17 Best National Parks to Visit in October » Local Adventurer


Looking for the best national parks to visit in October?

October is a beautiful time to visit the National Parks. The kids are back in school (yay, no kids!), fall colors are out, and it’s great weather for getting outdoors.

best national parks to visit in octoberPin

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Last Updated: September 29, 2022

Before we get into it, we want to remind everyone to explore the parks responsibly using the 7 Leave no Trace Principles. Have a plan, stay on established trails, carry out anything you carry in, leave what you find, minimize campfire impact, respect wildlife, and be considerate of others.

About the National Park by month Series

To put together this list, we’ve combined our personal experiences and tips we gathered from locals and cross-referenced them with the weather, accessibility, local forums, seasonal attractions like fall foliage or wildflowers, and special events happening in the area. We also considered any unique adventures only offered at certain times of the year to find the most optimal months to visit each National Park. Phew! that was a lot!

It took me a whole week of research, but since I’m a maximizer, it was worth having a year-round calendar of adventures (publishing that soon!). Also, check out our complete list of all the national parks and all national park units that include soon-to-be national parks.

We also chose not to include the hardest-to-access national parks in Alaska and the ones in U.S. territories in this series.

National Parks: Aug | Sep | Oct | Nov | Dec | Jan | Feb | Mar | Apr | May | Jun | Jul

Is October a Good Time to Visit National Parks?

Yes! It’s a great time to visit National Parks, especially for fall colors. We had a hard time narrowing down the list, so we included 17.

Plan on visiting more than two national parks this year? Pick up an America the Beautiful annual pass to save money (entrance fees to each park are, on average, $30-35 per vehicle). Plus, you are helping support the Parks that always need the funding.

17 Best National Parks to Visit in September

1. Acadia National Park, Maine

25 Visitor Center Rd, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, map

Average Temperatures: 55° F / 38° F

Why Visit: Mid-October is the best time to visit for leaf-peeping. Although crowds will increase a bit during this time, the colors are stunning. We caught the last of the fall foliage in late October.

Best For / Top Activities: Scenic Drive, Hiking, Rock Climbing, Cycling, Lobster Boat Cruise, Kayaking, Tidepooling

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Cadillac Mountain, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Precipice Trail, Thunder Hole, Scenic Park Loop Road
  • Wildlife – Seals, Harbor Porpoises, Moose, Black Bears, Whitetail Deer, Beavers
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: If you want to drive up Cadillac Summit Road, you are now required to get a ticket. See more details here Recreation.gov.

See Related – 15 Breathtaking Things to Do in Acadia National Park

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2. Arches National Park, Utah

38.6165892,-109.6220349, map

Average Temperatures: 71° F / 41° F

Why Visit: October is one of the best months to visit Arches National Park. The weather is still warm during the day and cools at night. That makes it perfect for hiking to see the arches up close.

Best For / Top Activities: Scenic Drive, Hiking, Biking, Camping, Canyoneering, Photography

Don’t Miss:

Pro Tip: They have a Ranger-Led Fiery Furnace Hike that fills up quickly. Be sure to sign up early!

See Related – The Ultimate GUide to Arches National Park

Delicate Arch at Arches Utah National ParkPin

3. Big Bed National Park, Texas

310, Alstate Ave, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834, map

Average Temperatures: 75° F / 55° F

Why Visit: Big Bend gets warm days and cold nights in October. Since so many trails offer little to no shade, it’s essential to visit when the weather isn’t too hot to see.

Best For / Top Activities: Scenic Drives, Day Hikes, River Trips, Stargazing, Backpacking, Hot Springs

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Santa Elena Canyon, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Balanced Rock, Langford Hot Springs
  • Wildlife – Coyotes, Western Pipistrelle Bat, Black Bear, Mountain Lion, Bobcat, Elk
  • How many days do you need? 2-4

Pro Tip: The park covers a large area and can take time to get from one place to the next. Give yourself plenty of travel time. Also, keep in mind that some trails require high-clearance vehicles to get to.

See Related – 11 Amazing Things to Do in Big Bend National Park

Hot Springs Big Bend National Park + Amazing Things to See in West TexasPin

4. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

10346 CO-347, Montrose, CO 81401, map

Average Temperatures: 68° F / 39° F

Why Visit: October is a great time to visit the park to explore the viewpoints and trails without worrying about the heat. If you’re lucky, you may even see a light dusting of snow, making it even more magical.

