The Best National Parks for Fall Photography

Our National Parks

What are the best national parks to photograph in the fall? Here are my choices, grouped by state and province from west to east. This list includes the favorites I have been to, plus the ones I most want to see based on the recommendations of the photographers I trust, like Tim Fitzharris and QT Luong.

Double Arch at Night, Arches National PArk

Alaska – Denali

Autumn on the Taiga. Denali National Park.

Autumn on the Taiga. Denali National Park.

Denali is amazing. One of our top ten national parks.

Denali Sunrise, Reflection Pond, Denali National Park, Alaska.

Caribou

Caribou, Denali National Park

Washington – Mount Rainier, North Cascades

Last Light on Mt. Rainier

Last Light on Mt. Rainier, Washington

Mt Rainier is spectacular in any season of the year, and there are a number of classic views from the park roads.

My travels have never taken me to North Cascades. It is on my list.

California – Yosemite, Redwood

El Capitan in the moonlight, camera and tripod. El Capitan Meadow.

El Capitan in the moonlight. Yosemite National Park.

California has an abundance of national parks, and Yosemite is a must see in any season.

Deer in the headlights. Yosemite Valley.

Deer in the headlights. Yosemite Valley.

Gates of the Valley. Yosemite National Park, California.

Gates of the Valley. Yosemite National Park, California

Arizona – Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon at Dawn, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is amazing any time of year. I’ve only been there in the winter, as you can see from the snow in this photo. I am overdue a summer trip.

Montana – Glacier National Park

I was in Glacier National Park long ago and I was blown away. I need to go back with a camera.

Wyoming – Grand Teton, Yellowstone

It has been too many years and it was before my photography days, but these two parks are amazing. Yellowstone is one of America’s top five national parks.

Utah – Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, Dead Horse Point

Oh my! Southern Utah is amazing! Most of these parks are not known for great fall color. Fall is the time to go because the summer heat is gone.

Bryce Canyon after Sunset, Utah

Not surprisingly, Bryce Canyon is one of the most the most recommended national parks to photograph in any season. It is one of my most favorite places. If you haven’t been there already, put it at the top of your travel list.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion is known for its huge rock walls and unusual sandstone formations. And you can get some fall color.

Moon Over Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, Utah.

Moon Over Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, Utah.

Arches is right up there with Bryce Canyon as an amazing place! Just get there.

Dead Horse Point

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah.

Dead Horse Point is a state park, not a national park, but it is one of the most stunning viewpoints on the planet so I am adding it anyway.

Colorado – Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite places on the planet, and especially in the fall.

The same scene at a shutter speed of 1/25 second. Aperture and ISO unchanged.

The road to Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Bear Lake, Hallett Peak, and Flattop Mountain in the Moonlight. September 26, 2015.

Bear Lake, Hallett Peak, and Flattop Mountain in the Moonlight. September 26, 2015.

It is one of the most recommended national parks for fall photography.

Bull elk, Rocky Mountain National Park.

In addition to the splendid scenery in “Rocky”, you have an abundance of wildlife.

Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

I am one of the few people that recommends Great Sand Dunes in the fall, but the temperatures are nice and there are very few people around. Dunes 700 feet tall are the prominent feature at Great Sand Dunes National Park. When it gets really late in the day the normally light toned sand dunes darken to almost a chocolate brown. Don’t be surprised if you get an early season snow storm.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

I haven’t been to Mesa Verde in decades and never in the fall. I am adding this to the list based on the strong recommendation from QT Luong. He has photographed all 59 national parks extensively and Mesa Verde is on his top ten list of fall national parks.

New Mexico – White Sands

White Sands

White Sands, New Mexico

White Sands is a great location in the fall. There isn’t any fall color to speak of, but like the other desert parks, the summer heat is gone. The low angled sunlight can turn the white gypsum sand into wonderful colors.

Yucca, Moon, Venus

Yucca, Moon, Venus

Texas – Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains

Boquillas Canyon, Rio Grande River

Boquillas Canyon, Rio Grande River

Big Bend is another wonderful park with not much fall color but much better temperatures than in the summer.

