2012 National Parks Fall Foliage Guide

As summer comes to a close, the bright blues and greens that characterize the sunshiny season are replaced by a deeper, more vibrant palette.

But there are so many destinations to choose from, each with their own unique rainbow of fall colors.

The National Park Foundation (NPF) wants you to get outdoors and enjoy one of nature’s most spectacular seasons in your national parks.

In announcing the 2012 National Parks Fall Foliage Guide the NPF says, “These parks boast exceptional fall colors, however they represent only a few of the national park sites where foliage lovers can enjoy the spectacular spectrum of the season’s palette.”

The list below includes information on region-specific flora as well as estimated timing on the peak of their colors:

Nez Perce National Historical Park (Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington)

Peak foliage times range across the rivers, canyons, prairies, and mountains of this park which overlaps four states. The short-grass prairies of White Bird Battlefield (ID) and Spalding (ID) peak around mid to late October.  The plains and plateaus of the sagebrush steppe eco-region include a site called Buffalo Eddy (WA) where fall foliage also peaks around mid to late October.

Steamtown National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Board one of Steamtown National Historic Site’s special fall excursion runs through this brilliant countryside and you can feast your eyes on the colors of the season in the comfort of a coach. (Source: NPS)

Take a ride back in time on a 1920s era passenger car, with either a 1917-built steam or historic diesel-powered locomotive, to combine a view of the autumn scenery with the history of railroading. Peak is estimated to be October 7-20.

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (New York)

Visit the site of Theodore Roosevelt’s home around mid-October to see the changing colors of oak-tulip tree, hickory, and copper beech. Sagamore Hill Day, a Fall Family Festival giving tribute to the agricultural heritage of the site, is conveniently planned for October 20 which is also Theodore Roosevelt’s 154th birthday!

St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (Wisconsin, Minnesota)

The St. Croix and Namekagon rivers create a 255-mile corridor with a variety of color from one end to the other, including maple, aspen, oak, and birch trees. Visit this park soon, as leaves are changing quickly, with peak colors from now through mid-October.

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky) 

Foliage at this park includes the changing colors of black gum, poison ivy, and dogwood, peaking from mid to late October. Join the Friends of Mammoth Cave for a Walk-In-The-Park on October 6, and choose one of three different walks that are sure to suit your interests and abilities while allowing the perfect opportunity to support the park and view a variety of fall colors.

Vicksburg National Military Park (Mississippi) 

The location of a critical battle in the Civil War, this park has a brief period of fall foliage, usually lasting from mid-October through mid-November. Visitors can see changes in the hickory, pecan, and black walnut trees, among many others. Plan a visit around October 27, and the kids can participate in a “Shape Up, Junior Ranger Owl Discovery Walk.” This 1-mile walk teaches more about the park’s nighttime creatures, and is the perfect chance to test out this year’s Halloween costume.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park (Texas) 

For a fantastic foliage tour, start with a drive through the LBJ Ranch and tour the Texas White House. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the Hill Country of Texas, leaves at this park change from mid-October through the end of November. The sumac, oaks, and haw holly add bursts of fall colors, while the pecans cover the ground and the purple flowers of the gay feather herb enhance the color palette and autumn atmosphere. For a fantastic foliage tour, start with a drive through the LBJ Ranch and tour the Texas White House. Make your way into Johnson City to visit the Boyhood Home and finish out your tour with a walk down the nature trail to the Johnson Settlement and the 1960s cabin and barns.

Flight 93 National Memorial (Pennsylvania)

This national memorial, dedicated to the brave passengers and crew of Flight 93 who fought back against terrorism on September 11, 2001, encompasses 2,200 acres of rolling hills, wild flowers, wetlands, and old-growth and newly planted trees.  Once a coal mine, this location has experienced a breathtaking rebirth as a place of national honor and reflection.  Peak viewing times span early to mid-October, but if you can’t get there in person, you can enjoy the foliage from the park’s live webcam.

Timeless in simplicity and beauty,
like its landscape, both stark and serene,
the Memorial should be quiet in reverence,
yet powerful in form,
a place both solemn and uplifting.
Paul Murdoch, Architect
(Source: NPS)

Several factors affect the intensity of fall shades at each park including moisture, temperature, and length of sunlight exposure. Visitors are strongly encouraged to contact parks directly for specific information on seasonal events and optimal viewing periods.


National Park Foundation (NPF)

You are the owner of 84 million acres of the world’s most treasured memorials, landscapes, ecosystems, and historic sites—all protected in America’s nearly 400 national parks. Chartered by Congress, the National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks.

NPF works hand in hand with the National Park Service to connect you and all Americans to the parks, and to make sure that they are preserved for the generations who will follow.

Website: nationalparks.org

Share the Experience

With its breathtaking colors, autumn is also the perfect time to photograph nature’s beauty and the national parks can provide infinite inspiration. Amateur photographers are invited to submit their photos to the 12th annual Share the Experience photography contest for the chance to have their image selected for use on the America the Beautiful Federal Recreation Lands Pass.

Share the Experience entries will be accepted through December 31, 2012. For a complete list of rules and prizes as well as submit your photos, check the website below.

Share the Experience is the official photo contest of America’s national parks and federal recreation lands. Sponsored by Active Network, Destination America, Historic Hotels of America, and the National Park Foundation in partnership with the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service, the Share the Experience Photo Contest showcases the more than 500 million acres of Federal Lands and draws entries from all across the United States.

Website: sharetheexperience.org

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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