Looking for the best national parks to visit in September?

September is one of our favorite times to visit National Parks. Some parks start to see the signs of fall, and since most kids are back in school, the crowds start thinning out.

17 best national parks in september title over photo of Carlsbad Cavern Natural EntrancePinPin

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Last Updated: September 1, 2022

Before we get into it, we want to remind everyone to please explore the parks responsibly using Leave no Trace principles. Stay on established trails, carry out anything you carry in, and don’t take anything you find in the parks.

About the National Park by month Series

To put together this list, we’ve combined our personal experiences and tips we gathered from locals and cross-referenced them with the weather, accessibility, local forums, seasonal attractions like fall foliage or wildflowers, and special events happening in the area. We also took into account any unique adventures only offered at certain times of the year to find the most optimal months to visit each National Park. Phew! that was a lot!

It took me a whole week of research, but since I’m a maximizer, it was completely worth having a year-round calendar of adventures (publishing that soon!). Also, check out our complete list of all the national parks and all national park units that include soon-to-be national parks.

We also chose not to include the hardest-to-access national parks in Alaska and the ones in U.S. territories in this series.

Is September a Good Time to Visit National Parks?

Yes! It’s the best month for so many national parks that we couldn’t even narrow it down to our typical top 15. 17 will just have to do.

Plan on visiting more than two national parks this year? Pick up an America the Beautiful annual pass to save money (entrance fees to each park are, on average, $30-35 per vehicle). Plus, you are helping support the Parks that always need the funding.

17 Best National Parks to Visit in September

1. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

43.8067345,-111.2627799, map

Average Temperatures: 66°F / 32°F

Why Visit: September marks the start of the fall in Grand Teton National Park. The cottonwood and aspen trees usually peak around the third week of September, and it’s also a good time to spot wildlife since they are out making last-minute preparations before winter. We’ve only visited Grand Teton in early June, late July, and late January, but we’ve heard from the locals that fall is their favorite season.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Leaf-Peeping, Wildlife, Photography, Bear

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Scenic Drive, Mormon Row, Whitewater Rafting, Mormon Row
  • Wildlife – Bison, Pronghorn, Elk, Moose, Grizzly Bears, Black Bears
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: Elk, deer, and moose find their mates in the Fall. Keep your ear out for the male elk’s bugle in the early evenings. They do this to signal dominance and attract females. Keep your distance, though (a minimum of 25 yards for elk), they are wild and may react defensively if they sense you.

See Related – 11 Incredible Things to Do in Grand Teton National Park

Your Ultimate Guide to Grand Teton National Park Wyoming | Are you visiting Grand Teton? Click this article to see a list of the 11 Best Things to Do in Grand Teton National Park. There is amazing photography spots, camping, scenic drives, and we include a Grand Teton National Park Hiking bucket list // Local Adventurer #grandteton #wyoming #nationalparkPin

2. Yosemite National Park, California

9035 Village Dr, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389, map

Average Temperatures: 84°F / 50°F

Why Visit: Yosemite is still one of our favorite parks, but we hear a lot of complaints about the crowds. September gives you a good balance for fewer crowds, and it’s typically the last month that everything is still open. It’s not at the top of our list for parks with the best fall foliage since most of the trees are evergreen, but you will find hints of fall, which peaks mid-Oct. We’ve mostly taken summer and winter trips to Yosemite, but Jacob got to visit most recently in late September without me for a Find Your Park campaign, and out of all the seasons we visited, it was his favorite time.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking and Backpacking, Tours, Photography, Scenic Drives

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Taft Point, Glacier Point, Half Dome, Tunnel View
  • Wildlife – Bears, Mule Deer, Big Horn Sheep, Great Gray Owl, Bighorn Sheep, Bobcats, Porcupines, Red Foxes
  • How many days do you need? 2-4

Pro Tip: We go for the epic valley views, but if you’re going for the waterfalls, you’ll want to visit during Spring and Summer instead. Most of the waterfalls, including Yosemite Falls, will have little to no water by this time of year.

