Fall In The National Parks: Some Great Activities To Put On Your Calendar

Sure, it's still August, but that doesn't mean it's too early to start penciling some fall events and activities in the National Park System onto your calendar. Here's a start, and we'll keep adding to it as we hear of events.

Voyageurs National Park

Boat tours for the fall have been added to the schedule of events at Voyageurs in Minnesota for late August and September.

The Kettle Falls Cruise will run August 27 – September 19 on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m. from the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center. This cruise to the historic Kettle Falls Hotel offers you two hours on land to dine at the hotel or enjoy a picnic lunch, and to explore the hotel and nearby dam.

Alternate Text
Two more boat tours have been added at Voyageurs National Park for this fall. NPS photo.

The boat can handle 20 passengers, and tickets are $40 for those 17 and older, and $25 for kids age 4-16. Kids 3-years-old and younger are free.

The Grand Tour offered August 27 – September 7 departs Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 1 p.m. from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center.

This cruise can handle 49 passengers. Tickets are $30 for those 17 and older, and $15 for kids age 4-16. Three and under are free.

The boat's captain will navigate Rainy Lake in search of bald eagles and other abundant wildlife, view a commercial fishing camp, and stop at Little American Island (1/4 mile accessible walk) where gold was discovered in the 1890s.

Reservations can be made in advance online at www.recreation.gov or by calling the National Call Center at (877) 444-6777. Advance reservations are available until midnight the night before the tour departs. Same day tickets can be purchased, by credit card only, at the Rainy Lake and Kabetogama Lake Visitor Centers if space is available. All ticket sales will stop 30 minutes prior to departure of the tour.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Yes, there's a musical connection to maritime life. And at this national historical park in San Francisco they'll be celebrating international maritime heritage through annual Sea Music Fest that features musical performances on two outdoor stages, and aboard two historic floating vessels, all at Hyde Street Pier.

Alternate Text
Hyde Street Pier comes alive in fall during the Sea Music Fest. NPS photo.

Come to the park and experience performances of sea chanteys, shore songs, Pacific Island dances, Chinese and Italian music and song, and traditional Celtic instrumental music on Hyde Street Pier and aboard historic vessels.

Performers include Gordon Bok, Irish fiddler Liz Carroll, William Pint and Felicia Dale, the Rahiti Polynesian Dance Company, the Chinese Instrumental Ensemble, Shay Black, Jeff Warner, Holdstock and Macleod, Dogwatch Nautical Band, Amelia Hogan, Salty Walt and the Rattlin’ Ratlines, Nicola Swinburne with members of the San Francisco Mandolin Orchestra, The Hot Frittatas Duo, Richard Adrianowicz, Celia Ramsay, Riggy Rackin, Megan Messinger, Aaron Clegg, Fiddle Rising, Melani and Sarah, Nathalie Reginster, and Autumn Rhodes.

The affair is scheduled for Saturday, September 14, from 9:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. The outdoor stage performances will be free, but if you want to board any of the historic ships it will cost $5 per person for those 16 and older, while kids 15 and under are free. If you have your national park pass, then you can board for free. There are no advance tickets. Purchase boarding tickets on Hyde Street Pier.

Acadia National Park

Fall skies can be some of the clearest throughout the year, and at Acadia National Park and its surrounding communities they'll be celebrating those clear, dark night skies with the Acadia Night Sky Festival that runs September 26-30.

Alternate Text

The festival is "a community celebration to promote the protection and enjoyment of Downeast Acadia’s stellar night sky as a valuable natural resource through education, science, and the arts.

"Maine’s spectacular rocky coast is home to Acadia National Park, and some of the last pristine, star-filled night skies in the eastern United States.

"Located in the communities surrounding Acadia National Park, the Acadia Night Sky Festival features many art, music, science, poetry, and stargazing events.Here the Milky Way shines bright in the largest expanse of naturally dark sky, east of the Mississippi. As the rapid loss of dark skies to light pollution receives national recognition, Maine is increasingly referred to as some place 'that still has stars.'"

To learn more about the scheduled events, which include an opportunity for kids to construct their own night sky ornament for their Christmas tree, head to this page.

Capitol Reef National Park

Apples are a key fall crop, and at Capitol Reef you can pick your fill from the park's orchards. From Pennsylvania to Utah and on west to California, the desire to bite into a nice crisp Golden Delicious, or pick a bag or bushel for pies and sauce, is luring visitors to parks.

Alternate Text
September is harvest season at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. Pat Cone photo.

Some are tasting a figurative slice of history, as the apples that grow at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site in Pennsylvania, at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina in many cases are the same varieties that homesteaders and settlers planted for their own tables and to sell to others.

Capitol Reef has the largest collection of historic orchards in the National Park System, with roughly 54 acres shaded in season by roughly 2,600 apple, peach, apricot, almond, pear, grape, plum, quince, and walnut trees.

If traveling to central Utah is out of the question, you might consider heading about 50 miles west of Philadelphia to the apple orchards of Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. Historians believe the first apple trees on the site appeared in the late 1780s. Among the fruit you'll find at Hopewell Furnace are Spitzenburg's, said to be Thomas Jefferson's favorite; Kerry Irish Pippen; Summer Rambo; Gravenstein, thought to be descended "from the garden of the Duke of Augustenberg, Schleswig-Holstein;" and Smokehouse, a variety traced to 1837 when it was grown next to a smokehouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Elsewhere in the national parks, backcountry wanders might find some heirloom apples in the hollers of Shenandoah National Park dating to homesteaders. While the park doesn't maintain any orchards, some of those old trees still bear fruit. Great Smoky Mountains National Park also has a few apple trees on display at its Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee, though not enough to let visitors pick their own.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Most everyone connects fall with ripe pumpkins, and at this historic site in Montana pumpkins will be the center of attention on Sunday, October 20. Sometimes you have a critical interpretive message to deliver and sometimes it's about enjoying what a park has to offer.

Alternate Text
Tractor-pulled hay rides are part of the fun at Grant-Kohrs Ranch during Pumpkin Sunday. NPS photo.

"Pumpkin Sunday," from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., combines the two. In three short hours, Grant-Kohrs Ranch in Deer Lodge Montana, may have as many visitors as in the entire month preceding the event.

High on young visitors' lists is their annual foray into a frosty patch to capture a pumpkin to paint. The larger message tells of agriculture's annual "payday," when crops are in, livestock is sold and the vital operating loan taken out the previous spring is repaid.

Heritage crafts and skills add to the day. Admission is free.

Rocky Mountain National Park

With the readily, and frequently, seen elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, it shouldn't surprise anyone that there's an "Elk Fest" in the park this fall.

This year the festival, which is based out of Estes Park, Colorado, runs September 28-29, the last weekend of the month. What goes out at an "Elk Fest"?

Well...you can give your best elk imitation during the bugling contests, learn about elk during seminars, check out the Mountain Man Rendezvous and listen to Native American music and, of course, watch elk. And, "the aptly named music group Elk Tones will perform on Saturday," say festival officials.

For all the details, check out the Elk Fest website. And check back, as they'll be adding to the list of activities.