11 Best National Parks to Visit in October to Add to Your Fall Bucket List

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October is one of the most beautiful months of the year, kicking off the start of crisp temperatures and Mother Nature’s annual finale of fall colors. With lower crowds, more active wildlife, and the start of sweater weather, it’s also the perfect time to explore the great outdoors. 

Here are 11 of the best national parks to visit in October to make sure you’ll have the most epic outdoor adventures this fall.

woman hiking on the heather maple pass loop trail in washington

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1. Acadia National Park

  • Location: Acadia is located here on Mount Desert Island, along the scenic coast of Maine.
  • Entrance Fee: $30 for a private vehicle for one week. You also need vehicle reservations to drive along Cadillac Summit Road for most of October.
Tip: I want to flag that almost all of the parks cost between $30-35 per vehicle for a weekly pass. Alternatively, if you plan on going to a few national parks within a year’s span, I’d highly recommend picking up an America the Beautiful pass, which you can pick up here, that provides unlimited access to all of the U.S. National Parks, in addition to National Forests and other federally managed lands for just $80! 
  • Where to stay: If you’re looking for a cozy fall retreat, the charming Sand Bar Cottage Inn, in Bar Harbor, Maine, is the quintessential New England bed and breakfast, with in-room fireplaces, afternoon tea, and friendly staff that have an encyclopedic amount of knowledge about Acadia.
Woman hiking up the Beehive Trail in Acadia National Park in October

Acadia is one of the best national parks to visit in October, providing arguably the most epic fall foliage displays in the entire country.

You can take in the views of the colorful leaves along one of the many hiking trails in Acadia, with plenty of options for everyone from a beginner to a more technical hiker. 

For a short and flat hike, stroll around Jordan Pond along the park’s southern border. Here, you’ll find spectacular autumn colors, especially on the northern side of the trail.

If you’re looking for something more adrenaline-inducing, two of the best Acadia hikes, the Beehive Trail and the Precipice Trail, are both known for being more on the daredevil-y side and are definitely best suited for those comfortable with heights. 

For example, along the Beehive Trail, you’ll scale a series of steep cliff faces, climbing a series of iron rungs and skirting along narrow rock ledges. All of that work, though, is worth it for the views, with vistas of the surrounding beach and bay, plus the Acadia coastline and small islands in the distance! Beyond the adrenaline rush you’ll get from completing this (sometimes sketchy) hike, you’ll also be afforded one of the best autumn foliage views.

The weather in October is perfect for a fall hike, with daytime highs in the low 60s. Just be sure to pack some layers to keep you nice and cozy in the early mornings or in the evening (I love my Patagonia fleece zip-up!). 

Woman standing by lake in Acadia National Park in October

Recommended by David & Intan at The World Travel Guy

2. Yosemite National Park  

  • Location: Yosemite is located here, two hours north of Fresno, California or three hours and 15 minutes east of San Francisco.
  • Entrance Fee: $35 for a private vehicle for a week
  • Where to stay: The rustic Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite, about 25 miles outside of the park’s westernmost entrance in the town of Groveland, is the perfect place to embrace sweater weather, with vintage cabins, an outdoor hot tub, and a whole deck, just dedicated to watching the sunset (this is my kinda place!).
Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park in October

Yosemite is one of the best hidden gems for seeing stunning fall foliage around mid-October. While most of the trees are evergreen, like its famed massive sequoias, there’s still plenty of deciduous trees, like big-leaf maples and black oaks, to turn the Yosemite Valley a dazzling golden hue.

For the best views of the park’s autumn colors, be sure to explore some of the hikes in the Valley, like Mirror Lake or the Valley Loop trail. While its iconic waterfalls will have slowed to a trickle this late in the year, the vibrant fall foliage more than makes up for it!

And best of all? The chaotic summer crowds have died down, allowing you to actually enjoy the majestic views of popular spots, like Inspiration Point, and score things like parking spots (which are a REAL commodity in the summer) and affordable accommodations. Plus if you’re trying to snag one of Yosemite’s coveted hiking or backpacking permits, like the famed Half Dome (which should be on everyone’s California bucket list!), you’ll have a much better shot during the park’s low season.

Yosemite National Park in October

There is a discernible shift in the weather, come October, with cooler temperatures and low-hanging fog rolling into the Valley. This just makes Yosemite that much more photogenic, though!

