Ten National Parks For Fall Foliage

Favorite national parks to find vibrant fall color — and it’s not just the parks you’d expect

QT Luong is an expert on photographing in the national parks. Over the past 23 years he’s made more than 300 visits to all 59 parks. That’s 13 trips each year for a generation. Who better to turn to, then, to find the best places to photograph colorful fall foliage in the national parks?

“I really enjoy traveling in the autumn,” Luong says, “for the sense of change in the seasons as well as for practical reasons like lesser visitation, moderate temperatures and manageable daylight hours. I’ve been trying to catch fall color in each of the national parks where it is found — almost all of them except for some tropical and desert areas.”

In his book, “Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks,” Luong shares more than 500 beautiful photographs, as well as detailed maps and instructional information about his favorite times to visit each park, what trails he uses and what he looks for, as well as detailed explanations of how he made practically every image in the book. It’s equal parts inspiration and information: the definitive photographer’s guide to our national parks.

Here, Luong shares the particulars about ten of his favorite places in the parks to find fall foliage, as well as the images he’s made there. More than simply which parks to visit, he offers specific routes to follow and vantage points to look for. His goal — in the book and with the following guide — is to help photographers make their way off the well-worn path in an effort to make better pictures in the national parks.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

National Parks Fall Foliage Great Smoky Mountains

Row of trees, valley and ridges in fall color at sunset, North Carolina. Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Great Smoky Mountains has the finest forest on the East Coast, which is the region in the country with the most spectacular fall foliage. The East Coast is characterized by hardwood forests, and this park preserves the finest of them. The grand champion of biodiversity, Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts the greatest selection of vegetation of any region in the temperate climate zone. There are as many trees (130 species) as in all of Europe. The large variety means more vibrant and distinct hues.

The park is home to one of the largest deciduous old-growth forests in North America, with abundant maple trees, which are quite rare in the west and produce rich reds. There is road access to the highest point of the park, which is almost the highest point east of the Mississippi. This makes it possible to find views of colorful trees extending as far as the eye can see. Because the park spans 5,000 feet of elevation, autumn arrives gradually with a month of difference between low valleys and summits, which means a long fall foliage season.