See Related – 15 Breathtaking Things to Do in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park + 17 Best National Parks to Visit in SeptemberPin

3. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

360 MN-11, International Falls, MN 56649, map

Average Temperatures: 66°F / 45°F

Why Visit: September is a great time to visit Voyageurs because there are fewer visitors, fewer mosquitoes, and cooler temps. The season runs from September to November, although it can be cut short as temperatures drop drastically in November. If you’re looking for colorful leaves, mid-September is usually the best time. If you’re lucky, you can also catch the Northern Lights.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Stargazing, Guided Tours, Bird Watching

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Echo Bay Trail, Grassy Bay Cliffs, Anderson Bay, Harry Oveson Fish Camp, Ellsworth Rock Gardens
  • Wildlife – Moose, Beaver, Gray Wolf, Bald Eagle
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: Certain destinations are only accessible via water. Check their website and Visitors Center for more info.

See Related – Your List of All National Parks in the US

kabetogama lake voyageurs national parkPin

4. Redwood National Park, California

1600 US-199, Crescent City, CA 95531, map

Average Temperatures: 68°F / 44°F

Why Visit: September is a great month to visit Redwood National Park with cool hiking temps and thinning crowds. You can enjoy the turning of the season while still catching some of the summer warmth. Our second and most recent visit was in late October, and while it was great hiking temps, it rained the entire time.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking / Backpacking, Scenic Drive, Photography

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Fern Canyon, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Stour Grove, Enderts Beach, Avenue of the Giants
  • Wildlife – Roosevelt Elk, Bats, Black Bears, Mountain Lions, Harbor Seal, Sea Lions, Whales
  • How many days do you need? 2-4

Local Tip: Redwood National Park is unique because it partners with 3 California Redwoods State Parks. It covers a large area, and each one offers unique landscapes, including redwood forests and beaches.

See Related – 15 Epic Things to Do in Redwood National Park and State Park

5. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

47.2544508,-104.6167041, map

Average Temperatures: 75°F / 42°F

Why Visit: September is the locals’ favorite time of the year. The skies are usually clear and sunny, and the evenings are cool. You can go hiking, view wildlife, and take in the sights. We visited on our cross-country road trip in late June, which was way too hot for us. I remember taking lots of breaks in the car for AC.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking / Backpacking, Stargazing, Kayaking, Fishing, Guided Tours

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Elkhorn Ranch Unit, North Unit, South Unit, River Bend Overlook, Oxbow Overlook
  • Wildlife – Bison, Feral Horses, Elk, Mule Deer, Pronghorn, Prairie Dogs
  • How many days do you need? 2-3

Pro Tip: The park has three different areas. Start at the Visitors Center, and they can help you make the most of your time there.

See Related – Complete National Parks List by State

6. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

100 Great Basin, Baker, NV 89311, map

Average Temperatures: 67°F / 43°F

Why Visit: If you love stargazing, the Great Basin Astronomy Festival happens in late September. It also brings great hiking weather, and the caves stay the same temperature year-round. We visited in June, which is the other optimal month to visit. If you’re not much into stargazing, anytime from June-September is great. Since it’s one of the lesser-known national parks, you don’t have to worry about summer crowds like at Zion or Yosemite.

Best For / Top Activities: Hikers / Backpackers, Stargazing

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Bristlecone Trail, Lehman Caves, Wheelers Peak, Stella Lake
  • Wildlife – Water Shrews, Voles, Porcupines, Beavers, Ringtail Cats, Marmots, Bobcats, Mountain Lions
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Local Tip: As it gets later in September, there can be early snowstorms, so keep an eye out for the weather. Check their current snow and road conditions before you go.

See Related – 7 Things You Can’t Miss in Great Basin National Park

7. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

43.6835523,-102.6622546, map

Average Temperatures: 76°F / 52°F

Why Visit: Temperatures drop over 10 degrees in September, making the weather much more enjoyable. Plus, the busy summer crowds are gone. In October, the temps start dropping even lower, so September is the best time to still enjoy some warmth.