Best For / Top Activities: Scenic Drive, Viewpoints, Hiking, Photography

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – South Rim Road, Warner Point Nature Trail, East Portal Road
  • Wildlife – Coyotes, Elk, Eagles, Mule Deer, Bears
  • How many days do you need? 1-2

Local Tip: If you want to explore the park beyond overlooks and a Visitor Center, you must plan ahead of time. There are no maintained or marked trails into the canyon. Plus, access to the river is on the other side of the canyon.

See Related – 9 Amazing Things to Do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

9 Amazing Things to Do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park // Local AdventurerPin

5. Canyonlands National Park, Utah

38.459836,-109.8252133, map

Average Temperatures: 70° F / 38° F

Why Visit: The weather is beautiful in October in Canyonlands National Park. Pack layers for the chilly mornings and evenings. During the day, you can soak up the sun while hiking the trails.

Best For / Top Activities: Scenic Drive, Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Stargazing

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Island in the Sky (Most Accessible), The Needles, The Maze, Horseshoe Canyon, The Rivers
  • Wildlife – Mule Deer, Kangaroo Rats, Mountain Lions, Bighorn Sheep, Black Bear, Desert Cottontails
  • How many days do you need? 2-4

Pro Tip: You need a four-wheel drive to explore many parts of this park.

See Related – The Mighty 5 Utah National Parks Road Trip

6. Capital Reef National Park, Utah

38.2914642,-111.264238, map

Average Temperatures: 65° F / 41° F

Why Visit: October is one of the most popular times to visit Capital Reef National Park because of the ideal hiking weather. You typically don’t have to worry about snow or rain.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Camping, Backpacking, Scenic Drives, Ranger Programs

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Fruita, Cathedral Valley, Sulpher Creek, Petroglyph Panel, Gifford House, Pick Fruits
  • Wildlife – Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, Mountain Lion, Ringtail, Marmots, Gray Fox, Canyon Bat
  • How many days do you need? 2-4

See Related – Complete List of National Parks by State

Capitol Reef National Park UtahPin

7. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

727 Carlsbad Cavern Hwy, Carlsbad, NM 88220, map

Average Temperatures: 71° F / 49° F

Why Visit: The Bat Flight Program (late May through October at 7 pm) is a highlight that you shouldn’t miss. In October, the cooler weather makes exploring the surface trails more pleasant too,

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Wildlife Viewing, Guided Tours, Stargazing

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – at Flight Program, Guadalupe Ridge Trail, Big Room, and Natural Entrance Trails
  • Wildlife – Vesper Bats, Coyotes, Gray Fox, Kit Fox, Pronghorn, Vipers, Bobcat, Black Bears,
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: No electronic devices are allowed (including cameras and cell phones) during the Bat Flight Program.

Carlsbad Cavern Natural Entrance + 17 Best National Parks to Visit in SeptemberPin

8. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

100 National Park Rd, Hopkins, SC 29061, map

Average Temperatures: 75° F / 52° F

Why Visit: Congaree National Park’s fall colors peak towards the end of October. The cooler temperatures make it a great time to go hiking or paddle down the river.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Canoeing, Kayaking, Fishing, Camping

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Boardwalk Loop Trail, Canoe or Kayak, Bluff Trail
  • Wildlife – Bobcats, Deer, Feral Pigs, Coyotes, Armadillos, Otters
  • How many days do you need? 1-2

Pro Tip: If you’re not comfortable paddling down a river yourself, you can sign up for ranger-led paddles.

See Related – 11 Unique Things to Do in Congaree National Park

Looking for the best things to do in Columbia SC? Congaree National Park needs to be on your list! Click through and save this pin to find the ultimate guide to this national park. Find out what you can't miss, which ranger program you need to sign up for, when to visit to see the synchronous fireflies, and more. // Local Adventurer #localadventurer #discoverSC #southcarolina #visittheusa #realcolumbiascPin

9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

6947 Riverview Rd, Peninsula, OH 44264, map

Average Temperatures: 62° F / 46° F

Why Visit: The fall leaves in Cuyahoga Valley National Park usually peak in late October, making it the perfect autumn getaway.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Biking, Scenic Train Ride, Fishing, Paddling

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, Ledges Overlook, Brandywine Falls, Canal Exploration Center
  • Wildlife – Coyotes, Red Foxes, Gray Foxes, Bats, Deer, Mink
  • How many days do you need? 2-3
cuyahoga valley national park waterfallsPin

10. Great Smoky Mountain National Park

2 Everett St, Bryson City, NC 28713, map

Average Temperatures: 63° F / 36° F

Why Visit: Sugar maple, scarlet oak, sweetgum, red maple, and hickories explode in colors from mid-October to early November. It draws leaf-peeping crowds, so be prepared for it to be busy. You may have to brave the crowds, but it’s worth it.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Camping, Scenic Drives, Biking, Fall Colors

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Charlies Bunion, Alum Cave Bluffs, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Wildlife – Elk, Black Bears, Bobcat, Whitetail Deer, Coyote, Pygmy Shrew
  • How many days do you need? 2-4

Pro Tip: To avoid crowds, get out of the car and go on longer hikes. You’ll still see people, but it will be much fewer than easy to get to spots.

