October is the perfect time to visit national parks in the USA. The summer crowds have subsided, and the fall foliage and weather make for a perfect outdoor adventure. With so many incredible national parks to choose from, it can be hard to decide where to go. That’s why we’ve put together a complete listicle of the best national parks in the USA to visit in October. From breathtaking mountains to stunning coastlines, here are our top picks.
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America's national parks are national treasures. These parks are some of the most beautiful places in the world and that's no secret. While the parks have experienced record breaking crowds the last few years, there's still a way to enjoy the parks and get the most of your visit for yourself, your family, and even your four legged friends.
Admission costs and annual pass
Every national park has their own admission cost. Some parks are free and some parts are $40 per car. If you're like us and plan to visit multiple national parks in a year, we highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful Pass. This is an annual pass to all lands owned and operated by the National Parks Services including national parks, national monuments, national forests, and more.
If you plan to only visit one or two national parks a year it might not be worth your money to purchase the annual pass, but if you plan to visit three or more national park sites, you should go ahead and snag an America the Beautiful Pass. The annual pass is discounted considerably for veterans and seniors, too.
The crowds in national parks can be the biggest struggle for visitors. The last thing you want to deal with on vacation is fighting for a parking spot, standing lines, and being surrounded by hundreds of other people in a place that's supposed to be about nature. The simplest way to beat the crowds is to get into the parks as early as possible. I know getting up early on vacation isn't everyone's ideal, but trust me, getting to the national parks as early as you can drag yourself out of bed is the single best way to experience lighter crowds.
The other best way to beat the crowds in national parks is to stay inside the national parks. Some parks such as Yosemite and Glacier have lodges inside the park boundaries, but for most parks you're going to need to camp. If camping isn't your cup of tea, no worries, you can typically snag a hotel or Airbnb close to park boundaries. The idea is to get as close to the park as possible so you save time driving and get the most out of your visit.
Pets in national parks
I always want to mention pets in all of our national park travel guides because if visiting our country's federal lands isn't something you do regularly, you might not know that most of the USA's national parks are not very pet friendly. Some parks (including Acadia) allow dogs on many of the trails, but most restrict pets to campgrounds and paved roads and pathways. If you're traveling with a four legged friend, our number one recommendation would be to camp in an RV in the park's campground. This way you can check on your pet regularly without having to leave the park and lose valuable time exploring.
Do keep in mind that while you are allowed to camp in tents with your pets, your pet is not allowed to be left alone in a tent. You should also take weather into serious consideration when camping in national parks. Like in any vehicle, the temperatures can rise and drop quickly in a camper so air conditioning and heating are crucial if you intend to leave your pet alone in the campground.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Tennessee and North Carolina
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the USA, and for good reason. October is one of the best months to visit this park, with the fall foliage in full effect. Enjoy scenic drives, hiking trails, waterfalls, and wildlife. This park is perfect for a family trip or a romantic getaway. Cades Cove loop is the crowning jewel of this park in October for its fall leaves. The loop can be driven, biked, or hiked and can get very busy. We have an entire guide for Cades Cove to help you make the most of your time exploring in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and less time sitting in traffic and lines.
Acadia National Park is located in the coastal region of Maine and boasts some of the most stunning fall foliage in the country. Enjoy hikes to the top of Cadillac Mountain, spectacular coastal views, and an abundance of wildlife. This park is perfect for those looking for a mixture of outdoor adventure and relaxing by the seaside. Maine is the quintessential fall roadtrip making it one of our top recommendations for national parks to visit in October. If you were to visit just one park on this list this October, I'd tell you to go to Acadia. If you have a bit of extra time, we'd recommend starting your drive in Portland, Maine and drive Highway 1 up the coast until you reach Acadia National Park.
Grand Teton National Park is a must-visit destination in October. The park is known for its majestic mountains, shimmering lakes, and abundant wildlife. In October, the summer crowds have died down, and the fall foliage is in full effect. Enjoy hiking, rafting, and wildlife watching in one of the most beautiful places on earth. In October, Grand Teton National Park offers a unique spectacle: the elk rut, where male elks compete for the attention of their female counterparts, a thrilling scene for wildlife enthusiasts. Plus, with fewer visitors, you can enjoy a serene landscape, allowing you to truly connect with nature and relish the tranquility it offers.
