The months of September and October means throwing around the football outside and arguably partaking in the best day-drinking weather all year round. And the best place to do both of those activities is while camping at national parks this fall. For most parts of the country, like SoCal and Arizona, it’s literally too damn hot to camp outside in the summer. So fall means cooler camping days, incredible hikes to waterfalls and some serious stargazing at night. Here’s 15 national parks around the country you should consider heading to for fall weekend getaways.
Glacier National Park, Montana
There’s a reason why so many celebrities like David Letterman and Michael Keaton reside in Montana. You’ll be greeted with over 700 miles of trails through forests, meadows and mountains at Montana’s Glacier National Park. And camping is the way to go, considering you can even do backcountry camping here (AKA legit, no-frills camping) as long as you have a permit.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Having to endure Nebraska on my drive from Ohio to California was made much better once I was blessed with the incredible scenery of Utah. And Bryce Canyon National Park showcases everything badass about the state. Besides the fact that there are cool ATV tours taking you through winding roads and cliffs, camping there when its cooler in the fall makes a weekend trip there that much better.
Yosemite National Park, California
There aren’t many places where you can truly experience quiet. At Yosemite, 95 percent of the park is just straight wilderness. That means no cars, no modern roads and barely any annoying tourists, which is always a situation when you want to go camping. Wake up early and head up to Glacier Point, which overlooks the park’s famous valley, and then spend the night drinking around a campfire.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
What kind of definitive fall camping guide would this be without having Rocky Mountain National Park mentioned? Colorado is filled with parks and evergreen forests, but camping during the fall in the Rockies is an entirely other experience. You’ll probably run into the occasional elk or moose on hikes, and you can even do one last rafting trip before it’s too cold to fall in river water.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Considering the Rio Grande runs straight through this park, you can plan the ultimate fall rafting, kayaking and canoeing trip with your buddies at Big Bend in Texas. The park’s super remote location has also gained its self quite the reputation when it comes to beautiful skies at night.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
I might be cheating on my Ohio childhood when I say that camping at Joshua Tree last September had to be one of the coolest camping trips I’ve been on (sorry, mom.) Between mid-day hikes at the national park to sipping on a beer watching the sun go down below the desert mountains, it was a prety decent weekend trip.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Land meets ocean at the stunning Olympic National Park in Washington, where campers can choose to beach it or sleep in between Redwoods. In fact, the park has only one of three rain forests in the western hemisphere and holds the largest Sitka Spruce tree in the world. If you’re not into looking at old trees, head to Ruby Beach for views of surrounding glaciers and mountains.
Canyonland National Park, Utah
If you’re into mind boggling hikes and don’t mind steep heights, you should consider camping at Canyonland National park this fall. Hikes slice through red rocks, put you on the edge of cliffs and have you face-to-face with killer drop-offs. And if you want to kick it up a notch further, you can always do all of this while ATVing.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Camping during the fall in America’s first national park is always a solid weekend plan. The majority of the world’s geysers are housed in Yellowstone, and the park is truly the core of one of the last, nearly intact ecosystems in the Earth’s temperate zone. It’s one of those places you have to camp in at least once.
Denali National Park, Alaska
First off its Alaska — camping anywhere is going to be straight up beautiful. But Denali National Park with its six million acres of open land and untouched wildlife is the cream of the crop when it comes to national parks. The park hosts North America’s tallest peak, Mount McKinley, so needless to say this park isn’t intended for the inexperienced camper.
Great Smokey Mountains National Park
Tennessee in the fall is no joke, especially in the Smokey Mountains, America’s most visited national park. You’re in the south still, so you get to visually enjoy the cool foliage without it actually being freezing. The park is packed with waterfalls and historic log buildings that make daylong hikes totally worth it.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
After you’re done getting weird in Jackson Hole, head on up about an hour north to Grand Teton National Park for some much needed quiet time. If you’re into fishing, the park has an overwhelming amount of beautiful lakes at your disposal.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Not only was Theodore Roosevelt a badass president (I mean, he is one of the faces on Mt. Rushmore), he spearheaded the creation of the United States Forest Service and started 5 national parks. So at the park appropriately named after him, you’ll find bison roaming the band lands of North Dakota and miles of unspoiled land perfect for scenic camping.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
About 75 miles outside the D.C. area lies Shenandoah National Park, which contains over 500 miles of trails that often will lead to you to a waterfall. It’s the perfect place to camp in the fall if you’re looking for a quiet weekend away from the city. And if you need a hike recommendation, the trail to Old Rag Mountain is one of the most popular hikes because of its ridiculous views from the peak.
Everglades National Park, Florida
You wouldn’t necessarily think of the Everglades in Florida as being a prime camping spot (you know, alligators and all) but the 2,400 square miles of wildlife is something truly unique to a national park. Spend the day canoeing into the park’s mangrove forest, freshwater marshes or the Florida Bay and then chill out at your beach campsite in the evening for the sunset.
Nicole Theodore is an editorial assistant at Playboy. She can totally baite a worm without flinching. Follow her on Twitter.