Best National Parks to Visit in October

Undoubtedly, one of the best times to visit national parks in the U.S. is during the fall. Kids have returned to school, vacationers have largely gone home, and the parks are a kaleidoscope of colors. However, with the onset of winter, some of the parks are already difficult to access, and temperatures have fallen to such an extent that a visit isn’t enjoyable. We’ve compiled a list of the top 10 national parks to visit in October that incorporates fine weather and the wonderful fall colors.

Top 10 National Parks to Visit in October

The U.S. is home to 423 different national parks. The sheer volume and quality of the parks always make it difficult to select a top 10. We’ve given this list a lot of consideration, and we think visiting any of these 10 national parks during October will be a hugely memorable experience.

  1. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
  2. Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee 
  3. Death Valley National Park, Nevada
  4. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  5. Zion National Park, Utah
  6. Acadia National Park, Maine
  7. Joshua Tree National Park, California
  8. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
  9. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  10. Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

1. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is an excellent park to visit in October. Situated along the Blue Ridge Mountains, the park is covered in heavy forest, meaning amazing fall colors at this time of year. You’ll also find plenty of waterfalls, rocky mountain peaks, and wetlands along with the forests. Many of the best hikes take place in these different areas, and a few stand out. The Old Rag Mountain hike and Mary’s Rock summit trail are highly recommended. In terms of waterfalls, both Rose River Falls and Dark Hollow Falls are popular destinations. The park is also part of the 2,190-mile-long Appalachian trail, and you can follow this through the park.

If all that hiking sounds a bit much, you can also take in the fall colors from the comfort of your car. The Skyline Drive stretches 105 miles from the north to the south of the park, providing plenty of opportunities to get out and take in the views at designated overlooks.

A scraggy mountain peak in Shenandoah National Park
The rocky mountain peaks in Shenandoah National Park provide a great vantage point to enjoy the spectacular views.

2. Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

Another park that sits along the Appalachian Trail is the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee. It’s another heavily forested national park, making October an exceptional and evocative time to visit. The combination of yellows, oranges, and reds makes hiking through the park a rewarding experience. This is especially true if you incorporate one of the park’s many waterfalls into your hike. The best waterfalls are Abrams Falls, Laurel Falls, and Grotto Falls. Another interesting option is the short hike up the forest walkway at Clingman’s Dome. At the summit, you’ll be treated to wide-reaching views across the park and all those wonderful fall colors. 

A visit to the Great Smoky Mountains in October is also perfect from a weather perspective. October is the lowest month for rainfall, and daytime temperatures average a comfortable 60°F. Combined with the fall colors and lower visitor numbers, it is the perfect time to visit.

Great Smoky National Park
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is named after it's smoke-like morning mist.

3. Death Valley National Park, Nevada

A visit to Death Valley National Park in Nevada is always a memorable experience. The unique desert landscape sits below sea level, which results in sky-high summer temperatures. Not only is the park the hottest place in the U.S. it’s also the lowest and the driest place. This makes visiting the park during the summer months nearly impossible, with temperatures regularly exceeding 120°F, even in the shade. In contrast, October weather is far more palatable, with temperatures in the 80’s. 

The extreme weather that the park is subject to has created a unique landscape. At the park center is Titus Canyon, a deep, narrow gorge that winds through the limestone rock. Accessible by foot and vehicle, this is one of the great national park roads to drive. You’ll see carvings from Native Americans along the way, plus the deserted town of Leadfield, an abandoned 1920s prospector town. Elsewhere in the park, you’ll find salt pans and salt mounds known as the Devil’s Golf Course.

Death Valley National Park
The desert landscape in Death Valley National Park has an otherworldly feeling.

4. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

What is there to say about the Grand Canyon National Park that hasn’t already been said? Home to the world’s largest canyon and located in Arizona, it’s just a short hop from Las Vegas. Its proximity to the city makes it an ideal day trip destination. Should your budget allow for it, a helicopter flight from Las Vegas over the canyon is an unforgettable experience.

Like Death Valley National Park, the Grand Canyon can see spectacularly high summer temperatures, especially on the canyon floor. This makes a visit during the summer months uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst. Temperatures during October are far more comfortable, averaging in the high 60’s. However, the temperature plunges after October, making this the ideal month to visit. 

The wide expanse of the grand canyon in nevada, usa
The Grand Canyon is over 277 miles in length and averages over 10 miles in width

5. Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park in southern Utah is another great destination to visit in October. Famous for the steep red cliffs of Zion Canyon, the fall colors beautifully complement it. Temperatures during this time of the year fluctuate from the high 40s to the low 70s, making it ideal conditions for hiking. If you plan to hike, make sure you take in some of the slot canyons that Zion is famous for.

