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10 national parks that have the best fall foliage

National Geographic logo National Geographic 9/22/2022 Erica Jackson Curran
Autumn is prime time for viewing wildlife, including this grizzly bear spotted at Polychrome Pass in Alaska’s Denali National Park. With cooling temperatures, migrating wildlife, and fewer crowds, fall is the ideal time to see national parks burst with vibrant hues of red, orange, and gold. © Photograph by Aaron Huey, Nat Geo Image Collection Autumn is prime time for viewing wildlife, including this grizzly bear spotted at Polychrome Pass in Alaska’s Denali National Park. With cooling temperatures, migrating wildlife, and fewer crowds, fall is the ideal time to see national parks burst with vibrant hues of red, orange, and gold.

Fall has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere. The autumn equinox on September 22—one of the two times a year (the other is the spring or vernal equinox) where day and night are the same length—ushers in a explosion of fall colors across the United States, making it one of the best time of year to visit the national parksSummer’s crowds fall by nearly half, wildlife springs into a final frenzy of activity before winter, and verdant foliage transforms into a stunning riot of color for a few brief but brilliant weeks. 

The boreal forest of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, situated north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska, transforms from lush green to golden yellow in the fall. © Photograph by Michael Melford, Nat Geo Image Collection The boreal forest of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, situated north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska, transforms from lush green to golden yellow in the fall.

The Smoky Mountains annual Fall Foliage Prediction Map notes that much of the U.S. will start seeing the most dramatic changes in colors by late September to mid-October. However, the U.S. is coming off its third-hottest summer on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Factors such as extreme weather, precipitation or the lack of it, and insect infestations could cause fall foliage to fall behind schedule—continuing a long-term trend that, according to one recent study of maples by researchers at George Mason University, has pushed the appearance of fall colors back more than a month since the 19th century, Nat Geo’s Sarah Gibbens reports

The Grand Teton mountains provide a stunning backdrop for the changing leaves in Jackson Hole. Peak foliage usually arrives by mid October—but sometimes, so does snow. © Photograph by Aaron Huey, Nat Geo Image Collection The Grand Teton mountains provide a stunning backdrop for the changing leaves in Jackson Hole. Peak foliage usually arrives by mid October—but sometimes, so does snow.

Still, while the timing can shift from year to year, there is one thing travelers can be sure will not change: Trees will shed their leaves, but not before a grand finale of radiant color. From Virginia’s Skyline Drive to Alaska’s roadless wilderness, explore the national parks that offer one of nature’s most stunning displays.

Maine’s Acadia National Park turns an impressive array of red and gold as autumn ushers in cooler weather and shorter days.

Maine’s Acadia National Park turns an impressive array of red and gold as autumn ushers in cooler weather and shorter days.
© Photograph by Tim Laman, Nat Geo Image Collection
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