Zion National Park is a hiker's paradise, and October is the perfect time to visit. The cooler temperatures make for great hiking conditions, and the fall foliage adds an extra layer of beauty to the already stunning landscape. With trails ranging from easy to strenuous, there is something for everyone in Zion. In October, the park's iconic red rocks are complemented by the vibrant array of autumn colors, creating a photographer's dream. Additionally, the park's diverse wildlife, including mule deer and golden eagles, are particularly active during this time, offering visitors a unique opportunity for wildlife spotting.
The Grand Canyon National Park, one of the world's natural wonders, is a phenomenal sight to behold in October. As the intense summer heat subsides, the autumn provides cooler, comfortable temperatures ideal for exploring the park's majestic landscapes. The lower visitor numbers during this season offer a more serene and uninterrupted experience. Visitors can enjoy vivid sunsets, partake in exhilarating hikes along the South Rim, or descend into the depths of the canyon. From the awe-inspiring landscapes to the shimmering Colorado River cutting through the canyon, it's undoubtedly a bucket-list destination in October.
Rocky Mountain National Park - Colorado
October is an exceptional time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The alpine landscapes are transformed into a vibrant canvas of golds, oranges, and reds, offering spectacular views coupled with the crisp autumn air. The park’s diverse wildlife, including elk and bighorn sheep, become more active as they prepare for the winter months. The trails are less crowded, allowing travelers to fully immerse themselves in the tranquil beauty of the park. Whether you're driving along the stunning Trail Ridge Road, hiking through the enchanting Moraine Park, or exploring the Bear Lake area, visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in October is akin to stepping into a serene and picturesque fall wonderland.
In the heart of the North Woods, Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota is a hidden gem to visit in October. As temperatures begin to drop, the park transforms into a kaleidoscope of fall colors that beautifully reflect off the park's interconnected waterways. This park is a paradise for water lovers, offering excellent opportunities for boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Additionally, the park's abundant wildlife, including moose, black bears, and a variety of bird species, are actively preparing for the winter during this time, enhancing the chances of wildlife sightings. The crisp autumn air coupled with the serene beauty of the park provides a tranquil ambiance that is perfect for those looking to connect with nature in a peaceful setting. Voyageurs National Park in October offers an unforgettable blend of fall colors, wildlife, and water-based adventures.
Shenandoah National Park - Virginia
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park is a fall foliage wonderland. The park is known for its Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that winds through the mountains and offers breathtaking views of the fall foliage. The park also has over 500 miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, and wildlife. In October, Shenandoah National Park also offers a multitude of outdoor activities like bird watching and fishing, with the added thrill of the vibrant autumn colors in the backdrop. Plus, fewer crowds in October mean you can enjoy the tranquility of nature in solitude or with loved ones, making the experience even more memorable. If you're looking for crisp mountain air mornings with fall foliage, Shenandoah is your place in October.
Isle Royale National Park - Michigan
Isle Royale National Park in Michigan is an October gem offering an idyllic escape from the bustle of city life. Situated in the heart of Lake Superior, the park is an archipelago that boasts an array of unique wildlife and vibrant fall colors. As the park transitions into fall, the lush greenery seamlessly morphs into a canvas of reds, oranges, and yellows, creating a breathtaking sight against the backdrop of the sapphire-blue lake. The cooler temperatures in October make it ideal for hiking the park's numerous trails or embarking on adventurous kayaking trips. The park is also home to a unique predator-prey relationship between wolves and moose, providing a rare opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts. Visiting Isle Royale National Park in October truly offers a tranquil and immersive nature experience.
Arches National Park - Utah
Arches National Park in Utah is an absolute marvel in October. As the sweltering summer heat mellows, it paves the way for pleasant daytime temperatures that are perfect for exploring the park's more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches. The park's clear October skies offer an unobstructed view of the dramatic play of light and shadow on the red-rock formations, creating a landscape photographer's dream. Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock, and Landscape Arch, among others, take on a different allure with the changing season, making fall hikes even more rewarding. Additionally, the night skies of October are particularly spectacular, offering unmatched opportunities for stargazing. With fewer crowds, you can enjoy the grand spectacle of nature in peace, making Arches National Park an exquisite fall destination.