It’s not all about hiking in Zion National Park, there’s also horse riding and canyoning for the more adventurous visitors. For a more relaxing experience, why not take the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive? Taking you through some of the park’s most scenic areas it’s a great way to see the fall colors from your vehicle.

Zion canyon in Zion National Park
The dramatic red cliffs of the Zion Canyon in Zion National Park.

6. Acadia National Park, Maine

One of the country’s most popular and visited national parks is Acadia National Park in Maine. Situated on Mount Desert Island, the park covers an area of 47,000 acres. It’s a fantastic park to visit throughout the year, and an October visit is extra special.

When thinking of fall colors, most people think of the dramatic New England fall, and Acadia National Park embodies this. The park is home to rocky beaches, granite mountains, and, most spectacular of all, plenty of New England woodland. Highlights of the park include Cadillac Mountain, Otter Cliff, and Thunder Hole. The national park also has plenty of wildlife, ranging from moose and bears on shore to whales in the surrounding ocean.

As with many great national parks, there’s also a scenic road route around the park. The 27-mile-long Park Loop Road takes in several of the best sights and passes through the popular town of Bar Harbor. 

Acadia National Park at sunrise
Beautiful Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park

7. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park in southern California is a stunning desert park. Located 130 miles east of Los Angeles, the park is home to both the Mojave and Colorado deserts. Named after the unique Joshua Trees that inhabit the park, you’ll find a stark desert landscape dotted with various rock formations. While not as hot or dry as Death Valley, a visit during the summer is still totally impractical, with temperatures over 110°F on a near daily basis. 

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park during the month of October will allow you a much more relaxed visit. Temperatures are typically in the high 70s or low 80s, making it a good time to explore the park’s numerous hiking trails. The Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Arch Rock Trail, and Barker Dam Nature Trail are highly recommended. Elsewhere, there’s some fascinating plant life to see. While you won’t see fall colors at the Cholla Cactus Garden or Cottonwood Spring Oasis, these are unique plant areas you’ll rarely see elsewhere. 

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is named after the bristly trees that inhabit the park.

8. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Voyageurs National Park is located in northern Minnesota, near the Canadian border. The park covers an area of 218,000 acres and takes in forests, waterways, and lakes. While many other parks on this list are primarily popular with hikers, this park is undoubtedly one for people who love to be on the water. Popular activities in the park include kayaking, canoeing, pleasure boats, and fishing. On the theme of water, the park’s stand-out attraction is Kettle Falls, located next to the historic Kettle Falls Hotel.

The park also has some good hiking opportunities, with 55 miles of trails. Both the Cruiser Lake Trail and Anderson Bay Trail come highly recommended. These hikes are especially rewarding during October and the fall season, with a rich variety of colors. Average temperatures at this time of year are a comfortable 50°F. However, they fall sharply after October as the winter cold sets in. This makes October the ideal time to visit and enjoy the park’s many attractions. 

Voyageurs National Park at sunrise
Voyageurs National Park is a water lovers paradise with numerous waterways and lakes.

9. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

In northwest Wyoming, the Grand Teton National Park is a great place to visit in October. Just a short hop away from the adjacent Yellowstone National Park, the park covers 310,000 acres. Within the park’s boundaries are the Teton Mountains and the Jackson Hole Valley, which, along with the wildlife, are the main attractions here. Hiking is the main pastime, and the park is home to some excellent rugged and rustic routes. The Cascade Canyon Trail and Phelps Lake Trail receive rave reviews and take in some of the park’s best scenery. 

Grand Teton is also popular with climbers and mountaineers. The highest peak is Grand Teton Peak, which stands over 4,000 meters high. This summit provides plenty of challenges to both beginners and experienced climbers alike. A visit during October is a perfect time to visit. You can enjoy the fall colors without the cold temperatures and higher rainfall that come with the winter months. While the weather is often brisk at this time of year, it’s perfect for exploring the great outdoors if you wrap up warm. 

A lake in Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is home to the Teton Mountains with peaks in excess of 4000 meters.

10. Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

For our final option, we’ve got something a little bit different, and strictly speaking, it’s not a national park. Our final entry is the Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic 469-mile-long National Parkway that links Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Running through Virginia and North Carolina, it follows the route of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The parkway is the most visited of all U.S. national parks. So, while the parkway isn’t a national park, most of the surrounding land is.

The parkway route takes in many spectacular sights, plenty of stunning scenery, and 8 different campsites. This allows you to plan a trip stretched over several days or longer to enjoy all the treasures. Some of the best sights include Linville Falls, Mount Mitchell, and Mount Pisgah. A visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway during October will ensure you see the best fall colors and enjoy comfortable temperatures in the low 60s. 

Natural Bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Natural Bridge is a spectacular section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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