Best For / Top Activities: Scenic Drives, Wildlife Viewing, Stargazing, Hiking

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Fossil Preparation Lab, Sage Creek Rim Road, Sheep Mountain Table, Badlands Loop Road
  • Wildlife – Bison, Prairie Dogs, Bighorn Sheep, Black-Footed Ferret
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: Most of the highlights can be seen from the scenic drives, but hop out for some easy hikes (most are 1.25 miles or less).

Badlands National Park South DakotaPin

8. Acadia National Park, Maine

25 Visitor Center Rd, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, map

Average Temperatures: 67°F / 48°F

Why Visit: September and October are the two best months to visit Acadia. Although mid-October is best for fall colors, you’ll compete with the leaf-peeping crowds. If the fall foliage isn’t a top priority and you’re looking for a quieter time, go in early September between the summer crowds and leaf peepers.

Best For / Top Activities: Scenic Drive, Hiking, Rock Climbing, Cycling, Lobster Boat Cruise, Kayaking, Tidepooling

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Cadillac Mountain, Scenic Park Loop Road, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Precipice Trail, Thunder Hole
  • Wildlife – Moose, Black Bears, Whitetail Deer, Beavers, Seals, Harbor Porpoises
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: Tickets are now required to drive up Cadillac Summit Road. There are two types of tickets that you can get at Recreation.gov.

See Related – 15 Breathtaking Things to Do in Acadia National Park

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9. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

1000 US-36, Estes Park, CO 80517, map

Average Temperatures: 59°F / 38°F

Why Visit: September is a great time to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. You can cover some ground on the over 300 miles of trails, or if you want a more leisurely experience, the scenic drives are also beautiful. If you’re there to see foliage, fall colors peak typically around late September and early October.

Best For / Top Activities: Hikers / Backpackers, Wildlife Viewing, Scenic Drives, Stargazing

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Trail Ridge Road, Sprague Lake, Bear Lake Road, Alpine Ridge Trail, Emerald Lakes, Alberta Falls
  • Wildlife – Elk, Moose, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Lions, Deer, Bears, Bobcats
  • How many days do you need? 2-4

Pro Tip: If you want to explore Bear Lake Road, you must get a permit.

Rocky Mountain National Park in September + 17 Best National Parks to Visit in SeptemberPin
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10. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

11999 CO-150, Mosca, CO 81146, map

Average Temperatures: 73°F / 44°F

Why Visit: September has the best weather of the year, according to the National Parks Service. The skies are typically clear and sunny, and the aspens start changing colors peaking in late September or early October.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Sand Boarding, Off-Roading, Stargazing, Photography

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – High Dune, Sand Boarding, Medano Creek, Zapata Falls
  • Wildlife – Mule Deer, Ord’s Kangaroo Rats, Black Bears, Abert’s Squirrels, Pronghorn, Pikas, Elk
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: During early September, the surface temperatures of the dunes can still reach up to 150 degrees.

See Related – 9 Things You Can’t Miss at Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park SandboardingPin

11. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

727 Carlsbad Cavern Hwy, Carlsbad, NM 88220, map

Average Temperatures: 79°F / 57°F

Why Visit: September is the tail end of the area’s “wet” season, although that doesn’t mean it gets much rain. But you see it as green as it gets this time of year. Plus, if you want to explore any of the surface hiking trails, the temperatures are much cooler than in the summer. And don’t miss out on the Bat Flight Program (late May through October at 7 pm)!

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Wildlife Viewing, Guided Tours, Stargazing

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Bat Flight Program, Big Room and Natural Entrance Trails, Guadalupe Ridge Trail
  • Wildlife – Vesper Bats, Coyotes, Gray Fox, Kit Fox, Bobcat, Black Bears, Pronghorn, Vipers, Box Turtles
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: If you are doing the Bat Flight Program, no electronic devices are allowed (including cameras and cell phones) to protect the bats.

See Related – 15 Least Visited National Parks You Need to Explore Next

Carlsbad Cavern Natural Entrance + 17 Best National Parks to Visit in SeptemberPin

12. Yellowstone IN SEPTEMBER

44.4279929,-110.6243323, map

Average Temperatures: 62°F / 31°F

Why Visit: Summer is too crowded in Yellowstone. September is a great time because you lose the summer crowds, but most everything is still accessible. Mid-September to mid-October is a great time to see the elk rut (males out looking for mates). Plus, bears are prepping for the winter, and you get to enjoy the park with fall foliage.

