Fall is a fabulous time of year to visit the national parks. Crowds are usually smaller than in the summer, temperatures are cooler, and some of our national parks have glorious fall colors. With so many to choose from, where should you go? Which national parks will provide the best photographic opportunities in the fall?
Originally posted September 13, 2017. Updated and re-posted September 15, 2020.
You can start with National Park Photography by Tim Fitzharris, or his updated version, National Audubon Society Guide to Photographing America’s National Parks: Digital Edition. It is my favorite guide book to 24 of the best national parks. Tim provides you with a lot of specific location recommendations in each of these national parks. He 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 places I have already photographed, I trust Tim’s advice for the places I haven’t been to yet. His recommendations are in the first column in the spreadsheet that follows.
My favorite photography book devoted to all 59 of the U.S. national parks is Treasured Lands by Q.T. Luong. It is a large “coffee table” type book with gorgeous photos of all 59 national parks. It is not a photography guide book, but it does provide the locations for all of the photos in the book. You can look at the photos, decide which locations interest you and look up their locations in the back of the book.
QT Luong wrote an article for Outdoor Photography magazine and picked his ten favorite national parks for fall photography. They are indicated in the second column of this spreadsheet.
I found eleven articles recommending the best national parks to visit in the fall. If an article recommends a park I put an X in that article’s column opposite that park on the spreadsheet above. You can quickly see which national parks are the most recommended.
I picked this set of articles because they are better than most of the other articles I found online. With some exceptions, the advice they give is going to send you to the best parks to photograph in the fall.
So how do you decide where to go? First I would suggest you give the most weight to advice from the photographers in the first two columns. They are more likely to know what other photographers are going to like. Second, I would take a look at the most recommended parks. All 15 parks in the list that follows are worth considering as photo destinations this fall.
Most Recommended National Parks for Fall
Grand Teton 11
Great Smoky Mountains 11
Rocky Mountain 9
Cuyahoga Valley 7
Grand Canyon 5
Mount Rainier 5
Guadalupe Mountains 4
Where you live might have a lot to do with which park or parks you choose to photograph this fall. If you live in Texas you should go to Guadalupe Mountains National Park even though it is only on four of the lists. Plus it is on QT Luong’s top ten list which counts for a lot.
The Lonely Planet list below (and spreadsheet above) is the only list to recommend National Parks in Canada. Banff and Jasper National Parks, both in the province of Alberta, are excellent parks to photograph in the fall. If you are up near Glacier National Park you should head on north to Banff and Jasper.
Look for parks that are clustered together, like the great string of parks across southern Utah which aren’t far from the Grand Canyon. Most of the Utah parks don’t have a lot of fabulous fall colors, but they are still amazing places to go and you no longer have the oppressive summer heat that Utah is noted for.
If you are headed for California, Yosemite is a must see. But you should also check out Redwood National Park and Sequoia/Kings Canyon while you are in California, even though they are only on one or two lists.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a must see if you are headed for Colorado. While you are there you should drop down to Mesa Verde which is on QT Luong’s top ten list. On the way you can photograph the fabulous colors in southwest Colorado. Be sure to look at my Colorado Fall Color Travel and Photography Guide which has over 100 pages of information to to help you make the most of a fall trip to Colorado.
There are other articles on the internet recommending places to go but a note of caution is in order. I’ve had people recommend “great” places to take pictures which often turned out to be average at best. I bet that has happened to many of you too. The same is true for internet articles. People who aren’t serious photographers are sometimes quite clueless as to what photographers will find photographically interesting. When you read an online article does it come from a well known photographer or a highly respected publication like Outdoor Photographer? If it does that is a good sign. If it is an unknown photographer or publication, be more cautious.
You could go by the pictures that accompany an article to see if it really is a worthwhile location, but that could be misleading too. An article I read on the beautiful scenery in Montana was headlined by a photo of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. I’ve seen several other examples recently of photos that didn’t match the locations in the travel articles. Some photo editors really are clueless.
After you read an article recommending a particular place, it would be a good idea to do a Google Image search of that place and see what photos you turn up. Of course the photos you find are no more reliable than the people who posted them on the internet. Well captioned photos by professional photographers (“Maroon Bells photographed from Maroon Lake in Colorado in December”) are more reliable than wild guesses like “this is somewhere in Montana” and the photo might not be of Montana at all.
All of this is important so you don’t waste precious time. We all have limits on our shooting time, so you want to make the most of it. As National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson says, “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff!” Spend your limited fall photography time at the best locations.
It helps to know which month in the fall is the best time go to a particular park. That is why this chart from Lonely Planet is so useful. This chart is second in importance only to the places recommended by Tim Fitzharris, so give this chart a lot of weight. If you are going.
So look at the spreadsheet above, the Lonely Planet chart, and the links below. Think about getting Tim’s book and QT Luong’s book or one of the other excellent scenic location guides linked below. Then go exploring at one or more of our beautiful national parks this fall.
What are MY top choices for fall photography in the national parks? Where do I most want to go? That is the subject of the companion article to this one: The Best National Parks for Fall Photography.
Some of the best location guides for photographers are linked below in the best scenic location guides section of my photography store.
The National Park Series: Where to Go and When – There are now over a dozen articles in my national park series.
Photo Guide Purchase Links
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
My Article Links
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.
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.
My Two Favorite Introductions to Landscape Photography. If you only get two books on landscape photography, these are the books to get.
Articles: The Best National Parks in the Fall
Ten National Parks For Fall Foliage by QT Luong – Outdoor Photography
When is the best time to visit US and Canada’s National Parks? – Lonely Planet
15 national parks for fall color – The Wilderness Society
The Best National Parks for Fall Foliage – Travel and Leisure
Top National Parks for Fall Foliage – Trip Savvy
8 of the Best National Parks to Visit in Fall – Samantha Brown
10 Best National Parks to Visit in Fall – Weather Channel