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. More about them later.
Originally posted September 14, 2017. Updated and re-posted August 19, 2019.
Alaska – Denali
Denali is amazing. One of our top ten national parks. The last week in August and early September is a good time to catch the peak fall colors.
Washington – Mount Rainier, North Cascades
Mt Rainier is spectacular in any season of the year, and there are a number of classic views from the park roads. Go in September.
My travels have never taken me to North Cascades. It is on my list.
California – Yosemite, Redwood
California has an abundance of national parks, and Yosemite is a must see in any season. In the fall the crowds are gone and the temperatures are cooler. Go in mid to late October.
Arizona – Grand Canyon
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. This is not a park known for spectacular color. Fall is as great time due to cooler temperatures and way less tourists.
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. Fall color is in late September to early October.
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. Go in September-October.
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.
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 is known for its huge rock walls and unusual sandstone formations. And you can get some fall color.
Arches is right up there with Bryce Canyon as an amazing place! Just get there.
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
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite places on the planet, and especially in the fall. Most years the ideal color is September 20 – October 5. See my Colorado fall color photography guide linked below.
It is one of the most recommended national parks for fall photography.
In addition to the splendid scenery in “Rocky”, you have an abundance of wildlife.
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.
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 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.
Texas – Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains
Big Bend is another wonderful park with not much fall color but much better temperatures than in the summer.
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. The color starts at the higher elevations and moves down in elevation through September and October.
Book Note: If you are going to the Great Smoky Mountains, John Netherton’s book, Guide to Photography and the Smoky Mountains, is essential reading.
Virginia – Shenandoah
When it comes to color, Shenandoah is considered to be one of the best national parks for fall photography in the United States. Go in Septe3mber to mid October.
Maine – Acadia
Acadia is amazing and one of the crown jewels of the national parks east of the Mississippi.
It is one of the best national parks for fall color photography. It is certainly the most recommended.
The third week in October is about the right time to catch the peak of fall color.
Alberta Canada – Banff and Jasper
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.
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.
Great Smoky Mountains
Peak Color can vary from year to year to the recommendations above are general. If you have a flexible schedule, check in with the park headquarters for the park you are headed to and ask how the fall color season is progressing. You can also check online color updates for your intended destination. Check my Fall Color Reports and Tours page for links.
Photo Location Guide Books
Once you get to a national park, how do you know where the best photo locations are in that park? That is where photography guide books come in. Read my article The Best Scenic Photo Location Guides. A good location guide book will tell you where the best spots are, the best time of day to be there, and give you some photo tips for shooting that location. Two books deserve special mention.
National Parks Photo Location Guides
One of the best photo location guides is National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris. Tim’s new edition is How to Photograph America’s National Parks, Digital Edition. It is my favorite guide book to 24 of the best national parks. He tells you the best season or seasons to photograph in each national park. Tim provides you with a lot of specific location recommendations in each of these national parks along with the time of day for each location plus some photo tips for shooting that location. Because Tim’s advice is so on target for the places I have already photographed, I trust Tim’s advice for the places I haven’t been to yet.
Treasured Lands by Q.T. Luong is far and away the best collection of photos taken in all 59 of our national parks. This is a cross between a big, beautiful; coffee table book and a photo location guide. Luong doesn’t give you a lot of photography advice and he doesn’t tell you the best season or seasons to visit each of the parks. Read Tim’s book for that. What makes it so valuable is that it gives you the location for every single photograph in the book. If you see an amazing photo and want to know where it was taken, you can look up the location.
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!
Want to go on a road trip to several national parks? Check out the map above and the road trip link below.
The National Park Series: Where to Go and When – There are now over a dozen articles in my national park series.
Colorado Fall Color Travel and Photography Guide – This is my guide to Colorado in the fall. It has over 100 pages of information on the best places to go, the best times to be there, plus suggestions for places to stay and eat. This guide is updated every year.
Fall Color Reports and Tours – links to fall color reports and recommended fall color drives
Ten National Parks For Fall Foliage by QT Luong – Outdoor Photography
The Best Scenic Photo Location Guides – A good scenic location guide can save you hours of time wandering around looking for the best spots.
Nature Photography Books: The Three Essentials. If you only read three nature photography books, put these on your “must read” list.
All of my favorite photo location guides are in the Scenic Photo Locations Guides section of my photography store which has direct links to Amazon.com. If you use the links in my store you get the same great Amazon prices, delivery, and guarantee and you help support my photography web sites. Thanks!
National Audubon Society Guide to Photographing America’s National Parks: Digital Edition by Fitzharris. Updated edition.
National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris, older edition.
Treasured Lands by Q.T. Luong