Best For / Top Activities: Hikers / Backpackers, Wildlife Viewing, Scenic Drives

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring
  • Wildlife – Bison, Grizzly Bears, Wolves, Mule Deer, Elk, Bighorn Sheep
  • How many days do you need? 2-4

Pro Tip: The park is huge (3472 square miles, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined)! Plan your days to explore specific areas, so you don’t spend most of your time driving back and forth.

See Related – The Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park

Your Ultimate Guide to Yellowstone National Park - Best Attractions, Activities, Day Hikes, Tips on How to See Wildlife, and More // Local Adventurer #yellowstone #thatsWY #wyoming #visittheusa #outdoorsusaPin

13. North Cascades National Park, Washington

376 Newhalem St, Marblemount, WA 98267, map

Average Temperatures: 46°F / 26°F

Why Visit: The weather is cold in September, but it’s getting more popular due to its fall colors and wildlife. It’s also shoulder season, although this park never gets that busy.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking / Backpacking, Fishing, Scenic Drives

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – North Cascades Highway, Cascade Pass, Washington Pass Overlook, Diablo Lake Vista Point, Stehekin
  • Wildlife – Black Bears, Gray Wolves, Elks, Beavers, Bobcats
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: With the cooling weather, it’s always smart to check the current conditions before heading there in case there are any closures.

See Related – Travelogue: North Cascades National Park

Diablo Lake - Ross Lake National Recreation Area in North Cascades National Park Complex, WA USAPin

14. Mesa Verde National Park, New Mexico

35853 Rd H.5, Mancos, CO 81328, map

Average Temperatures: 74°F / 46°F

Why Visit: Mesa Verde is an amazing National Park and archeological site. There are 600 cliff dwellings! In September, the temperatures cool down, and crowds thin, making it a nicer time to explore the sites.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking, Guided Tours, Wildlife Viewing, Scenic Drive

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Step House, Mesa Top Loop Road, Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum
  • Wildlife – Mule Deer, Black Bear, Coyote, Bobcat, Spotted Bat, Great Horned Owl
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Local Tip: Stop by the Visitors Center, Museum, or the Durango Welcome Center to purchase tickets for the guided tours

See Related – 7 Things You Can’t Miss in Mesa Verde National Park

Far View Sites Mesa Verde National Park ColoradoPin

15. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

800 E Lakeshore Dr, Houghton, MI 49931, map

Average Temperatures: 62°F / 49°F

Why Visit: Isle Royale has a limited season from mid-April to late October. September is shoulder season and the locals’ favorite time of year since it’s quieter. Although, as a visitor, it’s never as overwhelming as parks like Zion or Yellowstone since it’s one of the least visited national parks in the US.

Best For / Top Activities: Hiking / Backpacking, Camping, Fishing, Kayaking, Scuba Diving

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Ferry Ride, Greenstone Ridge Trail, Tour the 3 Lighthouses
  • Wildlife – Moose, Wolves, Elk, Snowshoe Hares, Foxes, Mink, Beavers
  • How many days do you need? 1-3
isle royale lighthouse national parkPin

16. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

629 Central Ave, Hot Springs National Park, AR 71901, map

Average Temperatures: 85°F / 61°F

Why Visit: September is a great time to visit Hot Springs National Park because it’s shoulder season with fewer crowds around the springs. Plus, it makes for better hiking temps while going leaf-peeping.

Best For / Top Activities: Soaking in Springs, Hiking, Birdwatching, Scenic Drives

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Buckstaff Bathhouse, Quapaw Bathhouse, The Display Spring, Hot Water Cascade
  • Wildlife – White-Tailed Deer, Groundhog, Black Bear, Bats, Song Birds
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: You cannot soak in any of the outdoor thermal springs, only in the two bathhouses.

Hot Springs National Park Arkansas + 25 Best Hot Springs in the US to Soak InPin

17. Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri

11 N 4th St #1810, St. Louis, MO 63102, map

Average Temperatures: 80°F / 57°F

Why Visit: This isn’t a park like the way we traditionally think of National Parks, but St Louis is a great city to visit this time of year with tons of festivals and events.

