If you love spotting wildlife, and want a digital detox, head to national parks. With this scenic but low-key backdrop, fall is prime time for in-depth exploration. National parks slow down during the fall. Crowds thin as children return to school. Temperatures drop from hot to cool. And colourful displays of fall foliage blaze across mountain ranges and lofty plateaus as temperatures become comfortable.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Gateway cities: Phoenix, 360 kilometers away, or Las Vegas, 435 kilometers away
Adventurers, grab your hiking poles. Mild temperatures along the Colorado River from September through November make autumn an excellent time for exploring the depths of Grand Canyon National Park. Visit the North Rim on the lofty Kaibab Plateau where you can hike trails that are lined with golden-leaved aspen trees. Facilities on the North Rim, which is 425 kilometers east of Las Vegas, close seasonally in mid-October.
Take a break from the trails and soak in culture at the Grand Canyon Music Festival, which closes out summer with classical music performances. The Celebration of Art soon follows, with resident artists painting the scene for a week, followed by a four-month exhibition in Kolb Studio.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Gateway city: Boston, Massachusetts, 440 kilometers away
Scenic driving is the big draw in autumn at Acadia. The 43-kilometer Park Loop Road, which swings past the rugged Maine coast, was designed to complement the natural landscape and offers many great views. From September through mid-October, orange, red and yellow leaves make this a great scenic drive. Pull over at Jordan Pond House for popovers and tea.
Adventurous hikers can scramble up iron rungs on the Precipice and Jordan Cliffs trails, which reopen in late summer. These “ladder trails” close in mid-March for nesting peregrine falcons.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Gateway city: Charlotte, North Carolina, 265 kilometers away
How best to describe the Great Smokies in fall? Magical comes to mind, especially after a hike down the Sugarland Mountain Trail. From its trailhead near Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park, this 19-kilometer path drops through three types of forest – spruce-fir, northern hardwood and cove hardwood. Depending on altitude and the time of year, leaves along the trail shimmer with the hues of autumn.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Gateway city: Denver, 112 kilometers away
When it comes to memorable love songs, the bugle call of the bull elk is hard to beat. From September through mid-October in the meadows of Rocky Mountain National Park, these 315-kilogram beasts display their antlers and sound their mating calls.
In the fall, aspens turn golden-yellow, and the tundra shines with copper hues. The park is extremely crowded at this time of year. Park officials may restrict access in specific areas when needed. Avoid congestion by arriving early or late in the day and visiting on weekdays.