Beautiful US National Parks To Add To Your October Bucket List

Looking to plan an October getaway? Skip the hustle and bustle of a major city and explore one (or some) of America's best national parks. With 425 national park sites collectively covering over 84 million acres, you've got options from sea to shining sea — literally. These sites are carefully preserved and maintained to ensure visitors can experience and appreciate their natural beauty and cultural significance.

Go stargazing in Big Bend and marvel at the Milky Way, catch Yellowstone in full fall-color garb, search for gators in one of the world's most extensive wetlands, the Everglades, or cruise along Maine's Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park; there is something for every type of fall traveler. National park adventures are often more affordable than their metropolitan counterparts, and some even have free entry year-round. Plus, more time in nature is good for your health and well-being. So what are you waiting for? Grab some hiking boots and layered clothes and set off for any of these national parks this October.

Glacier National Park

Fall in Glacier National Park means fiery foliage, an abundance of wildlife, and a little reprieve from the 3 million annual visitors it receives, most of whom come in summer. October is particularly ideal as it's the sweet spot before everything in the area is mostly shut down for the long, cold winter ahead. Visiting later in the month? Keep an eye out for the northern lights as the prime viewing season for the area runs from about mid-late October through March.

Set off on Firebrand Pass to catch bright yellow aspens along the winding trail off Highway 2. For something a little more challenging, the Highland Trail starts from Logan Pass with stunning panoramas throughout. Either way, stay on the lookout for wildlife such as elk, bighorn sheep, and bears. Alternatively, you can drive the Going-the-Sun Road until it closes down for the season on the third Monday of the month.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Golden aspens contrasted with emerald green spruces are just one reason Rocky Mountain National Park makes for a great visit in October. The weather drops to the perfect temperature for day hikes, and fewer crowds make them even more enjoyable. Not to mention, October is also part of 'the rut' season, a month-long period where male elks try their best to attract and impress female elk, making for great wildlife viewing.

Take in the stunning fall scenery from the Loch Vale hike starting from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. Upon completing the 3-mile feat, you'll be met with sweeping views of vibrant aspen groves, the glaciers of the Continental Divide, and a gorgeous view of The Loch (lake). Want to feel the wind on your back as you fly down the winding mountain roads? Set off on any cycling trails, such as Trail Ridge Road or Old Fall River Road.

Joshua Tree National Park

One word: stargazing. In October, Joshua Tree National Park — which is a designated International Dark Sky Park — is mild by day and cool by night, making it a great destination for stargazing compared to the scorching summer temps. The night sky is so spectacular that the park hosts an annual Night Sky Festival to take in the stunning Milky Way in all its glory. This year, the festival falls from October 13 to 14, just after the park's Joshua Tree Music Festival and before the Pioneer Days Fest.

In addition to the thriving festival scene, cooler temps make longer hikes and strenuous activities much more enjoyable. Explore boulder piles along the Skull Rock trail that's accessible year-round and makes for great night skies, or take advantage of one of the recommended hikes for fall, such as Lost Horse Mine of Mastodon Peak — just don't forget water!

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is great for fall foliage, with the jagged, rocky peaks of the mountains rising from the colorful forests of Jackson Hole Valley into a clear blue sky. Crimson reds, sunny yellows, burnt oranges, and bold greens make a gorgeous autumn tapestry to admire during a mid-day hike and picnic through the park.

To catch the park's best colors, lace up your boots for the Valley Trail – Phelps Lake Overlook challenge, a full-on day hike that will leave you exhausted but satisfied. For something a little more low-key, though, the Heron Pond – Swan Lake Loop is just as beautiful. Depending on the weather, you may even be able to start snowshoeing from late October. Be sure to also keep an eye out for the many wandering animals out and about this time of year, such as bison, elk, and pronghorn, the latter of which makes up one of the largest pronghorn gatherings on earth as part of their winter migration.

Acadia National Park

Way up north, off the coast of Maine, Acadia National Park has a lot to offer the autumn traveler. This vast expanse of rocky coastline, granite peaks, and mountains that seem to rise impossibly from the sea make it a beautiful place to visit year-round. Acadia National Park was originally created from private lands gifted to the public to promote conservation and foster a deeper appreciation of nature, the first of its kind to do so. 

