September is one of the best months of the year to visit the national parks. The weather is fantastic across much of the USA, the busy summer season is coming to an end, and, in some parks, you can see the first of the fall colors. In this guide, we list 12 of the best national parks to visit in the USA.
About this National Park Series
This article is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year. More popular parks, like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, may show up in as many as four of these articles, but lesser known parks like Gates of the Arctic may only show up once.
These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and our personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, we picked out what we think are the optimal times to visit each park.
For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out our Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide has graphs that list each park and the optimal time to plan your visit. And at the end of this article, we have links to the other articles in our Best National Parks by Month series.
Visiting the National Parks in September
In my opinion, September is one of the best months of the year to plan a national parks trip. In September, the weather is still warm and the snow has melted on many of the higher elevation trails. After Labor Day, crowds get lower in the national parks, now that kids are back in school.
During September, you can visit almost any national park and have a great experience. The parks in the northern half of the USA are still relatively warm and the roads are still open. In warmer climates, like Utah and Arizona, September is still a hot month to visit, but not as bad as June and July, especially if you can delay your visit to the end of the month. And in a few places, you can even catch the first fall colors at the end of September.
In September, there are only a few parks that I recommend avoiding. These would be Dry Tortugas, Virgin Islands, and Biscayne, with the hurricane threat and hot, humid weather (but if you don’t mind the heat or the hurricane risk, crowds are low in these parks at this time). Everglades and Congaree also tend to be hot, humid, and the parks are swarmed with mosquitoes.
For this guide, I could have listed 30 great parks to visit in September, since there are so many good options. Instead, I list 12 of the very best parks to visit, with more suggestions at the end of this guide.
Let’s get started.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The information we provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures, since these dates are constantly changing. Roads can close in the national parks at any time, so I recommend getting updates on the National Park Service website while planning your trip.
Best National Parks in September
1. Grand Teton National Park
September is our favorite month of the year to visit Grand Teton National Park. The weather gets cooler, the leaves begin to change color, and elk enter the mating season. It’s also possible to see the first snowflakes this month.
To hike the trails amidst brilliantly yellow aspen trees and hear the mating calls of the elk is a magical experience.
For fall colors in Grand Teton, plan your visit for the end of September and these colors linger into very early October. The cover photo for this guide was taken in Grand Teton National Park at the end of September.
Why Visit Grand Teton in September: For fall colors, the elk mating season, and lower crowds than the summer months.
Weather: The average high is 71°F (22°C) and the average low is 34°F (1°C). The high temperature can get into the 80’s on warmer than average days. Rainfall is low.
Sunrise and sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 7:30 pm.
Mormon Row | Best National Parks in September
Delta Lake in September
Aspen trees in September
Top Experiences: Visit Jenny Lake, hike to Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls, visit Mormon Row and Schwabacher Landing, visit Oxbow Bend at sunrise, visit the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, and hike the trails that run in and along the Teton Range.
Ultimate Adventure: Hike the Teton Crest Trail. This point-to-point trail traverses the Teton Range and is typically done as a multi-day backpacking trip. For most of the hike, you will be at or above 8,000 feet.
How Many Days Do You Need? If you just want to see the main highlights, one day is really all that you need in Grand Teton National Park. But for those who want to dive deeper into the park, by exploring the hundreds of miles that criss-cross the Teton Range, then you can spend days, weeks even, and never run out of things to do.
2. Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park preserves five of the eight Channel Islands. This archipelago sits off the California coast, not far from Los Angeles.
Late summer into early fall is the best time for water sports. The water is warm and calm and water visibility is great for snorkeling and scuba diving. This is also the end of the whale watching season for blue and humpback whales.
Why Visit Channel Islands in September: The weather is warm, the water is warm and calm, and crowds are lower than those in August. This is the last month to see blue and humpback whales.
Weather: The average high is 70°F (20°C) and the average low is 61°F (16°C). On warmer than average days, the high temperature can get up into the 80’s. Rainfall is extremely low.
Sunrise & Sunset: Sunrise is at 6:45 am and sunset is at 7 pm.
photo credit: istockphoto.com/benedek
Top Experiences: Go snorkeling, whale watching, hiking, kayaking, swimming, wildlife watching, and sailing.
How Many Days Do You Need? To fully explore all of the islands, plan on spending 2 to 3 days in Channel Islands National Park.
