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Our Favorite Fall National Park Hikes

Autumn color is part of the fun on fall national park hikes. This photo: Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

At Grand Teton National Park, autumn leaves reflect in the water at Oxbow Bend.

Updated 08.01.2018:  When Alan and I plan a national park visit, we skip the summer months in favor of early autumn. The lodges are still open, snow hasn’t closed the roads yet in parks with mountainous terrain, and crowds have diminished. In our opinion, engaging with nature on fall national park hikes is simply the best.

Did you know that National Park visits are natural mood boosters? And, according to an article at National Geographic, “being surrounded by nature has been proven to improve cognitive function, aid sleep, and increase attention span.”

In my article, Why National Parks are Good for Your Health, I introduced you to Nature Engagement Levels (N.E.L.s), part of Humana’s #StartWithHealthy campaign—you can measure yours right here. But, if you really want to raise your engagement with nature, you need to park the car, put those feet on the ground, and hit the trail on some of my favorite fall national park hikes.

Fall national park hikes don't get any better than the trail to Bullhead Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana

Fall national park hikes don’t get any better than the trail to Bullhead Lake in Glacier National Park.

Hike to Bullhead Lake in Glacier National Park

Your N.E.L.s will be off the scale on this mostly level 8-mile-round-trip hike in the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park. Picture alpine meadows surrounded by dramatic mountains, not to mention the beauty of three lakes and a waterfall. A swath of golden aspens, if they’ve turned before you arrive, completes the scene.

Although this portion of the Swiftcurrent Trail is a popular day hike, there’s plenty of space for sitting on rocks to gaze at the deep blue waters of Bullhead Lake. Enjoy a picnic lunch before heading back to the trailhead.

Beware: Bears are attracted to the huckleberry crop surrounding the trail. During the fall, bears are focused on eating as much as they can before hibernation. Make noise and always carry bear spray with you.

One of our favorite fall national park hikes is the trail to Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

Hidden Falls is a popular hike in Grand Teton National Park.

Hike to Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park

There’s something so rewarding about hiking to a waterfall. The sound of water thundering down a mountainside reverberates in your body. And the cool mist thrown off by the falls refreshes any tired hiker.

Arrive at the trail to Hidden Falls the short way by taking a boat ride across Jenny Lake or enjoy a longer journey by hiking around the lake’s shoreline. In any event, you won’t be hiking alone—Hidden Falls is one of the most popular trails in the Grand Tetons—even during shoulder season.

So how do you bask in nature with lots of people around? Find a comfortable rock off a side trail and let the crowds pass you by. Hiking is more than reaching your destination; to enjoy nature’s benefits, you must soak it in.

Another option is to greet hikers with a smile. Start a conversation as you enjoy the waterfalls from the viewpoint. You’ll have something in common with every person there—the beauty of the falls. Nature creates a diversified community. Be part of it.

Exploring the geysers at Yellowstone National Park is another of my favorite fall national park hikes.

Geysers come in many varieties at Yellowstone National Park.

Walk the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

If you’re looking for nature to inspire you, this fall national park hike will do just that. More of a walk than a hike, you’ll still enjoy plenty of exercise on the boardwalk that winds through Yellowstone National Park’s Upper Geyser Basin.

Rather than colorful changing leaves, geysers are the stars here. Watch them spout, seep, bubble or roar to life spraying streams of steamy water skyward. End your walk by sitting in the bleachers in front of Old Faithful waiting for the geyser to blast into the air. It’s worth taking the time to consider: How does nature do that?

Of course I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to national park fall hikes. No matter which park you choose, these tips will help you make the most of your trip:

  • Check park closing dates. Some trails are still accessible after a park closes, but concessions and lodging will not be available.
  • Book park lodging far in advance, however last-minute cancellations do happen so check back often.
  • Always hike with bear spray. If you’re flying to a national park, purchase bear spray upon arrival. Also, ask in advance if your hotel or inn loans out bear spray, some do.
  • Pack for changeable weather, which means bringing along rain gear, layers, gloves and a hat.
  • Bring hiking poles. Yes, TSA allows them to be packed in a carryon or checked luggage.
  • Sign up for a ranger-led hike to learn more about the park. This is also a good idea if you’re uncomfortable hiking unfamiliar trails.

Fall is a great time to visit a desert destination like Joshua Tree National Park

Would you like to find other destinations for fall national park hikes? Visit Find Your Park to begin searching.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Humana. The opinions and text are all mine.



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