In October, the foliage is in full force, the weather is mild, and the crowds are few. Cruise down Park Loop Road, a wonderfully scenic drive that winds through Mount Dessert Island's many lakes and mountains. Hike to Bubble Rock or brave the chilly weather and go for a walk along Sand Beach's rocky shoreline. For the best panoramic views, set out on the Beehive Trail not far from Sand Beach.

Big Bend National Park

Crisp desert air at night and balmy but bearable temperatures during the day make October a great time to visit Texas' most beloved national park, Big Bend. What sets Big Bend apart is its status as the national park with the least light pollution in the lower 48 states. This makes it an ideal location for fall stargazing. Stars aren't the only thing worth looking up for this time of year. October falls in the area's peak migratory season for birds traveling south for winter.

Hike the Chisos Basin Loop trail that snakes through the valley of the same name, lined with juniper, oaks, and Mexican pines. And on the note of snakes, you shouldn't find any along this trail, but you will want to keep an eye out for any bears or mountain lions in the distance. A little more strenuous but all the more rewarding is the Emory Peak trail, which leads hikers to the top of the highest peak in the Chisos Mountains with views as breathtaking as you'd expect.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is colorful on its own — but in October, once the leaves have started to change, the vibrant, technicolored geysers with the backdrop of the forests in foliage make it easy to see why it's one of the U.S.' most beloved National Parks. As one of the nation's most popular national parks — it was the first one, after all — it's pretty crowded in the summer and too cold in the winter to do much, so October is an ideal time to visit.

Make the usual pilgrimage to Old Faithful to see the iconic geyser whose sky-high eruptions have beckoned adventurers worldwide for centuries. For a stellar view of the Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Prismatic Overlook Trail is just the thing; be sure to also carve out some time to drive in the area, such as the iconic Paradise Valley just north of the park or Beartooth Highway. On the note of bears, Yellowstone is also one of the best national parks where you can see wildlife, so keep your eyes peeled.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Spread across the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau of Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is a fiery wonderland of copper-hued geology, ponderosa pine forests, and mind-boggling rock formations. Home to the world's largest number of hoodoos — the impossibly tall pillars for which the park is known —  Bryce Canyon is worth visiting for its tall, skinny spires of reddish-orange rock alone, but there's even more to offer. 

Hike around any of the many natural amphitheaters, enjoying cooler, slightly chilly desert temperatures in October, and be sure to stop by the four main viewpoints: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point. Because Bryce Canyon is so far from major cities, the light pollution and the stars are few. At the close of the day, carve out some time to enjoy the night sky, which is so clear that some 10,000 stars can be seen trailing along the Milky Way galaxy.

Yosemite National Park

October is a great time to visit Yosemite National Park because, unlike the summer, it's less crowded, and while there may be some snow, it's not in full force like it is in November and through the winter months. There are plenty of great trails from this time of year, whether you're looking to take in the foliage with El Capitan himself or spot some wildlife.

For serene waterfalls and lakes, take the Mist Trail, a short hike along the Merced River, passing Vernal Falls, Emerald Pool, and finally, Nevada Falls. Or, bring your binoculars and look out for far-off wildlife like black bears and local songbirds while tackling the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. Be sure to also stop by the Yosemite Museum to learn about the Indigenous Ahwahneechee people, who have lived in the valley for thousands of years, and for the best sunset of your life, there's Glacier Point lookout.

Badlands National Park

Bison, pronghorns, and bighorns, oh my! Badlands National Park is a great October getaway for its cool and comfy temperatures compared to the oppressive heat of the summer. As one of the most remote areas in the country, it has many a starry night to offer. It's best to explore the park by car to experience scenic drives like the Badlands Loop Road — a stretch that winds through the park's most beautiful areas — and Sage Creek Wilderness Drive while still having time to indulge in hiking and wildlife-watching.