Plan Your Visit
Channel Islands National Park is one of the last parks on our to-do list. For more information to help you plan your trip, visit the National Park Service website.
3. Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park, also called the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast,” protects the rocky coastline in Maine. Granite coastal cliffs, estuary and intertidal habitats, and the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast of the United States are found here.
This national park is packed with scenic drives, short but thrilling hiking trails, historic roads, and breathtaking views. Explore the park by day and go shopping and dine in the restaurants in Bar Harbor at night. Add in lobster feasts and boat cruises and you have all of the ingredients for a wonderful vacation.
Why Visit Acadia in September: The weather is still relatively warm and crowds are lower than July and August.
Weather: The average high is 71°F (22°C) and the average low is 53°F (12°C). September is one of the driest months in Acadia with 4 inches of rainfall (October through April tend to be a little wetter).
Sunrise & Sunset: Sunrise is at 6:15 am and sunset is at 6:45 pm.
Sand Beach | Best National Parks in September
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
Top Experiences: The best experiences in Acadia include Drive Park Loop Road, watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, go hiking, visit Sand Beach and Echo Lake, bike the carriage roads, and watch the sunset at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.
Ultimate Adventure:Hike the Precipice Trail, a short, tough hike that features numerous climbs up metal rungs and ladders and short walks along narrow ledges.
How Many Days Do You Need? We recommend spending two to three days in Acadia National Park. This will give you enough time to drive Park Loop Road, do a few short hikes, bike the carriage roads, watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, and snack on popovers at Jordan Pond House.
4. Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park preserves the Lehman Caves and Wheeler Peak, the second highest peak in Nevada. Also found in the park are groves of bristlecone pines, which are some of the oldest species on the planet.
This is another park where you have the chance to see fall colors. By the second or third week in September, the aspens change from green to yellow and orange, making this one of the most beautiful times of the year to visit this park.
Why Visit Great Basin in September: For fall colors and perfect weather for hiking.
Weather: The average high is 74°F (23°C) and the average low is 48°F (9°C). Rainfall is low. During periods of unusually warm weather, the temperature can get into the 80’s.
Sunrise & Sunset: Sunrise is at 6:20 am and sunset is at 6:45 pm.
photo credit: shutterstock.com/Arlene Waller
Top Experiences: Take a tour of Lehman Caves, drive Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, hike the Bristlecone Trail, go star gazing, and hike the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail.
Ultimate Adventure: Hike to the top of Wheeler Peak. This hike is 8 miles round trip with 3,000 feet of elevation, so it is a challenging hike, but from the top you have panoramic views over the park.
How Many Days Do You Need? With one busy day you can visit the highlights. Add more time to go hiking and thoroughly explore the park.
Plan Your Visit
Great Basin National Park is one of the last parks on our to-do list. For more information to help you plan your trip, visit the National Park Service website.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park
With lofty mountain peaks, hiking trails that lead to alpine lakes and waterfalls, abundant wildlife, and a scenic drive along one of the highest roads in the USA, Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with wonderful things to do.
In September, the weather is nearly perfect for hiking and the park roads and trails remain open. From mid-September through mid-October, it is elk mating season in Rocky Mountain National Park. During this time, you can hear the bugling of the male elks and you can see hundreds of elk as they gather together in the valleys.
Why Visit Rocky Mountain in September: To see and hear the elk during mating season and for great hiking conditions in the park.
Weather: In September, the average high is 70°F (21°C) and the average low is 40°F (4°C).
Sunrise & Sunset: Sunrise is at 6:45 am and sunset is at 7:15 pm.
Hiking to Chasm Lake | Best National Parks in September
Elk on Trail Ridge Road | Best National Parks in September
Top Experiences: Drive Trail Ridge Road, hike to Emerald and Dream Lakes, drive Old Fall River Road, hike to Sky Pond or Chasm Lake, take a stroll around Bear Lake, and take your pick from more of the great hikes to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure, hike to the top of Longs Peak, the only fourteener in the park. This is a tough fourteener and many people who attempt it never make it to the summit, turning around early because of storms or the difficult conditions.
How Many Days Do You Need? Ideally, plan on spending at least three days in Rocky Mountain National Park. This gives you enough time to drive Alpine Ridge Road, Old Fall River Road, and hike a few of the trails.
