Celebrating its centennial year on August 25, the U.S. National Park Service oversees 59 nationally designated parks across the country, many of which are renowned for their magnificent fall foliage. Here, we highlight four in the American West that offer leaf-peepers both dazzling autumnal colors and comfortable lodgings.
By James Louie
1. Alaska: Denali National Park
For a brief period between late August and early September, the alpine tundra of south-central Alaska bursts forth in an impressionist’s palette of fiery red, orange, and gold. Migrating caribou and foraging grizzly bears also make this an excellent time for spotting wildlife. But remote as it may be, Denali—whose namesake peak (North America’s highest) was until recently known as Mount McKinley—has creature comforts as well; book a stay at Denali Park Village, where a three-star lodge and cabins are set amid a spruce forest outside the park entrance.
2. Utah: Zion National Park
Best known for its canyons of orange-and-red layered Navajo sandstone, Zion has autumn beauty in spades without the crowds. Come early November, the cottonwoods and aspen groves by the Virgin River turn an exuberant mustard yellow, while pockets of maple add splashes of crimson to the rugged desert landscape. Zion Lodge has been the preferred place to stay since 1924; skip the newer hotel rooms in favor of one of the 28 original cabins, which come with fireplaces and private decks for stargazing.
3. Washington: Mount Rainier National Park
The slopes of snowcapped Mount Rainier harbor a luxuriant mix of old-growth forests and alpine meadows. Mid-October is prime time for viewing the autumn displays, although huckleberry bushes at higher elevations and vine maple begin turning in late September. Toward the end of the season, larch trees lend Chinook Pass and White Pass a golden glow. Alta Crystal Resort, located at the park’s doorstep, makes the perfect base, with 23 suites and a honeymoon cabin alongside a heated outdoor swimming pool.
4. Wyoming: Grand Teton National Park
The craggy Teton Range serves as the mesmerizing backdrop to this park’s fall foliage, with stands of cottonwoods, golden aspen, and willows blazing yellow and orange from mid-September to early October as bull elk spar over harems and sound their mating bugle. Take it all in from Jenny Lake Lodge—first established as a dude ranch in the 1920s, the 17-acre property pampers with nightly five-course dinners and 37 cozy log cabins, all within easy reach of several hiking trails and three glacial lakes.
This article originally appeared in the August/September print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“American Idylls”).