See Related – 11 Can’t Miss Things to DO in Pigeon Forge TN

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg TNPin

11. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

800 E Lakeshore Dr, Houghton, MI 49931, map

Average Temperatures: 48° F / 38° F

Why Visit: With a limited season ending in October, this is your last chance to visit this park before waiting another six months. It’s usually less crowded, too, although it never gets that busy compared to other national parks.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Fishing, Kayaking, Scuba Diving

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Ferry Ride, Greenstone Ridge Trail, Tour the 3 Lighthouses
  • Wildlife – Moose, Wolves, Elk, Snowshoe Hares, Foxes, Mink, Beavers
  • How many days do you need? 1-3
isle royale lighthouse national parkPin

12. New River GOrge National Park, West Virginia

162 Visitor Center Rd, Lansing, WV 25862, map

Average Temperatures: 63° F / 44° F

Why Visit: As one of the newest National Parks, it has quickly earned a spot as one of the best parks for fall foliage, peaking in mid to late October. The cool temps make it perfect for hiking and climbing too.

Best For / Top Activities: Camping, Whitewater Rafting, Hiking, Biking, Climbing, Scenic Drives, Fishing

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – New River Gorge Bridge, Grandview, Sandstone Falls, Nuttallburg
  • Wildlife – Groundhog, Coyotes, Red Foxes, Gray Foxes, Black Bears, Bobcats, White-Tailed Deer
  • How many days do you need? 1-3
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13. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

1 Park Rd, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ 86028, map

Average Temperatures: 73° F / 42° F

Why Visit: Summer is the busiest and wettest season of the park, but come October, the temperatures are mild, and all the rain rewards you with wildflowers blooming.

Best For / Top Activities: Scenic Drive, Hiking, Backpacking, Bicycling, Horseback Riding

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Blue Mesa Trail, Red Basin, Rim Trail, Painted Desert Overlooks, Newspaper Rock
  • Wildlife – Pronghorn, Coyote, Kit Fox, Bobcat Mule Deer, Badger
  • How many days do you need? 1-2

Pro Tip: Explore the park East to West, and you can see everything without backtracking.

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14. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Skyline Drive Milepost 51, Stanley, VA 22851, map

Average Temperatures: 58° F / 39° F

Why Visit: October is the peak season for fall foliage viewing and is the park’s busiest time, with roughly 25% of its yearly visitors in one month. You can see the leaves from the car and viewpoints or hop on one of its 500 hundred miles of trails.

Best For / Top Activities: Scenic Drives, Fall Foliage, Hiking, Backpacking, Wildlife Viewing, Fishing

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Skyline Drive, Old Rag Mountain, Big Meadows, The Point Overlook, Dickey Ridge
  • Wildlife – Black Bear, Big Brown Bat, Skunks, White-Tailed Deer
  • How many days do you need? 2-4
fall foliage shenandoah national park + 17 Stunning PlacesPin

15. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

360 MN-11, International Falls, MN 56649, map

Average Temperatures: 52° F / 33° F

Why Visit: You can catch the tail end of fall foliage in October with fewer people, fewer mosquitoes, and cool temperatures. Also, don’t miss out on the chance to catch the Northern Lights at night.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Stargazing, Guided Tours, Bird Watching

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Echo Bay Trail, Grassy Bay Cliffs, Ellsworth Rock Gardens, Anderson Bay, Harry Oveson Fish Camp
  • Wildlife – Moose, Gray Wolf, Beaver, Bald Eagle
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: Portions of the park can only be accessed via the water. Check the Visitors Center for more info.

kabetogama lake voyageurs national parkPin

16. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

19955 US-70, Alamogordo, NM 88310, map

Average Temperatures: 79° F / 41° F

Why Visit: October is one of the quieter months at White Sands National Park. It’s a great time to explore the dunes with no one in sight or to even camp and gaze at the stars above. You’ll also find some cottonwoods changing colors at this time.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Bicycling, Backcountry Camping, Photography, Stargazing, Sledding

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Sledding, Dune Life Nature Trail, Alkali Flat Trail, Playa Trail
  • Wildlife – American Badger, Apache Pocket Mouse, Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Bobcat, Coyote, Kit Fox
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: Since you’re hiking on dunes, you need to keep an eye out for trail markers. It can get disorienting very quickly. We got lost.