6. Glacier National Park
During the summer months, Glacier National Park is one of the most popular parks to visit in the USA. It’s beautiful scenic drives, epic hiking trails, and narrow window of time that the park roads are fully open compresses the prime visiting season into just a few months.
In September, this park is still a busy place to visit, but visitation is no longer at its peak.
One thing to be aware of, for Glacier and other parks in the west, is that in recent years, wildfires have created smoky conditions in the parks. This tends to occur from August through October and varies a lot year by year, but it is something to keep in mind as you plan your trip.
Why Visit Glacier in September: For great weather and lower crowds than July and August. For reference, in 2021, 670,000 people visited Glacier National Park in August and 530,000 people visited the park in September.
Weather: The average high is 68°F (20°C) and the average low is 41°F (5°C). On some days, the high temperatures can reach the 80’s. Rainfall is low.
Sunrise and Sunset: Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 7:45 pm.
Hidden Lake | Best National Parks in September
Hiking the Highline Trail | Best National Parks in September
Mountain goat on the trail to Grinnell Glacier
Top Experiences: Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road, visit Many Glacier, hike to Grinnell Glacier and Hidden Lake, visit Logan Pass, visit Two Medicine, see Wild Goose Island, and spend some time at Lake McDonald.
Ultimate Adventure: Hike the Highline Trail. This 12-mile trail takes hikers high above Going-to-the-Sun Road, and along the way, you can see glaciers, wildflowers, wildlife, and great views of the park.
How Many Days Do You Need? Ideally, plan on spending at least two days in Glacier National Park. This gives you enough time to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road, hike one or two trails, and visit the Many Glacier or Two Medicine areas.
7. National Park of American Samoa
Located in the South Pacific is one of the most beautiful US national parks. Because of its remote location, it’s also one of the least visited.
This park is spread out over three islands: Tutuila, Ofu, and Ta’u. American Samoa preserves the Samoan culture, tropical rainforests, and coral reefs. It’s the only US national park located in the Southern Hemisphere.
Why Visit American Samoa in September: For sunny skies and a lower chance of rain than the winter and early spring months.
Weather: Temperatures do not vary much over the course of the year. In September, the average high is 86°F (30°C) and the average low is 78°F (26°C). It’s the rainfall that has the biggest impact on when to go. September is the end of the dry season, with 8 inches (200 mm) of rain falling this month.
Sunrise & Sunset: Sunrise is at 6:15 am and sunset is at 6:20 pm.
National Park of American Samoa | photo credit: shutterstock.com/Danita Delimont
Location: American Samoa
Top Experiences: Go snorkeling, hike through tropical rainforests, hike the Mount ‘Alava Trail to the summit of Mount ‘Alava, take a boat tour of the islands.
How Many Days Do You Need? Plan on spending 1 to 2 days in the park to visit the highlights and tour the islands.
Plan Your Visit
This is one of the last parks on our to-do list. For more information to help you plan your trip, visit the National Park Service website.
8. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
In many ways, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a smaller version of the Grand Canyon. This national park preserves a deep, narrow canyon that was carved out by the Gunnison River.
On a visit here, you can visit both the North and South Rims, enjoy the views from the overlooks, and, for the ultimate adventure, hike below the rim to the Gunnison River.
Why Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison in September: The weather is perfect for hiking, the park roads remain open, and crowds are a bit lower than July and August.
Weather: The average high is 72°F (22°C) and the average low is 44°F (7°C). With 2 inches (50mm) of rain, September tends to be the wettest month of the year.
Sunrise & Sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 7:20 pm.
Exclamation Point | Best National Parks in September
Gunnison Point | Best National Parks in September
View from Pulpit Rock | Best National Parks in September
Top Experiences: Drive South Rim Road and visit the overlooks, hike along the South Rim, drive East Portal Road, visit Exclamation Point, drive North Rim Road and visit the overlooks.
Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate experience in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, explore the inner canyon. There are a number of trails that lead from the rim to the Gunnison River. In just a mile or two, you will hike down the river for one of the best experiences in the park. It’s even possible to camp overnight next to the Gunnison River.
How Many Days Do You Need? On the quickest of visits, you can visit the South Rim in about 4 to 5 hours, simply by driving South Rim Road. To visit both rims, plan on spending two days in the park.
9. Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park protects the waterways, wetlands, and forests in northern Minnesota. This park sits right on the Canadian border and due to its location, the Northern Lights can be seen all year long, even in summer.
No roads lead into this park, so to explore it, you will need some sort of boat. People tour the park in private boats, houseboats, kayaks, and guided tours.
Why Visit Voyageurs in September: By mid-September, the first fall colors appear. This is a great time to visit the park to see the Northern Lights and the fall colors.
Weather: In September, the average high is 66°F (19°C) and the average low is 42°F (5°C). Rainfall averages 4 inches, making it one of the wetter months of the year. May through September is the rainy season.
Sunrise and Sunset: Sunrise is at 6:50 am and sunset is at 7:20 pm.
photo credit: shutterstock.com/BlueBarronPhoto
Top Experiences: See the Northern Lights, go fishing, explore the park by houseboat or on a guided tour, see Junction Bay Falls and Kettle Falls, hike the Echo Bay Trail, enjoy the view from Anderson Bay Overlook.
How Many Days Do You Need? One day is all you need for a quick tour of the park. With more time, go camping to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of this park and to give yourself more opportunities to see the Northern Lights.
Plan Your Visit
Voyageurs National Park is one of the last parks on our to-do list. For more information to help you plan your trip, visit the National Park Service website.
10. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is a beautiful park to visit in September. The colors in the park change from a green to yellow, the skies are generally clear, rainfall is low, and you can feel the first hint of chilly weather as autumn approaches.
Crowds tend to linger into September at Yellowstone. The first half of the month is definitely busier than the second half. So, if you can visit later in the month, that’s a better time to go for a quieter experience. Plus, you can easily add on Grand Teton and see the beautiful fall colors here.
Why Visit Yellowstone in September: For fall colors and for slightly lower crowds than the summer months.
Weather: In September, the average high is 66°F (19°C) and the average low is 30°F (-1°C). September is one of the driest months of the year.
Sunrise & Sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 7:30 pm.
Hayden Valley in September
Red Rock Point
Norris Geyser Basin | Best National Parks in September
Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook in September
Location: Wyoming and Montana
Top Experiences: Visit Old Faithful, see the Grand Prismatic Spring, spot wildlife in Lamar and Hayden Valleys, visit the North and South Rims of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, hike the short trails in Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Geyser Basin.
Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure in Yellowstone, venture into the backcountry on a backpacking trip.
How Many Days Do You Need? It’s possible to race through Yellowstone in one day, but for the best experience, plan on spending three or more days here. Yellowstone is massive and it takes at least three days to just get to the highlights of this park.
11. Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake is what remains of Mount Mazama, a volcano that erupted almost 8,000 years ago, and then collapsed. The remaining caldera filled with water, forming the deepest lake in the United States.
There are only a few months of the year that you can visit Crater Lake when all of the roads are open. This period of time runs from mid-July through late-October. In September, the weather is still relatively warm for this park, making this a great time to visit.
Why Visit Crater Lake in September: September is one of the few months of the year to visit Crater Lake when all of the roads are open. Crowds are lower than August and the weather is still relatively warm (in October, the average high is 50°F and the park averages 17 inches of snowfall).
Weather: The average high is 63°F (17°C) and the average low is 37°F (53°C). September is one of the driest months of the year.
Sunrise and Sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 7:15 pm.
photo credit: shutterstock.com/Pung
Top Experiences: Drive Rim Drive around Crater Lake, take a boat tour of Crater Lake, visit Wizard Island, hike the trails along the rim, and go camping.
How Many Days Do You Need? With one day, you can drive Rim Drive and go on a boat tour of the lake. More time allows you to hike the trails in the park.
Plan Your Visit
Crater Lake National Park is one of the last parks on our to-do list. For more information to help you plan your trip, visit the National Park Service website.
12. Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier is one of our favorite US national parks for hiking.
There is something almost magical about seeing Mount Rainier, especially your first time. This glacier-capped volcano can be seen for hundreds of miles, but to view it up close from hiking trails and overlooks in the park, it is extraordinary. From many of the trails, you get BIG views of Mount Rainier. Throw in some wildflowers, lakes, and waterfalls, and this park is a hiking paradise.