Sunset, "The Window", Chisos Basin, Big Bend National Park

Sunset, “The Window”, Chisos Basin, Big Bend National Park

I am adding Guadalupe Mountains to this list because it is one of QT Luong’s top ten fall picks.

North Carolina /Tennessee – Great Smoky Mountains

I love the Great Smoky Mountains in the summer and fall.

Book Note: If you are going to the Great Smoky Mountains, John Netherton’s book is essential reading.

Virginia – Shenandoah

Second only to Acadia, this is the best national park for fall photography in the United States.

Maine – Acadia

They tell me this place is amazing and the photos support that notion. Can’t wait to go there. It may be the best national park for fall photography. It is certainly the most recommended.

Alberta Canada – Banff and Jasper

Mount Rundle, Two Jack Lake

Mount Rundle, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

A few years ago I spent four glorious days in Banff National Park. Magnificent place. If you are thinking about heading to Canada, these two parks are well worth the trip.

Bull Elk Bugling, Banff National Park.

Autumn Leaves, Banff National Park

Autumn Leaves, Banff National Park

Vermillion Lakes, Banff National Park.

The Best of the Best Parks for Fall Color

Of the best national parks to photograph in the fall, which are the best of the best? In other words, if I could go anywhere with no limitations on time and costs, where would I go? That’s a tough call, but here’s my list. Keep in mind I am a mountains and deserts kind of guy. As much as I love to visit the desert parks in the fall (as you can tell from the list above), I am leaving the deserts off this list. They aren’t the prime fall color destinations. These parks are really close together in my priority order on my list. Ask me tomorrow and the order might be different.

Denali
Acadia
Great Smoky Mountains
Grand Teton
Rocky Mountain
Yellowstone
Yosemite
Shenandoah

More Places to Go

For more suggestions, be sure to read the companion article to this one, Two Photographers and Eleven Outdoor/Travel Writers Pick the Best National Parks for Fall

Now it is time for you to plan your trip and work on your own favorite fall parks list!

National Parks Photo Location Guides

One of the best photo location guides is National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris. It is my favorite photography guide to 24 of the best national parks. He provides you with a lot of specific photography locations in each of these national parks. Tim also gives you photo suggestions and tells you the best season or seasons to photograph in each national park. Because Tim’s advice is so on target for the parks I have already photographed, I trust Tim’s advice for the places that I haven’t been to yet.

Treasured Lands by Q.T. Luong is far and away the best and most beautiful collection of photos from all 59 of our national parks. It is not a photography guide book that tells you where to go and when and how to shoot the scene. But it does have the location of every photo in the book. So you can turn it into an excellent location guide to some of the best spots to take pictures in every national park. It is the most comprehensive collection of beautiful photos for all of our national parks.

Road Trip

A road trip to the national parks in the lower 48 states. Click for a larger version.

A road trip to the national parks in the lower 48 states. Click for a larger version.

Want to go on a road trip to several national parks? Check out the map above and the road trip link below.

Links

Series Links

The National Park Series: Where to Go and When  – There are now over a dozen articles in this series.

When is the Best Time of Year to Photograph the National Parks?

The Best Months to Photograph the Best National Parks  –  When are our best national parks at their photographic prime? This is your guide to the best months for each park.

Two Photographers and Eleven Outdoor/Travel Writers Pick the Best National Parks for Fall

Colorado Fall Color Travel Guide

Ten National Parks For Fall Foliage by QT Luong – Outdoor Photography

Road Trips

A Road Trip to All of the National Parks in the “Lower 48” States

Book and Article Links

National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris

Treasured Lands by Q. T. Luong

The best Scenic Location Guides for photographers.

Nature Photography Books: The Three Essentials. If you only read three nature photography books, put these on your “must read” list.

My Favorite Introduction to Landscape Photography. If you only read one book on landscape photography, this should be it. This is my favorite to recommend to new landscape photographers.

The Best “How To” Nature Photography Books