What better place to view this grand spectacle than a national park? What's more, children are back in school and crowds are down. Some national park lodges even offer discounts during this shoulder season. Here's a sampling of parks with lodging facilities.
The Eastern Parks
Two eastern national parks well-known for displays of fall colors have multiple lodges from which to enjoy the show: the Blue Ridge Parkway that winds through North Carolina and Virginia, and its northern neighbor, Shenandoah National Park.
Skyline Drive follows along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains as it snakes along the 105-mile-length of Shenandoah National Park. Seventy-five overlooks along the road offer travelers multiple locations from which to stop and admire the views. The Blue Ridge Parkway ranges in elevation from 600 feet to 6,000 feet along its 469 miles of twisting two-lane road, producing views that alternate from mountain-top to meadow. If leaves have not reached peak color in one portion of the park, more promising views may lie several miles up the road at a different elevation.
Based on previous years, Shenandoah's leaves typically peak during the second to third week in October, while the Blue Ridge Parkway tends to peak around the middle to the end of October.
Fall is the most popular time for visiting these two parks so securing a room in one of the park lodges generally requires reservations well in advance. The three lodges in Shenandoah include Skyland Resort , Big Meadows Lodge , and Lewis Mountain Cabins . All are operated by Aramark Parks & Destinations (www.visitshenandoah.com; 888-896-3833).
The three lodges scattered along the Blue Ridge Parkway are Peaks of Otter Lodge (www.peaksofotter.com; 540-586-1081), Rocky Knob Cabins (www.rockyknobcabins.com; 540-593-3503), and Pisgah Inn (www.pisgahinn.com;828-235-8228). Each offers their guests excellent viewpoints from which to enjoy the fall colors. A fourth facility, BluffsLodge, is currently closed while the National Park Service searches for a concessionaire.
The Midwestern Parks
Cuyahoga Valley National Park preserves 33,000 acres along 22 miles between Akron and Cleveland, Ohio. The park follows the winding Cuyahoga River as it passes through hills, farmland, and forests. The forests consist of many types of deciduous trees including oak, hickory, popular, and maple. The Inn at Brandywine Falls , the only bed-and-breakfast within a national park, is located in Cuyahoga Valley National Park near beautiful 65-foot Brandywine Falls. The Inn offers a total of six rooms, four in the mainhouse and two in the carriage barn (www.innatbrandywinefalls.com;330-467-1812).
Kentucky's Mammoth Cave National Park enjoys dense forests that can become a painted wonderland during the fall season. The park offers a variety of lodging options including cabins, motel units, and a hotel at some of the lowest prices of any national park. Forever Resorts employee Lynne Pauley says that trees in the park start changing colors around mid-October. These include tulip poplar, red bud, dogwood, oak, beech, maple, and hickory (www.mammothcavehotel.com; 877-386-4383).
Two other Midwest parks with lodging amid fall colors are in close proximity: Ozark National Scenic Riverways in the hills of southeastern Missouri and Buffalo National River in northeastern Arkansas.
The pristine Jacks Fork and Current Rivers highlight Ozark NSR. The area is heavily forested, especially along the rivers that wind through a beautiful hardwood forest. Big Spring Lodge has 14 rustic cabins constructed in the 1930s by the CCC and the WPA. The cabins, located in the heart of the forest, vary in size with some having kitchens (www.bigspringlodgeandcabins.com; 573-323-4423).
Buffalo National River cuts a path through the Ozark Mountains where hillsides are layered with trees, many of which are oak and hickory. BuffaloPoint Concessions has 17 cabins, all with kitchens. Five older cabins, built in the 1940s by the CCC, each have fireplaces. The cabins are open through Thanksgiving and a few remain open year-round. Several cabins offer excellent views of the river (www.buffalopoint.com; 870-449-6206).
The Western Parks
For foliage colors farther west consider America's first national park, Yellowstone, and itssouthern neighbor, Grand Teton National Park. A fall visit to either of these Wyoming parks avoids the summer crowds and is likely to result in more wildlife sightings. Peak time for the leaves is generally from mid-to-late September and early October. Yellowstone has nine lodging facilities spread throughout the park. All are managed by Xanterra Parks and Resorts. Closing dates are frommid-September to mid-October (www.travelyellowstone.com; 888-297-2757).
Grand Teton National Park has five lodging facilities, three of which are managed by Grand Teton Lodge Company (www.gtlc.com; 800-628-9988): Colter Bay Village closes in late September; Jackson Lake Lodge and Jenny Lake Lodge each close in early October. Signal Mountain Lodge with 79 cabin units, including a few with kitchens, closes in mid-October (www.signalmountainlodge.com; 307-543-2831). Triangle X Ranch is a dude ranch that requires a four-night minimum stay from September to the first week in November when it closes for the season (www.triangleX.com; 307-733-2183). According to Triangle X employee Megan Johnson, the park has been through a relatively dry year and the aspen and cottonwoods have already started to change colors, a process that is likely to last through early October.
Zion Canyon in Utah's Zion National Park is a gorgeous location in its own right. In fall it is transformed into a "ribbon of gold," according to Mike Just, a photographer and former employee at Zion Lodge. Leaves begin to change around the beginning of October and frequently peak by late October or early November. Zion Lodge is located in the canyon and open year-round (www.zionlodge.com; 888-297-2757).
Bushes and shrubs can also produce beautiful fall colors. Pam Newlun of Guest Services, concessionaire for the only two lodges in Washington's Mount Rainier National Park, says bushes in the sub-alpine region of Paradise Inn offer fall colors for guests. Huckleberries turn magenta and Mountain Ash becomes flaming yellow-orange. At lower elevations near National Park Inn, color is provided by maple and other broad-leaved trees. Pam mentioned some colors have already begun to appear, but the full glory of the colors may come any time from late September to mid-October, depending on the amount of cold weather the area experiences. She warned that motorists should check road reports before traveling to the park as there is always a possibility of snow during the fall. Paradise Inn sits at the base of Mount Rainier and closes for the season on October 1st. National Park Inn , at a lower elevation, is open year-round. Both lodges are operated by Guest Services (www.rainier.guestservices.com; 360-569-2275).
Washington's Olympic National Park not only enjoys snow-capped mountains and a rugged ocean shoreline, it also has rain forests, coastal forests, and lowland forests, all of which provide beautiful fall colors. Peak colors typically occur around mid-September. Lake Crescent Lodge on scenic Lake Crescent backs up to mountains and a lowland forest. Kalaloch Lodge sits on a bluff above the shore of the Pacific Ocean, a perfect location from which to view the coastal forests. Lake Quinault Lodge is across the lake from the Quinault Rain Forest, and Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is located in a lowland forest with a hot spring. Imagine being surrounded by colorful foliage on a cool afternoon while soaking in one of the thermal pools. These four properties are managed by Aramark (www.olympicnationalparks.com; 888-896-3818).
David and Kay Scott reside in Valdosta, Georgia, and are lodging writers for NationalParksTraveler.com and the authors of Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges (Globe Pequot). For additional information on national park lodges go to www.valdosta.edu/~dlscott/national_parks/lodge.html.
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