By mid-October, the trees that are typically coated with green moss in Olympic National Park are covered with a mix between red, orange, and yellow leaves. The transformation begins in mid-September at higher elevations in this area along Washington State's Pacific coastline.

olympic national park
olympic national park

Hot Springs National Park

If you love traveling to Hot Springs National Park to go on a hike or stay on the campgrounds, make sure to stop by the Arkansas hot spot during autumn to take in the scenic foliage, too. In general, leaves change colors in the northern parts of the state by early October. By the end of the month through November, all areas of the state, including the central region—which is where all 26 miles of the national park is located—are beaming with beautiful fall-centric hues.

hot springs national park
hot springs national park

Grand Teton National Park

In the heart of Jackson, Wyo., lies Grand Teton National Park, which features a lakefront view of the sweeping mountain landscape. In early September through mid-October, the locale is typically filled with fall foliage, but it also depends on the weather. If the temperatures are too low or if it rains too much, it could wash out the vibrancy of the leaves (which thrive in mild temperatures and ample sunlight) or knock them down altogether.

grand teton national park
grand teton national park

Congaree National Park

Aside from paddling through the Cedar Creek during the autumn in central South Carolina, you can find peak fall foliage from the end of October until early November at Congaree National Park. This region is filled with yellow hues during the mild season (it's usually around 70 degrees on average during that time of year).

congaree national park
congaree national park

Capitol Reef National Park

Starting in late September, the leaf colors will begin changing to orange-like hues until around the end of October at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. The best colors, though, appear in early October every year.

capital reef national park
capital reef national park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

If you're in the Ohio area come autumn, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of the best areas to see the changing leaves. This park features its best fall foliage during the third week of October. Once the daylight decreases and the temperatures drop—ultimately leading to frost that coats the leaves—once it gets closer to winter, the foliage will start to decrease.

Cuyahoga valley national park
Cuyahoga valley national park

Glacier National Park

You'll be able to catch a couple of peak fall foliage periods at Utah's Glacier National Park. Across the 1500-plus square miles in this region, cottonwood and aspen trees—usually spotted along the rivers—transform first into yellow and orange hues at low elevations around mid-September. By October, the second installment of fall foliage can be seen with the array of western larch, also known as the "Tamarack," that get a golden touch to their appearance.

glacier national park
glacier national park

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve

Even the chilliest areas across the United States can see changes in foliage—including Alaska. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park has an expansive 13.2 million acres of land in the south-central area in the state, which includes fall colors changing from late August to early September.

wrangell st elias national park
wrangell st elias national park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park spans across Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho with over 3,500 square miles to its name. It doesn't have many trees on the landscape, however, the shrubs and extensive grassland changes into golden hues every year, typically around the last week of September until the first week of October.

yellowstone national park
yellowstone national park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Take a trip to the scenic Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy fall foliage at a high altitude. The Colorado park has over 415 square miles of aspen trees and shrubs that eventually turn into orange, yellow, red, and brown landscape before snowfall.

rocky mountain national park
rocky mountain national park