Be sure to stop at the Pinnacles Overlook to see the breathtaking landscape that feels more like another planet, and stop at the Yellow Mounds to see honey and magenta hills. The Badlands is also arguably the best place in the country for sunset — but for an even better experience and the wilderness all to yourself, catch the spectacular sunrise.

Shenandoah National Park

Spread along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and home to sections of the Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park is the perfect October getaway. Cruise through foliage along the park's Skyline Drive or breathe in crisp mountain air on one of the park's many hiking trails that October is ideal for — we're looking at you, Mary's Rock trail.

To really see what all the fall foliage fuss is about (say that five times fast), take the short walk to Crescent Rock Overlook. The fall colors of Shenandoah are such a highlight that they can be tracked on the NPS site to plan the perfect trip around. For local wines and bites with a view of it all, make a pit stop at Skyland's Mountain Tap Room or Spottswood Dining Room at Big Meadows Lodge. Lastly, stop by the Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center to learn more about the history and geology of Shenandoah.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One glimpse of the Cataloochee Overlook is enough to make an October trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park an annual occurrence. Still, the beginning of fall can be taken in at almost any elevation throughout the park, from the river beds to forest-clad hilltops. Plenty of historical sites throughout the park make it easy to flesh out an itinerary of culture and nature.

Adventure through the Cataloochee Valley to watch Elk relaxing in their natural habitat or go biking through Cades Cove. Get to know the local history with a stop at the Old Mill & General Store in Pigeon Forge and the fascinating churches, barns, and mills of Cades Cove. For something more unique and memorable, take a train ride on the historic Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, where you'll be treated to stunning views of Fontana Lake, Nantahala National Forest, and much more.

Everglades National Park

The biggest draw for nature lovers in fall is bird watching. October starts the area's prime bird-watching season, and the minimal mosquitos, humidity, and thunderstorms compared to the summer months don't hurt either. The (slightly) cooler weather also means more time to be on the lookout for local alligators, panthers, and the occasional otter. As the largest subtropical wilderness on the continent, Everglades National Park belongs on any national park bucket list.

Hop on an airboat and embark on an epic safari through the Everglades while learning about the unique species and plants that make the wetlands a special place. Or, to have an adventure on foot, set off on the Cypress Dome wet walk hosted by the Everglades Institute, where a naturalist will lead you through the sawgrass prairies and cypress forests. Lastly, DIY your adventure by heading to any of the park's bird-watching spots, where you can look out for the more than 300 bird species that call this beautiful corner of Florida home.

Mount Rainier National Park

Peak foliage in Mount Rainier National Park is in early-mid October, and plenty of hiking trails are still open. Additionally, the abundance of cycling trails makes it easy and fun to take it all in. The clearer skies also better your odds of a full view of the ever-elusive Mount Rainier.

Take in the scarlet foliage slopes of Indian Henry's trail, or search for huckleberries and fall colors along the Summit Lake Trail. Experience the surrounding landscape just south of the park with a horseback tour and trot through the dense woods and foothills of Mount Rainier and along the serene Nisqually River. The highlight of visiting Mount Rainier National Park in October is the vibrant autumn reflections on its hundreds of lakes. 

Embark on a picturesque trek along the magnificent Narada Falls and Reflection Lakes Loop, where you can marvel at the stunning natural beauty surrounding you. Don't forget to observe the majestic elks that may cross your path along the way.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a beautiful hidden gem of Texas, complete with plenty of hiking trails, rich local history, and a spectacular landscape emblematic of the southwest. Not only that, but Guadalupe Mountains National Park also serves as the world's most extensive Permian fossil reef, has a unique patchwork of Mescalero Apache history, and boasts 4 of Texas' highest peaks. In other words, it's perfect for history buffs and nature lovers alike.

When it's cool enough for the climb, October is an ideal time to fulfill mountaineering dreams with a summit of the Lone Star State's highest mountain, Guadalupe Peak. For something a little less daring, there are a few different foliage hikes to choose from. While the area isn't exactly famous for a long season of foliage, mid-October is the sweet spot, especially along the McKittrick Canyon trail and ever-challenging route to Devil's Hall.