Best National Parks to Visit in October

The national parks of the United States have been created to protect natural habitats in perpetuity while making their precious gifts of nature accessible for public enjoyment. Because of their location and the geographical or ecological treasures they enclose, different national parks are at the height of their glory at different times of the year. The best national parks to visit in October have comfortable fall weather conditions at a time when the rhythm of nature complements their beauty.

bar harbor lighthouse acadia national park

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert Island in Maine, is high on the list of the best national parksto visit in October. The summer crowds have thinned by then, and the spectacle of fall color that began in late September is still in full swing. The turning of the leaves in Maine adds brilliance to the rough granite shoreline of Mount Desert Island, as the red sumac leaves and the rusts and yellows of maple turn the park into a cornucopia of color.

One of the best ways to enjoy the fall colors is to take a Scenic Flight of Acadia air tour from Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport . Although the 35-minute flight is a bit pricey, the views from the air of Mount Desert Island's fall scenery is unbelievable and well worth the money. You get to see Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island from a completely different perspective. You might even see your vacation rental from there!


12 - Custer State Park Smug Family.jpgBadlands National Park, South Dakota

The mixed grass prairie and the rugged beauty of the eroded waterbeds of the Badlands seen in the raking light of a fall setting sun are unique and breathtaking. Contrary to its foreboding name, this huge park of more than 240,000 acres is alive with wildlife in the fall, as the bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and ferrets are much more active than they are in the middle of summer.
To experience the fall animal activity, be sure to get out of your car and take a walk. The Door trail is a gentle, three-quarter mile boardwalk that takes you through the Badlands Wall called "the Door" to the rocks beyond. The similarly easy and short Window Trail leads into a beautifully eroded canyon.

Badlands National Park is the source of numerous significant fossils, and you can see replicas of these and exhibits of the prehistoric creatures that once wandered this region on the one-fifth of a mile, family-friendly Fossil Exhibit Trail . Badlands National Park is an easy day trip from South Dakota vacation rentals in Custer, Rapid City, and Deadwood.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park can be hot in summer, so hiking and inspecting its mysterious rock formations can be difficult. But when the temperatures and summer visitors decrease in the fall, not only will your hikes be more comfortable, you also will have the trails more or less to yourselves, increasing the likelihood of encountering wild animals such as pronghorn sheep.

The easy four-tenths of a mile Mossy Cave trail is a pleasant streamside stroll leading up to a small waterfall, and the Rim Trail will give you unbelievable views of the hoodoos – the park's famous tall and thin spires of rock. A moderately difficult trail called Hat Shop leads down to the Under-the-Rim Trail , where you can see the unusual balanced-rock hoodoos.

For more fit day hikers, the Peek-a-Boo Loop is a steep 5.5-mile trail to the heart of Bryce Amphitheatre .

death valley road tripDeath Valley National Park, California

Death Valley National Park must be on the list of the best national parks to visit in October, because the days are still fairly long but the summer's scorching 115-degree heat is a thing of the past. You can even stay in a Las Vegas vacation rental, just a day trip from Death Valley.
The superlatives describing Death Valley as the hottest, driest and lowest are clear indicators of what you can expect. Inspecting the Harmony Borax Works; seeing the Devil's Golf Course , a rock salt wilderness; and viewing the eroded and colored badlands from the famed Zabriskie Point are all excellent in October.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

While the archaeological sites and scenery of Mesa Verde National Park are awe-inspiring year round, you will enjoy exploring the park in October when the summer daytime temperatures in the 80s have dropped to a much more mild average of 65 degrees.

Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Sites that is home to world-famous Native American cliff dwellings. The Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum is an excellent place to view artifacts and learn about daily life of the Ancestral Puebloans , but the real stars are the cliff dwellings nearby.

The Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling is the best preserved, and you can reach it by yourself. However, guided tours are the best way to get up close to the most amazing cliff dwellings, and they are very inexpensive. Be sure to see the Balcony House and the Cliff Palace . Getting into them requires negotiating uneven steps and tall, rustic ladders, but viewing history this vivid is well worth the effort.


*Banner Image from John B. Kalla

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