While you’re in the area, consider heading to the nearby ski town of Mammoth Lakes, tucked in the Sierra Nevadas east of Yosemite. While the mountain views are spectacular here, the plentiful natural hot springs in Mammoth Lakes are an incredible way to soak in all those cozy fall vibes.

Recommended by JJ from The Minivan Bucket List

3. North Cascades National Park

  • Location: North Cascades, located here, is tucked along the northern border of Washington, about three hours northeast of Seattle. 
  • Entrance fee: Freeeee!
  • Where to stay: For a kitschy complement to your outdoor adventures, stay in the charming town of Winthrop, an old gold rush town from the 1800s that’s maintained many of its antique wooden boardwalks and old time-y facades. The Sun Mountain Lodge is the perfect mixture of rustic and bougie, with stunning mountain views, suites with fireplaces, and a hot tub overlooking the dramatic peaks of the Cascades.
Woman standing near Lewis Lake in North Cascades National Park in fall

Come October, certain parts of Washington descend into excited fervor about an annual event- the adorably named “Larch Madness.” Enthusiastic leaf peepers eagerly await the changing of the larches, a unique coniferous tree, found on alpine slopes, that turn brilliant gold before its needles fall off for the winter. 

For some incredible larch sightings and jaw-dropping mountain views, head to the Heather Maple Pass Loop trail, where you’ll climb through grove after grove of larches, past meadows of autumnal wildflowers, and reach the top of a mountain pass, with nothing but a sea of snow-capped peaks stretching on in every direction.

Another excellent option is the Blue Lake Trail, where you’ll climb to the shores of a stunningly blue alpine lake, surrounded by larches and sitting in the shadow of a dramatically rugged mountain peak. 

Woman sitting by the Blue Lake trail in the North Cascades in October

While larch hikes are primarily located on the eastern side of the park, there’s still plenty of jaw-dropping trails with fall foliage on the western side of the park. For example, you’ll walk through dazzling shades of gold, orange, and scarlet along the Yellow Aster Butte trail, with the spectacular Mount Baker as your backdrop.

The weather is perfectly crisp for hiking up enormous mountains, usually reaching the low 50s in the daytime. Pack along a warm jacket and beanie and lean into that beloved sweater weather! 

4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Location: The park, located here, straddles the borders of both Tennessee and North Carolina.
  • Entrance Fee: Free (woohoo!)
  • Where to stay: The Appy Lodge, a locally-owned and operated hotel in the nearby town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, offers complimentary breakfast, indoor and outdoor pools, and excellent proximity to the national park (just half a mile away!).
Blue Ridge Parkway in October

Great Smoky Mountains is renowned as being one of the best national parks in fall, thanks to its colorful fall foliage that bursts to life in early October at the park’s higher elevations. Throughout the month of October, the leaves continue to become more brilliant and reach their peak vibrancy in mid-October through early November.

The park’s beauty in the fall is no secret, though- some 1.2 million visitors typically visit the park in October! So, if you can swing it, try to visit during the week to avoid the crowds and enjoy the jaw-dropping colors in peace. 

Exploring Cade’s Cove is one of the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains. This sprawling 6,800 acre valley offers plentiful wildlife and tons of interesting historic buildings, which still remain from when the first European settlers arrived here in the early 1800s. After you take a peek at the rustic log cabins and old schoolhouse (which look especially Instagrammable with the colorful mountains as their backdrop), hit the Laurel Falls trail, a 2.6-mile round trip hike to an 80-foot tall waterfall spilling dramatically over a rocky cliff.

Come October, you’ll also get to witness the elk rutting season, where the massive bull elk (which can weigh up to 700 pounds!) loudly bugle to both intimidate other males in the area as well as attract cows into his harem, which can be as large as 20 cows. The best place to observe this fascinating behavior is in the bucolic meadows of the Cataloochee Valley

If you’d rather get a birds-eye view of the park, carve out time to stop at the Clingman’s Dome overlook, which sits at 6,643 feet and is the tallest point in the Smokies and the third highest point east of the Mississippi. From this vantage point, you’ll have unparalleled panoramas of the surrounding mountains and their vibrant fall colors.

The temperatures in October are perfect for hiking, with highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s. However, it’s not uncommon to experience a rain shower sprinkled in there, so be sure to bring along a warm rain jacket (like this one for women and this one for men). On the bright side, the low-hanging clouds and misty weather make the rolling mountains, blanketed by the vibrant fall colors, that much more beautiful!

