As summer beach and camping trips fade into the rear view, a unique travel window opens in America's National Parks.
Now is the perfect time to head to wild places, where abundant trees are kicking off a colorful fall show. Here are some of the best National Parks for finding that perfect autumnal sweet spot between summer crowds and wintry solitude.
Acadia National Park, Maine
"Not only do the mixed hardwood forests provide colorful displays, but the leaf-strewn carriage paths through the woods are a delight without the summer crowds," he says. The pace of the entire region, including tourist towns like Bar Harbor and Somesville, slows down and lodging rates take a dip, too. "Rumor has is that the crisp fall air also makes fresh lobster taste even better," Repanshek jokes.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Snow can come as early as September in the Tetons, but if you miss the leaf show, you can always go skiing in nearby Jackson Hole. Autumn in Grand Teton National Park features a riotous color blend of golden aspen, fiery maple and evergreen pines all set against a backdrop of one of the world's most magnificent mountain ranges.
Fall marks the time when the region's large mammals, including grizzly bears, moose and elk, are on the move to their winter homes. Best photo op: the Snake River shows off its curves at the Oxbow Bend turnout north of Moran junction. Not only is this the site of many famous images of the Tetons, it's also prime moose-spotting territory. Don't forget to scan the treetops for roosting bald eagles during your visit.
Arches National Park, Utah
You'll find plenty of color at Arches, though not all of it will be of the leafy variety. As its name implies, this desert park contains more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches and other amazing rock formations. What you'll also find are fewer crowds and more moderate weather compared to summer season, where the highs can reach over 100 degrees.
Repanshek suggests a morning or afternoon hike out to Landscape arch, passing the Double-O Arch and even out to the Dark Angel along the Devils Garden Trail. If hiking isn't your thing, you can take a driving tour of certain areas of the park instead. "The blue sky, red rock sandstone, and golden aspens make for an incredible visual palette," Repanshek says.
Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, Southeast
Rather than getting stuck in leaf-peeper traffic jams in the Smokies, why not try the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs 469 miles through the Appalachians between Shenandoah and Great Smoky? "The colors are just as dramatic, and there are plenty of wonderful towns just off the parkway where you can find a charming country inn," Repanshek says.
Olympic National Park, Washington
A visit to Olympic combines three types of parks in one: ocean shoreline, temperate rain forest and mountain vistas. "Fall is also one of the drier seasons in the park," says Repanshek. With summer crowds gone, finding a secluded campsite overlooking the Pacific becomes easy as pumpkin pie. Get a taste of Olympic's beauty via the Hurricane Ridge webcam at the Olympic National Park home page.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Though equally at risk of early snowfall, the colors of autumn in this northern alpine park, where massive granite peaks rise above flower-strewn valleys, are spectacular. A scenic drive along the 50-mile Going to the Sun Road is a must-do in this park (those stuck at home this fall can download an eTour from the National Park Service Web site.
If You Go
The National Park Service Web site offers trip-planning tips for each of its parks. You can find a park using the searchable U.S. map on the home page, or you can search by park. If you're planning on visiting more than one park, consider purchasing an America the Beautiful annual pass for $80, either online or at the entrance to any National Park or Federal Recreation Area. (Good news for those 62 and over: the Senior Pass is a steal at only $10). Individual parks also typically offer annual passes for entrance to that specific park -- a great deal for frequent visitors