But you don’t have to be a big hiker to truly appreciate this park. There are a number of short, easy trails with stunning views of Mount Rainier. If you want to go farther, several longer trails weave around subalpine lakes and to viewpoints of Mount Rainier. And for those looking for an epic experience, you can hike up into the snowfields on Mount Rainier or hike part or all of the Wonderland Trail.
There are also scenic drives to do, alpine lakes to visit, and you can even ride a gondola to Crystal Mountain for a jaw-dropping view of Mount Rainier.
Why Visit Mount Rainier in September: In September, the weather is still relatively warm and the park roads remain open and crowds are much lower than July and August.
Weather: The average high is 69°F (20°C) and the average low is 42°F (5°C). September is the start of the wet season, with about 3.5 inches (90 mm) of rain.
Sunrise & Sunset: Sunrise is at 6:45 am and sunset is at 7:20 pm.
Mount Rainier National Park | Best National Parks in September
Hiking the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail | Best National Parks in September
Top Experiences: Hike the Skyline Trail, visit Sunrise and hike the Sourdough Ridge Trail, see Myrtle Falls, visit the Grove of the Patriarchs, ride the Mount Rainer Gondola to Crystal Mountain, and hike to a fire lookout tower.
Ultimate Adventure: Hike the Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile trail that circumnavigates around Mount Rainier. On average, this takes between 9 and 13 days. Or, climb to the summit of Mount Rainier. It takes 2 to 3 days to reach the summit and this is best done with an experienced guide.
How Many Days Do You Need? I recommend spending at least three days in Mount Rainier National Park (one day for Sunrise, one day for Paradise, and the third day to go hiking or visit another section of the park). Extra days gives you more time for hiking, for exploring quiet corners of the park, and gives you some contingency time just in case you get bad weather.
Bonus! More Parks to Visit
As stated earlier, September is a great time to visit just about any of the US national parks.
In the east, September is a beautiful time of year to visit New River Gorge, Great Smoky Mountains, and Shenandoah National Parks.
In the west, the list is very long and includes Pinnacles, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, Redwood, Olympic, and the North Cascades.
September is still a bit warm for Utah’s Mighty 5 and the American Southwest, but the later you go, the cooler it will be. We like October into November for these parks.
In Alaska, the days are getting cooler, but early in the month, Denali, Kenai Fjords, Lake Clark, and Wrangell-St. Elias are good picks.
September Road Trip Ideas
Grand Teton, Yellowstone & Glacier
Combine three amazing parks into one epic road trip. With 10 days, you can visit Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier.
Colorado National Parks
With 10 days in Colorado, visit Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parks. This is also one of the best times of the year for scenic drives in Colorado and on this road trip, you get to do quite a few of them, as you link the national parks together.
Northern California and Oregon
Finally, you can join Redwood, Lassen Volcanic, and Crater Lake into one loop. This road trip takes about 10 days.
Washington National Parks
Washington is another great place for a national parks road trip in September. With 7 to 14 days, visit Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades National Parks, with the option to add in Leavenworth, the Enchantments, or Seattle.
If you have any questions about the best national parks to visit in September, or if you want to share your favorite national parks to visit this month, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information about the US National Parks:
NATIONAL PARKS: In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries.
NATIONAL PARK ITINERARIES:For ideas on how to plan a national parks road trip, visit our National Parks Itinerary page. This has lots of road trip ideas and sample itineraries for many of the US national parks.
BEST US NATIONAL PARKS:Looking for your next big adventure? Read our post Best National Parks in the USA, where we narrow down the long list into 15 must-see parks.
MORE GREAT HIKES IN THE NATIONAL PARKS: From hikes to the tallest peaks to beautiful coast trails, read our Guide to the Best Day Hikes in the US National Parks. If you prefer to keep your hikes short and sweet, read our guide to the Best Short Hikes in the National Parks.
Best National Parks to Visit by Month:
JANUARY: Best National Parks to Visit in January
FEBRUARY: Best National Parks to Visit in February
MARCH: Best National Parks to Visit in March
APRIL: Best National Parks to Visit in April
MAY: Best National Parks to Visit in May
JUNE: Best National Parks to Visit in June
JULY: Best National Parks to Visit in July
AUGUST: Best National Parks to Visit in August
OCTOBER: Best National Parks to Visit in October
NOVEMBER: Best National Parks to Visit in November
DECEMBER: Best National Parks to Visit in December
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