Recommended by Victoria of Southern Trippers

5. Everglades National Park

  • Location: The Everglades are located here, with a 1.5 million acre footprint along the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. 
  • Entrance fee: $30 for private vehicle for 7 days
  • Where to stay: Conveniently located near the park in the nearby Everglades City, Everglades Adventures Hotel Suites by Ivey House offers surprisingly spacious rooms, and nice perks, like free bike rentals and activities, like an Everglades kayaking tour.
Alligator in Everglades National Park

While the swampy marshes and wetlands of the Everglades may not be the first place that comes to mind in the fall, it’s truly one of the best national parks to visit in October. 

The daily summer rainstorms have passed, and the heat and humidity are much lower making outdoor adventures way more comfortable. And bonus — hurricane season has finally come to an end (hurray!). 

All of that summer rain over the last several months has had a huge impact on the Everglades. The higher water level makes for an ideal ecosystem for its most famous resident, the Everglades alligator. And while you’ll have the best chance of spotting West Indian manatees if you visit during the winter in Florida, you may just get lucky and spot one in the autumn, as they start migrating to land to escape the cooling ocean waters.

In addition to the marine wildlife, you can also spot a variety of bird species that have not yet migrated to their winter homes, including several species of herons, egrets, and osprey. 

For the best chance of spotting animals, hike one of the many raised boardwalk trails through the marshland, giving you an birds’-eye view into the murky water below or take one of the park’s famed airboat tours.  

Walkway in Everglades National Park

Be sure to pack a pair of binoculars and lots of insect repellent. While manatees grace the Everglades’ waters for just a short period of time each year, the bugs are unfortunately year round residents.

Recommended by Lori of Naples Florida Travel Guide

6. Glacier National Park

  • Location: Glacier, located here, butts up against the Canadian border in Northwestern Montana.
  • Entrance fee: $35 per vehicle for one week
  • Where to stay: The Great Northern Resort, on the west side of the park in West Glacier, is the perfect place for a hygge getaway, with five log cabins and firepits to snuggle up around in the evening.

Glacier is one of the most popular parks in the U.S. National Park system, thanks to its jaw-dropping mountainscapes and active wildlife. And, while it’s one of the best national parks in fall, come October, you’ll largely have the park to yourself. In relative solitude, you can take in the changing colors of the maples, aspens, and larches that dot the Rockies’ dramatic slopes and spot the elk and moose that are coming out of the highlands to find a mate. 

For one of the world’s most scenic drives, cruise along the epic Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile pathway that’s literally carved up and into the mountains, past alpine lakes and meadows aflame with their autumnal color. Along the way, you can stop to hike some of the park’s incredible trails, like Avalanche Lake or the Hidden Lake Overlook, to take in the sweeping mountain views.

October is an excellent time to spot wildlife in the park, like grizzly bears preparing for winter hibernation and the bighorn sheep, deer, and other ungulates in the midst of their rutting season. One of the best places to spot these critters is along the Looking Glass Highway, within the Blackfeet Reservation on the east side of the park. 

Cabin in Glacier National Park in fall

Weather in Glacier can be a bit unpredictable throughout the year, but especially in shoulder seasons, like October, where you may experience snow, sunshine, rain and wind all in the same day. Many of the park’s higher elevation hikes and roads close as early as mid-October, depending on the year’s snowfall, so plan your trip for the beginning half of the month for the best experience exploring the Crown Jewel of the Continent.

7. Big Bend National Park

  • Location: Big Bend is located here, right along the border of Mexico in southwestern Texas.
  • Entrance fee: $30 per vehicle for 7 days
  • Where to stay: Approximately 25 minutes west of the park, Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa acts as an oasis in the rugged desert of western Texas. After your exploration of the national park, consider booking a massage or simply relaxing by the pool, which offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
Big Bend National Park in October

Bursting at the seams with unique wildlife, jaw-dropping fall backdrops, and some of the most untouched vistas in the National Park system, Big Bend is one of the best National Parks to visit in October. 

Fall is an incredible time to visit Big Bend- for one, the spectacular wildflowers, like jimsonweed and Jacob’s ladders, carpeting its meadows are still in their primary blooming season. 

The park cools off considerably in October, with average daytime highs in the low 80s. These mild temperatures are ideal for hiking, especially given that, during most of the year, visitors are encouraged to stay off the trail after 10 AM due to the extreme heat.

With the cooler weather, it’s the perfect time to soak in Boquillas Hot Springs, a cozy geothermal spring in the Rio Grande itself! 