See Related – 5 Incredible Things to Do at White Sands National Park

Popular White Sands in New MexicoPin

17. Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

26611 US-385, Hot Springs, SD 57747, map

Average Temperatures: 63° F / 35° F

Why Visit: Although the cave stays the same temperature year-round, October also brings you great weather for exploring the surface trails. The surrounding grasslands and forested hillsides are beautiful and a great place to spot wildlife

Don’t Miss:

Best For / Top Activities: Tours, Hiking, Wildlife, Scenic Drives

  • To Do – Wind Cave Tour, Prairie Vista, Elk Mountain, Bison Flats, Boland Ridge
  • Wildlife – Bison, Prairie Dog, Black Footed Ferret, Elk, Bobcats, Mountain Lions
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: Stop by the Visitor Center for more info about cave tours.

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Map of the Best National Parks to Visit in October

Want to See More NATIONAL Parks to Visit in October?

If you love national parks like us and have done many of the above, here are some more ideas for National Parks to visit in October. While October may not be the top two ideal months out of the year to visit these parks, it’s not a bad time either.

Tips for Visiting the Best National Parks in September

  • Explore the parks responsibly using Leave no Trace principles.
  • Pick up the National Park Annual Pass if you plan on visiting multiple parks within the year. It saves you a lot of money.
  • Want to see the fall foliage? Climate change and droughts this year will make timing more unpredictable. We typically go onto the geotag on Instagram or Tiktok and scroll through all the recent posts to see what it’s looking like. Keep in mind that some people post older content, so I like to look at the grid or ones that non-influencers are posting. You can also leave a comment and ask when they went.
  • It’s always a good idea to pack layers wherever you go. Some parks are warm during the day and cool at night. Pay attention to the elevation change too! Some parks will be warm on the valley floor and cold at higher elevations.
  • You may need a reservation. See national parks that now require reservations here.
  • Always check the park’s site and Visitors Center for the most up-to-date information on closures.
  • Remember that wildlife is wild. Be familiar with how to interact with animals and how much space you should have between you and them.
Turret Arch Arches National ParkPin

What to Pack

How you will pack depends on which park you visit and the activities you plan, but here is a general guide on items we always try to pack.

FAQs

Are national parks crowded in October?

Fall is one of the best times to visit National Parks. October usually means there are fewer crowds (unless you visit a park known for its fall foliage). Accommodations are usually cheaper too.

What time of year is best to visit national parks?

Late September and October are the best times to visit National Parks. You get warm, but not cold weather, and fewer crowds because kids are back in school, which also means cheaper accommodations.

What national park is best to visit in October?

It depends on what you’re looking for! If you’re visiting for fall foliage, Great Smoky, Shenandoah, and Red River Gorge are great. To avoid crowds, check out White Sands, Isle Royale, or Voyageurs.

What is the best national park to visit in the fall?

All the parks on this list are good for one reason or another, but our vote goes to Acadia National Park for fall foliage plus the coast.

What is Zion like in October?

Highs of 82 degrees Fahrenheit and lows of 43 degrees make it still warm when there isn’t shade. Avoid exposed hikes in the middle of the day, and use the warm temps to explore the river and canyon.

How is Yellowstone in October?

Yellowstone in October is a great time to see wildlife still out and about. Many of them are preparing for winter now. The weather is cool and crisp, and fall colors are also out.

What is Yosemite like in October?

The weather in the valley is still warm during the day with highs of 71, but it drops down to the low 40s at night. If you head up to Tuolumne Meadows, the temperatures drop by 20 degrees.

Is Glacier park open in October?

Roads start closing in October, so portions of the park may not be accessible depending on the weather.

How hot is Grand Canyon in October?

On the South Rim, the highs are usually around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and the lows are around 33.

Recap of the 17 Best National Parks to Visit in October

September is a wonderful time to explore the National Parks. You get to take advantage of good weather, and most schools have started back up, so it will be a bit less crowded than in the height of summer. Here is the list of parks we recommend visiting.

  1. Acadia National Park
  2. Arches National Park
  3. Big Bend National Park
  4. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  5. Canyonlands National Park
  6. Capitol Reef National Park
  7. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  8. Congaree National Park
  9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
  10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  11. Isle Royale National Park
  12. New River Gorge National Park
  13. Petrified Forest National Park
  14. Shenandoah National Park
  15. Voyageurs National Park
  16. White Sands National Park
  17. Wind Cave National Park

Can you think of others that belong on this list of best national parks to visit in October? Which ones are we missing?

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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust



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