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Fall is a Beautiful Time to #FindYourPark

9 National Parks for Fall Hiking - The CloudLine Blog

Fall is upon us once again, with its crisp air, warm drinks, and cozy atmosphere. But fall isn’t just about drinking spiced tea in your favorite sweater - though we love that too. Fall is, without a doubt, one of the best times to visit and explore your favorite national parks.

While it’s definitely the summertime that draws the crowds to these bucket list destinations, fall brings unparalleled scenery and perfect hiking weather. Plus, with fewer people on the trail, fall is the perfect time to find some solitude in some of the most iconic national parks.


Not sure where to go? Read on for our list of 9 amazing national parks for fall hiking, and our trail recommendation for each.

1. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Best National Parks for Fall Hiking - The CloudLine Blog

Here at Cloudline, Mount Rainier is in our backyard. Towering over the city of Seattle, Mount Rainier’s snowcapped peak is a constant inspiration to get outside. In the fall, the valleys and meadows explode with color against the brilliant white summit of this 14,000-foot volcano. Thinning crowds and our favorite local hikes make this park a given our list of fall favorites.


When to visit: Late September

Recommended fall hike: Visit Reflection Lakes before the Stevens Canyon Road closes at the end of September, and get a chance to see Mount Rainier - and the gorgeous fall colors - reflected in the lakes. The Lakes Trail takes you on a 3-mile round trip loop through the Reflection Lakes area.


2. Glacier National Park, Montana

11 National Parks for Fall Hiking - The CloudLine Blog

Glacier consistently tops hikers’ lists of favorite national parks. The jagged mountains, alpine lakes, and impressive wildlife make it a scenic choice in every season - and fall is no exception. When the leaves start to change in late September, you can marvel as the mountainsides turn gold and reflect in the still mountain lakes.


When to visit: Late September

Recommended fall hike: The Sun Point Nature Trail is a great short hike to catch stunning views of Saint Mary Lake and its surrounding peaks, with golden aspens lining the lower flanks of the mountains. The walk is quick and easy, but give yourself time to linger along the shore of the lake and bask in the autumn beauty.


3. Yosemite National Park, California

11 National Parks for Fall Hiking - The CloudLine Blog

Yosemite National Park isn’t known for huge swaths of color, but it’s still one of the best parks to visit during the fall. Temperatures remain balmy in Yosemite Valley well into the season, and you’ll find more fall color here than in the surrounding high country. From the valley floor, look for the bright oranges and reds of the maples and oaks reflecting in the glassy Merced River.


When to visit: Mid-October

Recommended fall hike: The Yosemite Valley Loop Trail gives you a taste of rare solitude in Yosemite’s most popular area. The 11-mile loop (or 7-mile “half” loop) takes you along the banks of the Merced River and to viewpoints of Yosemite’s most iconic features.


4. Zion National Park, Utah

11 National Parks for Fall Hiking - The CloudLine Blog 

Zion is a colorful park any time of year. Pink, red, and dusty brown sandstone cliffs contrast with the verdant river bottoms and turquoise blue water. Fall only adds to the magic, with brightly colored aspens and cottonwoods shimmering in yellow and gold. Add the gorgeous foliage to the cooling desert air, and fall is the perfect time for a hike in this Southwestern park.


When to visit: Late October

Recommended fall hike: The Canyon Overlook Trail is a quick, 1-mile round trip hike to a stunning overlook of Zion Canyon. Get one of the best views in the park without the sweat-inducing thrill (and possible dangerous, slippery conditions) of Angel’s Landing. Choose this trail to get a huge bang for your buck!


5. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

11 National Parks for Fall Hiking - The CloudLine Blog

Fall in Grand Teton is a sweet but fleeting season. It’s not long after the summer crowds wind down that the cottonwoods burst with color along the banks of the Snake River. Aspen groves turn from green to gold before dropping their leaves. The park’s wildlife, like moose, bears, and elk, are especially active, and a late-evening stroll might even give you a chance to hear a bull elk’s bugle.