Additionally, the park’s wildlife is more active in cooler temperatures, with everything from black bears to mountain lions, javelinas, and road runners meandering through the park. For the best chance of spotting a new furry friend, try heading to the Lost Mine, Emory Peak, and South Rim Trails, especially at dawn or dusk.

After your day’s adventures, save some energy to go stargazing in the evening. Big Bend is a certified International Dark Sky Park and enjoys the least amount of light pollution out of any other National Park in the lower 48 states. Crane your neck upward and you’ll have a great shot of spotting the Milky Way glittering overhead.

Night sky in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is one of the most remote parks in the United States, so it’s crucial you come prepared. Make sure you have enough gas in your car, bring lots of water (my husband and I always carry these giant Nalgene bottles for just this kind of occasion!), make sure you have all the day hiking essentials in your bag, and download offline maps before you hit the trails.

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8. Mount Rainier National Park

  • Location: Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain in the Cascades, is located here, two and a half hours southeast of Seattle, Washington.
  • Entrance fee: $30 per vehicle for a one-week pass
  • Where to stay: Paradise Village is less than a 10 minute drive from the Nisqually entrance of Rainier, plus offers a wood-burning hot tub! Can you get more cozy than that?
Mount Rainier National Park in October

Towering at 14,411 feet tall, Mount Rainier is known for its gargantuan size, as well as its stunning fields of wildflowers. Come October, the technicolor blooms and shrubs carpeting its rolling hills turn flaming shades of red, orange, and yellow. It feels like you’re walking through some kind of autumnal Candyland!

One of the best Mount Rainier hikes to experience its fall beauty is the Skyline Trail, which climbs up the southern face of Rainier, with in-your-face views of the Nisqually Glacier, and loops back down its rocky slopes through fields of vibrant magenta paintbrush flowers and elderberries. Alternatively, Naches Peak Loop is another one of the best fall hikes in Mount Rainier, winding past two stunning alpine lakes and through thickets of shrubs aflame in their fall colors, as Rainier towers overhead. 

Woman hiking along autumnal foliage in Mount Rainier National Park in October

For a lower impact option, consider driving the Chinook Scenic Byway, a 107-mile drive that snakes through Rainier and the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, taking you past rushing waterfalls, ancient glaciers, and some of the Cascade Mountains’ most spectacular fall colors. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife along the way- much like many of the other alpine parks, you’ll have a good chance of spotting (or maybe even hearing!) elk, bear, and deer en route.

The weather cools down quite a bit in October, with daytime highs in the park in the mid- to upper-50s, so be sure to bring along some cozy layers. Because of the mountain’s eye-popping elevation, parts of the park start receiving heavy snowfall towards the end of October, so I’d recommend planning your trip towards the beginning of October to truly see Rainier at its autumnal peak!

Woman hiking along the Naches Peak Loop trail in Rainier in October

9. Grand Teton National Park

  • Location: Grand Teton is located here, in the dramatic Rockies of northwestern Wyoming.
  • Entrance fee: $35 per vehicle for a seven-day pass (free with an America the Beautiful Pass)
  • Where to stay: The Wyoming Inn of Jackson Hole is exactly what you picture when you imagine an old Western lodge, with heavy furniture hand-carved with bighorn sheep, enormous roaring fireplaces, and super comfortable beds to crash in after your day’s adventure!
Moulton Barn in Grand Teton National Park in October

Grand Teton National Park is a breathtaking park year-round, but, come October, the park really shines. Its aspens are at their autumnal peak, turning brilliant shades of yellow and gold, which look even more stunning against the jagged peaks of the Tetons. Additionally, early October is moose mating season and they become much more active and easy to spot as you drive through the park.

One of the best ways to explore Grand Teton is to drive the 42-mile Scenic Loop Drive. Driving the loop takes just a few hours, but with all the awesome stops, scenic viewpoints, and overlooks, you could easily spend a whole day completing the drive. 

For something a bit more active, consider going on one of the incredible hikes in the park. For an easy trail, Moose Ponds is gorgeous and, true to its name, one of the best places to spot moose in October. Just be sure to keep your distance from bull moose, who can weigh up to 1,500 pounds and be a tad on the aggressive side whilst he looks for a mate. Alternatively, hike the epic Delta Lake trail, a challenging and steep hike to a milky blue lake, sitting in the shadow of a cartoonishly jagged mountain. Given the Tetons are home to both grizzly and black bears, who will be aggressively preparing for hibernation, it’s important to bring along bear spray for all your outdoor adventures.