Crater Lake National Park - Oregon
Crater Lake National Park in Oregon emerges as a stunning destination to visit in October, as the changing season only amplifies its natural beauty. The park, known for its deep blue and pristine lake formed in the remnants of a destroyed volcano, offers a contrasting and stunning view against the backdrop of golden fall foliage. October's cool temperatures make it an ideal time for outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and wildlife viewing. The Rim Drive, encircling the lake, affords visitors breathtaking views and photo opportunities of the autumnal colors and the crystal-clear lake. The park's wildlife, particularly its birds of prey, are also more active during this time, adding another layer of excitement to your visit. Due to the decrease in tourist crowds in October, visitors can have a more peaceful and intimate experience, making Crater Lake National Park an excellent choice for a fall getaway.
Mount Rainier National Park - Washington
Mount Rainier National Park in Washington is a genuine treasure to discover in October. As the fall season sets in, the park is adorned with a vibrant palette of fall colors, with the foliage transforming from lush greens into brilliant hues of red, orange, and yellow. This stunning contrast against the backdrop of the towering Mount Rainier and its perennial snow-capped peak provides breathtaking views. The mild October weather is perfect for hiking, with popular trails like the Skyline Trail offering panoramic views of the autumnal landscapes. Wildlife enthusiasts will delight in spotting animals like elk and marmots preparing for the winter. Moreover, the park is less crowded in October, providing a peaceful retreat where you can immerse yourself in undisturbed natural beauty. Mount Rainier National Park in October offers a uniquely serene and colorful experience that nature lovers and adventurers alike should not miss.
North Cascades National Park in Washington is a splendid destination to visit in October. As the season transitions into fall, the park bursts into a vibrant mix of reds, oranges, and yellows, making the landscape look like a painter's dream. The North Cascades, often referred to as the "American Alps", provide a stunning backdrop to the kaleidoscope of fall colors. The cool weather of October is ideal for hiking and exploring the park's numerous trails, offering breathtaking views of alpine meadows, glaciers, and high mountain peaks. With wildlife preparing for winter, sightings of animals like black bears, marmots, and a variety of bird species are common. The park's serene beauty, coupled with the decrease in visitor crowds during this time, makes North Cascades National Park a perfect October retreat for those seeking tranquility amidst nature's grandeur.
Glacier National Park - Montana
Glacier National Park in Montana is a wonderland for nature enthusiasts in October. As the park transitions into the fall season, it displays a stunning palette of autumn hues, creating a striking contrast to the park's namesake glaciers. The park's iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road offers visitors a thrilling drive through mountainous terrain, with awe-inspiring views of vibrant fall foliage, towering peaks, and shimmering lakes. October's cooler weather is ideal for exploring the park's extensive trail system, with popular hikes such as the Highline Trail and the Grinnell Glacier Trail offering unparalleled views of the park's diverse landscapes. Wildlife viewing is also excellent during this time, with chances to spot animals like mountain goats and bighorn sheep. The park’s visitor numbers drop during October, providing a quieter, more tranquil experience for those looking to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of Glacier National Park.
Yosemite National Park - California
Yosemite National Park in California is an exceptional place to visit in October. As autumn takes hold, the park is transformed, with the leaves of the deciduous trees turning into stunning shades of gold and crimson against the evergreens and waterfalls, creating a picturesque landscape. Cooler temperatures and clear, crisp weather make for excellent hiking conditions, allowing visitors to enjoy the famous trails and vistas at their own pace. Notable sights such as the Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan, though beautiful year-round, gain an extra layer of magnificence with the fall colors. October also sees fewer crowds, allowing for a more serene experience of the park's natural wonders. Wildlife enthusiasts will find October rewarding as animals are more active, preparing for winter. Thus, Yosemite in October offers a blend of visual splendor, adventure, and tranquility, making it a perfect fall destination.
National parks in the USA offer some of the most beautiful landscapes and outdoor adventures in the world. October is the perfect time to visit, with the fall foliage and cooler temperatures making for an ideal outdoor experience. Our complete listicle of the best national parks to visit in October includes Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Acadia National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Zion National Park, and Shenandoah National Park. Whether you're looking for a family adventure or a romantic getaway, national parks in October are sure to provide an unforgettable experience.
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We're Chris and Sara
A creative husband and wife duo from a small-town in Tennessee with passion for all things travel. Checkout the links below to join us on our past, present, and future adventures!