When to visit: Late September

Recommended fall hike: The Taggart-Beaver Creek Loop trail brings you through sagebrush, aspen, conifer, and riparian plant communities on your way from the valley floor to the glacial Taggart Lake. Golden aspens take center stage, and incomparable views of snowy Teton peaks add to the fall glory of this trail.


6. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

11 National Parks for Fall Hiking - The CloudLine Blog

With ridge upon ridge of forested mountains, Shenandoah National Park is a leaf-peeper’s dream. Vast stretches of deciduous forest blanket this landscape by mid-October. A hike up to the top of a ridge provides jaw-dropping views of these wild eastern forests. One thing to note: Unlike lots of other national parks that see most visitors in the summer, fall is typically the busiest time of year in Shenandoah. Visit during the week or hit the trail bright and early for the best chance of avoiding the crowds.


When to visit: Mid-October

Recommended fall hike: Old Rag is Shenandoah’s most difficult hike, but not without amazing rewards. This 9-mile round trip hike winds through colorful forest before continuing up the rocky summit of Old Rag Mountain. From the top, enjoy sweeping views of the vibrant, foliage-cloaked mountainsides.


7. Acadia National Park, Maine

11 National Parks for Fall Hiking - The CloudLine Blog

This coastal national park breathes a sigh of relief when the summer crowds begin to lift in mid-September. The park’s season isn’t over, though, and visitation picks back up for the remarkable fall colors in mid-October. A colorful mix of deciduous and evergreen trees against the moody backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean is hard to beat.


When to visit: Mid-October

Recommended fall hike: To reach the highest point in Acadia, hike the Cadillac North Ridge Trail to the top of Cadillac Mountain. The trail takes hikers through a combination of woods and exposed granite slopes, culminating in breathtaking views of red, orange, and yellow leaves contrasting with the water below.


8. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina / Tennessee 

11 National Parks for Fall Hiking - The CloudLine Blog

The Smokies are the most popular park in the country, welcoming over 12 million visitors each year. This rugged stretch of the Appalachian Mountains is rich with wildlife, waterfalls, and diverse forests. More than 800 miles of trail crisscross the ridges, peaks, and valleys, and fall is the perfect time to enjoy both comfortable temperatures and thinner crowds.


When to visit: Late October

Recommended fall hike: Beginning from Fontana Dam outside of Bryson City, North Carolina, the Appalachian Trail quickly enters the National Park and ascends to the Shuckstack Fire Tower after 3.5 miles of climbing. The summit brings panoramic views of the Smokies, and in the fall, an explosion of reds, oranges, and yellows.


9. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado 

11 National Parks for Fall Hiking - The CloudLine Blog

Rocky Mountain National Park is a high-elevation mountain playground any time of year, but fall adds dramatic color and bugling elk to this stunning alpine landscape. The altitude of the park means the leaves change early, so visit in mid-September for the best chance at catching the aspens in their golden glory.


When to visit: Mid-September

Recommended fall hike: Sprague Lake Loop is a short, easy, less-than-a-mile trail that’s perfect for a leisurely stroll. You’ll want to take your time marveling at the surrounding peaks and blazing aspen leaves. Come early in the morning to catch the mountains and fall colors reflected in the peaceful Sprague Lake.


Wherever you end up hiking this fall, enjoy the magic of the wilderness settling down after a busy summer season. We’d love to see your national park adventures this fall, so find us, follow us, and tag us on Instagram with #cloudlinesocks. See you on the trail!

Emily Batdorf
Emily Batdorf

Emily is a copywriter based in northern Michigan. She's happiest outdoors, whether she's hiking, skiing, paddling, or swimming. As a writer, she loves working with companies that inspire all people to get outside. When she's not writing or playing outdoors, you can find her cooking, reading, or hanging out with family and friends. Find more of her writing here.


3 Responses

Lamarr
Lamarr

September 24, 2018

There’s an outside chance of SOUTHBOUND through hikers in GSMNP but they are few and far between! But thanks for the idea from all us crazy people!

Bill
Bill

September 16, 2018

October is really late to be catching through hikers in Shenandoah National Park…

Brooke
Brooke

September 13, 2016

Missing from the list: Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Incredible fall colors in Ohio with less crowds!

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