Grand Teton National Park in October

Weather in Grand Teton can be quite fickle- while most of the park usually stays open through October, the park can get snow on the early side, depending on the year. So I’d recommend booking your trip towards the beginning of October to ensure you get to see Grand Teton in all its glory!

Recommended by Erin of Super Simple Salty Life

10. Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Location: Rocky Mountain National Park is found less than an hour and a half northwest of Denver, making it an easy (and incredibly scenic) drive from the city.
  • Entrance fee: $30 for a private vehicle for one week, plus an entry permit if you’re visiting in the first couple weeks of October
  • Where to stay: The Estes Park Resort, in the neighboring town of Estes Park, is the only accommodation on Lake Estes, allowing you to explore the water by kayak or canoe and keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife along the shoreline, like elk or bighorn sheep. If it’s a bit too chilly for that, there’s outdoor fire pits to get your s’mores on!
Aspens in October in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park in October is spectacular, thanks to its unmatched fall foliage. While the park’s rolling mountains are ablaze with vibrant reds and oranges, the park is best known for its abundance of aspen trees, which turn a shocking shade of brilliant gold. 

For some of the best views in the park, drive the Trail Ridge Road, which holds the title of both the highest paved road in any national park and the highest continuously paved road in North America. From the road’s eye-popping vantage point (with its highest point 12,183 feet above sea level), you’ll get absolutely incredible views of the park’s foliage from above. Note, however, that the road can close as early as mid-October, depending on what kind of snow the park’s higher elevation receives. 

You can also experience some of Rocky Mountains’ spectacular fall colors by hitting any of its amazing trails. The trails to both Loch Vale and Deer Mountain are speckled with golden aspen and provide you a chance of spotting a new elk friend or two.

Speaking of new elk friends, fall in Rocky Mountain National Park is also a great time to spot these massive creatures. From the beginning to mid-October, hundreds of elk migrate down from the highlands to lower elevations, like Hidden Valley, to find their mate for the winter. It’s quite a sight to see hundreds of bugling bull elk, all with the background of the dramatic Rocky Mountains in their peak fall colors. 

Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in October

The weather starts to cool down quite a bit in October, with daytime highs in the mid- to upper-50s. Be sure to bring along some cozy layers- I’m all about these packable puffer jackets (here’s one for men and one for women), which are super easy to toss in your luggage and will keep you nice and toasty on the trail.

Recommended by Krystianna from Volumes & Voyages

11. Shenandoah National Park

  • Location: Shenandoah is located here, about 45 minutes west of Charlottesville, Virginia.
  • Entrance fee: $30 per private vehicle for one week
  • Where to stay: About 10 miles outside of the park’s Thornton Gap entrance, the Mimslyn Inn is a sprawling historic manor, with heavy wood furniture and an art-deco inspired bar. They apparently host murder mystery weekends here and I can TOTALLY see why. It’s the perfect respite during spooky season!
Sunset at Shenandoah National Park in October

Shenandoah’s fall foliage is at its peak in October, with rolling mountains covered in hues of oranges, yellows, and reds. 

To peep those leaves, consider cruising down the scenic Skyline Drive or stopping at any of the best overlooks in Shenandoah, like Point Overlook. This viewpoint, found between mile markers 55 and 56, offers a birds eye view of the fall colors carpeting the surrounding mountain peaks. There’s a little “hidden” pathway here, between a gap in the wall, which leads to a rocky outcropping with panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains, away from all the crowds.

Alternatively, exploring one of the park’s awesome hiking trails is another great way to experience the fall here. The Hawksbill Summit trail leads you to the highest point in the park, at over 4,000 feet of elevation, offering a unique vantage point to enjoy the fall colors.

Fall in Shenandoah is marked with crisp temperatures, with daytime highs in the upper 50s. With the cooler weather, you’ll have a better chance of spotting wildlife, including white-tail deer and black bear, which will be frantically scavenging to put on as much weight as possible before hibernation. If you’d like to see some new animal friends, your best bet will be to come to the park early, when the animals are at their most active. Beyond the increased wildlife sightings, you’ll also beat the crowds of fellow leaf peepers!

Shenandoah National Park in the fall

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Fall is the most beautiful time of the year- I hope you get to experience October in one of the many incredible national parks! Do you have any questions about visiting these parks in October or are there any parks that I need to add to my fall bucket list? Sound off in the comments below!

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