Plan Ahead for Fall, Part 4: National and State Parks That Shine in Autumn


The gorgeous scenery of America's state and national parks explodes into color during autumn. Here's a look at some of the top parks for fall.

Zion National Park. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Not only do national and state parks offer spectacular fall scenery, these easily accessible parks come with budget priced accommodations and activities. Hike along rivers, admire towering cliffs, watch an Old West-style round-up of bison, and savor views of waterfalls and mountain peaks. Park lodging for this autumn’s leaf-peeping season may be scarce, but nearby communities could have accommodations still available. If you can’t get the lodging you want, book your rooms now for next year.


Plan Ahead, Part 3: Treat Your Five Senses to a Fabulous Fall Trip Plan Ahead for Fall, Part 2: Great Family Getaways Plan Ahead: Fall Fun in the Mountains

Zion National Park, Utah, offers towering mesas and spectacular red rock formations. You can hike along the Virgin River lined with cottonwood trees and box elders to towering cliffs with cascading waterfalls and also walk through narrow canyons whose walls flame red in the sunlight. Well-known sites include the Great White Throne, a 2,400-foot-high monolith and the Temple of Sinawava, a towering cliff with a cascading waterfall. The Zion Canyon Shuttle makes eight stops around the park, making it convenient to access various trails. The Zion Lodge, the only in-park accommodations, offers comfortably furnished rooms with bathrooms, heat and air conditioning.

Custer State Park, South Dakota, adjacent to the Black Hills National Forest, consists of 71,000 acres of rolling grasslands and pine forests. Some 1,300 bison, one of the nation’s largest herds, roam the park. Jeep safari drives get you out in the back country to see these living icons of the west as well as the resident deer, elk, and pronghorn sheep.

During the annual Buffalo Round-up and Arts Festival, held the last Friday in September—this year Sept. 30—arrive at the park by 7:30 a.m. Later in the morning, the herd comes thundering across the plains, chased by wranglers who move the animals into corrals for sorting and branding. Some of the animals will be sold at auction in order to maintain a sustainable number of bison in the park. The festival features music, crafts and food vendors. The park offers several lodges. State Game Lodge and Resort, a gracious stone and wood building, served as the 1927 “summer White House” for President Calvin Coolidge. Creekside, built in 2008, offers modern lodge rooms.

Great Smoky Mountains NationalPark. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

The Great Smoky Mountains straddle the border of Tennessee and northwestern North Carolina for 70 miles. One of the US’s most visited national parks, the park features spectacular fall foliage, waterfalls, and gorges, as well as easy and challenging hikes. Catch the views along several scenic drives. The 32-mile-long Newfound Gap Road connects the Sugarland and Oconaluftee visitors’ centers and offers several pull-offs. The Blue Ridge Parkway cuts through the park, cresting the mountains. Along the seven-mile Clingmans Dome Road, overlooks gift you with views of ridges and mountaintops. From the parking area, you can hike the steep half-mile trail to an observation tower situated atop the park's highest peak at 6,642 feet. The park provides only LeConte Lodge, which is atop Mount Le Conte, and accessible via a hike. You can find many types of lodging in the towns near the park.

Which parts do you try to visit in autumn? Share your comments with me on Twitter, @familyitrips.

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