7 National Parks to Visit for Instagram-Worthy Fall Photos
As the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, the natural world takes its cue from Mother Nature and begins to prepare for winter. Swathes of verdant landscapes transition into a palette of crimson and gold, elk begin rutting, salmon fling themselves upstream, and #autumnleaves starts trending on Instagram. It’s time to plan a trip to these seven best places to see fall foliage.
You may have visited America’s most popular national parks during the summer’s peak season, or perhaps in the spring to see the wildflowers bloom, however the fall splendor of these epic environments makes them well worth a visit out of season to capture some epic autumnal views for Instagram.
Looking for the best places to see fall foliage? Here’s a guide to seven memorable national parks ideal for leaf peeping:
1. Acadia National Park, Maine
For one of the most ambitious fall photos in the state, consider climbing Beehive Mountain in Maine’s Acadia National Park and you’ll be rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of flaming reds and oranges set against dark evergreens. At 520 feet high, it’s less than a mile’s hike to the summit, however the climb isn’t for the faint-hearted; it’s a strenuous ascent that involves steel-rung ladders and sheer-edged cliffside paths. Acadia does have other great hiking routes as well.
2. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Set in the heart of the Cascade Mountains in southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park’s endless trails, 33 miles of which encompass the Pacific Crest trail, were made with fall hiking in mind. Many of the trailheads lead to peaks overlooking the crater where shades of ochre and brown line the water. Tackle the 2.5-mile, 1500-foot climb to Mt. Steven and enjoy a vantage point that takes in the lake in its entirety and affords hikers the best fall foliage views in the region.
Tip: Pack your camera kit into a lightweight, durable day pack that has space for a power bank, just in case you run out of battery on route.
3. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Follow the peaks of the Cascade Mountain Range 400 miles north from Crater Lake and you’ll find yourself at the tallest mountain in the range, Mount Rainier. Standing 14,410 feet above sea level the mountain is picture-perfect with snow and ice covering its peak year-round. For the best fall views in the park, hike to Reflection Lakes, where mountain ash and gold-threaded leaves of hellebore litter the ground and provide a truly epic seasonal shot.
4. Denali National Park, Alaska
Casting vivid color against the monotone backdrop of Alaska’s snow-capped mountains, the fall views in Denali National Park are striking. The alpine and subalpine tundra is alive with color by late August and just a few weeks later the lower elevations are aglow with shades of rust and ruby red. Most of this six-million-acre park and preserve is wilderness so bring your hiking boots and camping gear.
Tip: If you choose to hike at altitude you may need specialist equipment, such as a water repellent backpack, crampons, and, in some cases, a guide. Find suitable hiking trails and check up to date advice on the National Park Service website.
5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the sprawling landscapes of the Great Smoky Mountains are peppered with birch, hobblebush, beech, and maple trees, which is why the colors of fall are so spectacular here. Head to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park with an elevation of 6,643 feet, for a fantastic panoramic view of the entire Smokies landscape.
6. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
To experience the golden hues of fall in Shenandoah, join the leisurely peloton at the Fall Foliage Bike Festival held every October and enjoy a weekend of cycling with constant vistas of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. Alternatively, you could cycle or hike part of the 101-mile portion of the Appalachian Trail that wends its way through the park and traces the ridge of the Blue Ridge mountains, often following the same route as the Skyline Drive.
Tip: Organize your camera lenses and filters into packing cubes that you can bring out of your daypack with ease. Wrap lenses in a t-shirt for additional protection if required.
7. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Ohio’s best kept secret, to soak in the sights of fall in Cuyahoga consider hopping aboard the park’s scenic railroad—a favorite for families visiting the national park. During the last two weeks of October, the landscape erupts in brilliant reds, oranges, browns, and yellows thanks to the sugar maples and white oaks, making this easily one of the best places in the U.S. to see fall foliage.
Planning to camp out during your fall visit to a national park? Read our guide to what to pack when heading to a national park, and brush up on your survival skills; you never know when they might be useful.
By Charli Moore on March 3, 2020