Fall has plenty to offer for photographers. Not only can you capture amazing colors that transform a landscape, but the fall also comes with more comfortable temperatures and smaller crowds than you’ll find just a few months earlier in the summer.
While there is no shortage of places that you can photograph in the fall, national parks are always among the favorites. With that in mind, here is a list of 10 of the best national parks to visit in the fall. If you’re looking to plan a trip, any one of these locations would be an excellent choice.
Acadia National Park in Maine is an amazing place. It offers the rocky and rugged coastline, beautiful mountain views, spectacular ponds and lakes, and an iconic lighthouse. To make it even better, the park is fairly small (for national park standards) and most of it is easy to access by car. Even with just a short day trip, you’ll be able to see a great deal and come away with some beautiful photos. And if you have more time and you want to do some hiking, there are plenty of options that will be worth the effort.
Due to the park’s location in Maine and the cold winters, parts of the park are closed from early December through mid-April, including Park Loop Road, which provides access to many of the most noteworthy points within the park. But fall is one of the best times of the year to visit, due to the colors and smaller crowds (compared to summer).
Don’t miss the Jesup Path. The boardwalk is stunning when it is surrounded and covered with autumn leaves.
To learn more, please see The Photographer’s Guide to Acadia National Park.
2. Grand Teton
Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is often overshadowed by neighboring Yellowstone National Park, but it deserves plenty of attention too. In the fall you’ll find stunning colors on the trees with snow-capped mountains and beautiful lakes for reflections. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Grand Teton is much smaller than Yellowstone, and easier to navigate. The crowds in the fall are smaller than during the summer months, so it is the perfect location for a quick fall getaway.
Aside from the foliage, fall is also an ideal time to see and photograph wildlife within the park. You may spot elk, bear, or moose.
Oxbow Bend is a great spot for an iconic shot that will capture beautiful fall colors.
3. Great Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains in Tennesse and North Carolina hosts more visitors than any other national park, and fall is a popular time. Despite the large number of visitors, getting away from the crowds is not very difficult. The vast majority of visitors stay on the main roads and overlooks, but the trails offer some of the best photographic opportunities.
In the fall, you can capture beautiful photos from the overlooks to showcase the valleys in majestic colors, or hike through the forests to photograph streams and waterfalls that are surrounded by falling leaves.
Cades Cove is one of the more popular sections of the park, and here you’ll find plenty of opportunities for amazing photos in the valley.
To learn more, see The Photography Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is another mountain park in the eastern part of the U.S. that is spectacular in the fall. The Blue Ridge Parkway connects Shendoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and provides plenty of scenic mountain views in between.
For those in the Washington, DC area, Shenandoah National Park is easy to access with less than a 2-hour drive. Skyline Drive is the main point of interest within the park, providing more than 100 scenic overlooks and access to many hiking trails. If you want some easy photos without the need to hike, Skyline Drive is the perfect solution. If you’re up for some challenging hikes in the mountains, there are plenty of options that you will love. The White Oak Canyon Trail and Dark Hollow Falls Trail are among the favorites.
Shenandoah is also known for wildlife. You’re likely to see deer, black bear, and other species just by driving through the park.
For more details, see The Photography Guide to Shenandoah National Park.
5. Rocky Mountain
Northwest of Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park is another incredible location for fall foliage. The aspens turn golden as early as late August and typically peak in September. Like Grand Teton, this is another park with stunning color, mountain views, and lakes and ponds.
In addition to the mountains and foliage, fall is also a great time to see and photograph wildlife within the park. Elk are very active and you’re likely to hear their bugle-like mating calls. You may also spot bighorn sheep.
Glacier National Park in Montana is a favorite of many landscape photographers, and for good reason. The only bad thing about this park is the relatively short window that you have to see and experience most of the park, due to snow. Going-to-the-Sun Road, which provides access to many points of interest, is typically open from June or July into October, but the exact dates depend on the weather (parts of the road are open all year). September is an ideal month to visit because peak colors usually start mid-to-late September, and the park is still fully accessible.
You’ll love the amazing mountain views surrounded by color, the beautiful lakes, and probably some wildlife too.
Zion National Park in Utah is beautiful year-round, but it gets quite crowded in the summer. Parking is very limited and driving is restricted in the most popular parts of the park (a shuttle is available), so the overwhelming crowds make the summer months a bit less pleasant. But autumn months come with smaller crowds, and the foliage makes it a perfect time to visit.
Whether you are hiking for a nice view of the canyon, or simply photographing near the shuttle stops within the canyon, you’re sure to come home with some beautiful photos from a trip to this park.
For more, see The Photographer’s Guide to Zion National Park.
8. Cuyahoga Valley
Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio isn’t as well-known as most of the other parks on this list, so it might be a pleasant surprise if you’re looking for great destinations. Mid-to-late October is usually the best time to experience peak colors here.
The park includes a scenic railroad and a few hikes that are very much worth your time. The trail to Brandywine Falls is one of the more popular spots in the park.
9. Mt. Rainier
Mt. Rainier National Park in Washinton is definitely worthy of a fall trip due to its spectacular mountain views, autum colors, and reflecting lakes. The colors start to change in September (sometimes as early as late August) and continue into October. Weather can impact the availability of some areas of the park, and visiting later in the fall can bring additional challenges with snow due to the high elevation.
10. Guadalupe Mountains
Texas may not be the first place you think of when it comes to fall foliage, but Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to some beautiful scenery and colors during the autumn months. Due to its location, peak colors usually don’t occur until late October or November.
One of the best places to witness fall colors in this park is in McKittrick Canyon.
As a lesser-known park, crowds aren’t as much of an issue here as some of the other parks on this list.
If you’re looking for a great place to photograph this fall, be sure to consider these parks. And for some tips, see 10 Tips for Beautiful Fall Photos.