Fall is, in many people's eyes, the best season to enjoy the National Park System. Temperatures are moderating, insects are a thing of the past, forests wrap themselves in dazzling colors, and wildlife is easy to see and often vocal. Here are ten great reasons to explore the national parks this fall.
Spring and early summer are the best times for whitewater sports in the mid- and southern-Applachians—by fall, drier weather is in control. But that doesn't stop fall from being the premier floatin' season at Gauley River National Recreation Area
in West Virginia. Water releases from the Summerville Dam power the rubber-raft convoys that negotiate some of the best white-water
the East has to offer. NPS photo.
Whether you stay above ground, or go underground, the colors will dazzle you at Great Basin National Par
k in eastern Nevada. On top the turning aspens mix with the shades of green and grays in the pine forests and rocky outcrops, while underground the ruddy hues of Lehman Caves
extend in all directions. NPS photo.
Leave "Music City," Nashville, Tennesee, and on the three-state, 444-mile ride to Natchez, Mississippi on the Natchez Trace Parkway
you'll have a late sampling of awesone autumn color that peaks between late October and late November. And if you become a Facebook fan of the Natchez Trace Compact
, the parkway's friends' group—you could win a $500 gas card (in a September 28th drawing) to make the scenic drive even more enjoyable! This historic route has it all, including gradual grades that make this designated bike route the perfect cycling destination. There are even five designated bike-only campgrounds
. Add commercial sites to that and there's a place to stay every 30 to 60 miles. NPS photo, copyright Marc Muench.
New Hampshire's Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site
—one of only two National Park Service units in the state (the other is the Appalachian Trail)—honors the great sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens
. Tour the house, galleries, and grounds for insight into Saint-Gaudens' iconic artwork. Best of all, visit September 29th for the sixth annual Sculptural Visions
event celebrating the many forms of sculpture (two sculptures will be cast in bronze during a demonstration of "lost-wax" bronze casting). Of course, late September is also leaf-looking season, so hike the trails
at this historic site that's perfectly siutated near the border of Vermont and New Hampshire. There's no excuse not to add this historic site to any mid-state color tour of these two states.
An autumn trip to Kings Mountain National Military Park
in South Carolina not only synchs with the anniversary of the October 4, 1780 battle that turned the tide
of the American Revolution, it ushers in cooler temps. Summer can be pretty stuffy on the 1.5-mile hike
over this little summit where Patriots defeated a British-led army of Loyalists. Great autumn color that lasts into November makes this park a nice destination for history buffs who like hiking (and there's even a backcountry campsite).
Perhaps the most eery sound in the wild is that of a bull elk bugling with hopes of building a harem during the fall rut. You can catch this signature call of the wild in parks as widespread as Great Smoky Mountains, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier, Theodore Roosevelt, and Wind Cave
. And at Wind Cave, located in western South Dakota, rangers will help you catch the "high-pitched whistle" during guided hikes Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings through Thursday, September 27. Participants meet at the Elk Mountain Campground Amphitheater at 7 p.m. and are encouraged to bring a flashlight, a blanket to sit on, and to dress warmly. NPS photo.
Greet Fall on September 22 at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico, where the season will be welcomed at sunrise as seen from Casa Rinconada. Park gates open at 5:30 a.m. for this event. Parking at Casa Rinconada itself is very limited. Once that lot fills, visitors will be directed to other parking areas at Pueblo Bonito and Pueblo del Arroyo. Visitors will then walk to Casa Rinconada approximately 1/2 mile away. Be sure to bring warm clothes as it will be chilly before sunrise. Time-lapse photo at Casa Rinconada by Tyler Nordgren.
Spend a day with a hike through a rain forest, learning about ancient cultures, and exploring some of the history of sugar plantations in the Caribbean with a ranger-led hike down the Reef Bay Trail at Virgin Islands National Park. A bonus of this 3-mile hike is a boat ride back to park headquarters at Cruz Bay (sea conditions permitting). These hikes ($30 per person) are offered Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays through year's end. To make a reservation, call 340-779-8700. NPS photo of petroglyphs along the trail.
This is just a small sampling of things to do in the National Park System this fall. For more possibilities, check this website.