Festivals and Events: St Louis World’s Fare Heritage Festival & Games (Sep 2-4), The Gateway Cup (Sep 2-5), St Nicholas Greek Festival (Sep 2-5), Japanese Festival (Sep 3-5), St Louis Art Fair (Sep 9-11), Ascension CHarity Classic (Sep 6-11), Music at the Intersection (Sep 10-11), St Louis Ren Faire (Sep 17-Oct 23), Greater St Louis Hispanic Festival (Sep 23-25), and Taste of St Louis (Sep 23-25).

Best For / Top Activities: Guided Tours, Museums, Sightseeing

Don’t Miss:

  • To Do – Tram Ride to the Top, Explorer’s Garden, Reflection Ponds, Grand Staircase, Old Courthouse
  • Wildlife – Gray Squirrel, Opossum, Coyote, Bats
  • How many days do you need? 1-3

Pro Tip: There is no official parking at Gateway Arch National Park, but you get preferred parking at the Stadium East Parking Garage. It is currently $9 for 5 hours.

Gateway Arch National Park + 400+ List of National Parks USAPin

Map of the Best National Parks to Visit in September

Want to See More NATIONAL Parks to Visit in SeptembeR?

If you’re a national park lover like us and have done many of the above, here are some more ideas for National Parks to visit in September. While September may not be the top two months out of the year to visit these parks, it’s still a decent time.

Tips for Visiting the Best National Parks in September

  • Explore the parks responsibly using Leave no Trace principles. Stay on established trails, carry out anything you carry in, etc.
  • Pick up the National Park Annual Pass if you plan on visiting multiple parks within the year. It saves you a lot of money.
  • Want to see fall foliage? Climate change and droughts this year will make timing more unpredictable. We typically go onto the geotag on Instagram or Tiktok and scroll through all the recent posts to see what it’s looking like. Keep in mind that people post older content, so I like to look at the grid or ones that non-influencers are posting. You can also leave a comment and ask when they went.
  • It’s always a good idea to pack layers wherever you go. Some parks are warm during the day and cool at night. Pay attention to the elevation change too! Some parks will be warm on the valley floor and cold at higher elevations.
  • You may need a reservation. See national parks that now require reservations here.
  • Always check the park’s site and Visitors Center for the most up-to-date information on closures.
  • Remember that wildlife is wild. Be familiar with how to interact with animals and how much space you should have between you and them.
Balcony House Tour, Mesa Verde National Park COPin

What to Pack

How you will pack depends on which park you visit and the activities you plan, but here is a general guide on items we always try to pack.

FAQs

Are national parks crowded in September?

September is one of the best times of year to visit National Parks because they are less crowded than in the summer.

What time of year is best to visit national parks?

This depends on the region, but in general, September and October are the best times to visit since most parks are less crowded. Plus, it’s usually cheaper, the weather is mild, and the animals are more active.

What national park is best to visit in September?

We just made a list of this! Go check it out here.

What is the best national park to visit in the fall?

All the parks on this list are good for one reason or another, but our vote goes to Acadia National Park for fall foliage.

What is Zion like in September?

With a high of 91 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 60. Avoid exposed hikes in the middle of the day, and use the warm temps to explore the river and canyon.

How is Yellowstone in September?

Yellowstone in September is much quieter while the animals are still active. Temperatures are cooler, with average highs around 68 and lows around 39.

What is Yosemite like in September?

The weather is warm and sunny, with a high of around 82 and a low of around 51. It’s the tail end of their busy months since everything is still open. To avoid crowds, go on longer hikes or avoid the Valley. The park is big enough to explore in solitude as long as you know where to go.

Is Glacier park open in September?

September is usually the last month that everything is open in Glacier National Park, whereas in October, roads start to close.

How hot is Grand Canyon in September?

On the South Rim, the highs are usually around 76 degrees Fahrenheit, and the lows are around 43.

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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust

Can you think of others that belong on this list of best national parks to visit in August? Which ones are we missing?



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