7 Best National Parks to Visit in October

A view of bluffs and the ocean in Acadia National Park and an orange rectangle with white letters that says

Mid-fall marks a turning point for many people around the world. As the summer heat fully fades and fall foliage begins its annual show, there's no question that Old Man Winter is just around the corner.

This is one of the best times to get outside and enjoy Mother Nature as she shows off, whether it be hitting beautiful hiking trails, backcountry camping, or something else entirely. 

Consider planning a road trip to visit a few national parks and other natural attractions, where you can enjoy many of these activities all in one spot.

We've picked seven of the best national parks to visit in October, whether you're looking for beautiful fall foliage, a spot to escape crowds, or a way to avoid dropping temperatures at home.  

Psst...keep in mind that you'll need an America the Beautiful annual national park pass to enter almost all parks, and many now also require reservations!

The Best National Parks to Visit in October

Fall foliage on Cadillac Mountain looking out at the ocean in Acadia National Park, one of the best national parks to visit in October

Acadia National Park

If you’re after that quintessential New England fall experience and you're into moody coastal landscape (who isn't?!), Acadia National Park is one of the best national parks to visit in October.

Located on Maine's southern Atlantic Coast, Acadia delivers jaw-dropping views everywhere you look. The rocky, rugged coastline is the perfect counterpart to the dense coastal forest, and the scenery is punctuated by dozens of picturesque lighthouses and 1,527-foot-tall Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard. 

Cadillac Mountain also sees the very first sunrise in the United States. If you're hoping to catch that in October, you'll enjoy cool but mild weather with overnight lows hovering in the 40s and highs rarely getting above 65 — perfect hiking weather.

 

Fall foliage along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah, one of the best national parks to visit in October

Shenandoah National Park

Another fall foliage hot spot on the east coast is Shenandoah National Park.

Nestled in the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, this park offers endless vistas, epic hiking, and opportunities to spot wildlife on its 200,000 acres of protected land — all just 75 miles from Washington, D.C.

One of Shenandoah's main draws is Skyline Drive, an unforgettable 105-mile scenic drive that immerses you in the golden-hued leaves and takes you past 75 scenic overlooks along the way. 

We recommend getting into "Sunday drive" mode and taking your time, stopping at as many of the overlooks as your heart desires. This truly is one of the best drives in the country! 

Fall foliage with mountains in the background in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Wildlife lovers and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds will thoroughly agree that Colorado's RMNP is one of the best national parks to visit in October.

Early October is the start of the elk rut, when hundreds of local elk move into the lower meadows and begin their yearly rituals to attract the attention of a mate. 

You can hear the male elk bugles for miles and if you're lucky, you may see some antler-to-antler combat as the elk do their best to impress local does. Moraine Park offers some of the best chances to see the excitement, especially around dawn or dusk.

Of course, the dense stands of aspens throughout the park put on a beautiful show of their own as they change colors against the backdrop of towering mountain ranges just starting to get dusted with snow. 

A moody scene with red rocks and fall color in Zion, one of the best national parks to visit in October

Zion National Park

Zion National Park, one of the busiest parks in the world, needs no introduction. However, it may not be the first park you think of visiting in autumn — most people don't associate the desert of southern Utah with anything fall-related. 

Don’t be so quick to dismiss Zion as one of the best national parks to visit in October, though. October brings relief from scorching summer temperatures and peak early fall crowds, and the high elevation means nights actually get a bit chilly.  

These cooler temps also let the fall foliage show off in certain areas, plus make it much easier to enjoy the park's incredible hiking trails. 

If you're planning to hike the Narrows (which you should!), it is recommended to rent a wetsuit and neoprene booties from one of the outfitters in Springdale.  Fjords in Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park

Although it's the smallest national park in Alaska at about 1,000 square miles, Kenai Fjords is a truly stunning place to visit and belongs a spot at the top of everyone's bucket list. 

The main tourism season at Kenai Fjords ends in September, but you can still find lots to enjoy in October (and you’ll beat the crowds!).

You may catch one of the last marine wildlife cruises before the temperatures get too cold, watching the last few whales and orcas on their migration.

There’s also plenty of hiking to do, including across glaciers, before the heavy snow arrives. Fall in coastal Alaska is one of the most unpredictable seasons, so be prepared for a bit of any and everything! 

An erupting volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

October brings cold temperatures and the beginning of winter for some, but that's not the case in the Hawaiian islands. In fact, fall is one of the most pleasant times to visit!

Those wanting to escape the cold and get another little taste of summer should check out Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, which shows off some of Mother Nature's most impressive feats: rugged tropical coastline, rainforest, and best of all, active volcanoes. 

This truly unique park features two of the most active volcanoes in the world: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. If you're lucky, you may even get to witness lava flowing into the ocean at Hawaii Volcanoes! 

While you're here, you can also easily hop over to Maui and visit Haleakala National Park, another one of the best national parks to visit in October.

The beach at Dry Tortugas, one of the best national parks to visit in October

Dry Tortugas National Park

Another excellent warm-weather getaway is the unique Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys. The park encompasses 100 square miles across seven small islands and lots of open water (as a matter of fact, the vast majority of the park is underwater!) about 70 miles west of Key West.

There are no roads leading to Dry Tortuga, so you have to take a seaplane or ferry from Key West. The remote aspect of the park is one of several factors that makes this one of the best and most highly underrated national parks to visit (in any month!).

The main above-water attraction is the impressive 18th-century Fort Jefferson, which was never fully completed and as such, remains in a state of ruin. Birding is also a popular activity, and there are some great primitive campsites as well.

Underwater, there are plenty of reefs for snorkeling and diving. Bring your own snorkeling gear or rent some onsite and follow the unique underwater trails!

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