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Fall Color, Hikes, And Wildlife in The National Parks


Fall is a fabulous season in the national parks, as evidenced by the seasonal colors that daub the mountains of Shenandoah National Park. NPS photo.

Falling asleep, or waking, to the piercing sounds of elk bugling in the forests is one of the eeriest experiences you can savor in the National Park System. The high-pitched squeals -- culminated by a guttural exclamation point -- bring the call of the wild to your ears.

It's a sound that you'll never forget, one that for more than a few is a highlight of a Fall visit to a national park. But that's not the only reason to head into the National Park System in Fall.

Find yourself in most parks in the Fall and you're surrounded by the Technicolor hues of oaks, maples, aspen, beech, elms, and even a few chestnut trees, all set against the steady greens and blues of conifers. After a pounding rain or steady drizzle you can smell the loamy earth in Great Smoky Mountains or Shenandoah national parks, while in the Rockies the raspy rustling of aspen leaves is carried on the breezes.

Even the ocean off Acadia, Olympic, and Channel Islands national parks seems different in the Fall than during the rest of the year.

Across the park system in Fall trails are less crowded, wildlife are on the move, and insects, thankfully, are in their last throes if not already vanquished by overnight low temperatures. Speaking of temperatures, mid-day highs in the 50s and 60s are perfect for both day hikes and long-distance ramblings.

But which parks should you head to with hopes of catching elk bugling? Where should you go intent to hear wolves howling, and where might you catch golden eagles soar across a ridgetop on their fall migrations? What are the most scenic roads in the parks to drive in Fall, which trails will greet you with the most vibrant colors, where might you dip a paddle?

In the coming week we’re going to celebrate this season in the national parks with a series of stories to whet your appetite for heading to your nearest park...or perhaps one across the country.

In this series you’ll find information on some of the most scenic of fall drives through the parks, details on hikes that will bring out the most color of the season, great kayak and canoe trips, tips on where you can catch the sound of elk bugling and wolves howling, even some of the best lodges for surrounding yourself with the season.

Today we offer you paddling journeys in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Monday we'll visit some of the best wildlife settings in the parks, and focus on the elk herd building in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Tuesday we'll take a close look at the Fall rut in Yellowstone, which goes beyond elk to include bison and bighorn sheep. Wednesday we'll examine some great park lodges to base your Fall excursions. Thursday we'll point you to some colorful drives, and Friday we'll lead you down the trail of some great Fall hikes in the parks. And we'll also point out some of the Fall-specific activities and attractions in the park system.

You can help round out this package with your own suggestions for leaf peeping, wildlife watching, and simply communing with nature. We look forward to your comments!

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Elk bugling is lovely -- unless the elk in question is directly under your window at three in the morning.

Speaking from personal experience...

I was at Mammoth in Yellowstone at the time.

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