National Park Togo

When is the best time to visit the National Parks of the US and Canada? You might think the answer would be one of the summer months. But when we looked at the 'best time to go' picks by Lonely Planet guidebook authors for the most visited and best-known parks in the US and Canada and stacked them all up on a calendar, the answer came as something of a surprise: October. (September, which we recently argued was the best month to travel anywhere, came in second with 17 picks to October's 21.)

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Why October? It's a combination of several factors that add up to make the so-called 'shoulder season' - the sweet spot between high and low season - the favorite time to be on the road and exploring the great outdoors for many savvy travelers:

  • Fewer crowds: kids are back in school after the summer break and ski season hasn't started.
  • Weather: Temperatures in desert regions have dropped to reasonable levels and are not fully into the cold season in most montane regions. October is prime time for Indian summer, so don't be surprised if you luck into some unseasonably warm temperatures.
  • Cost: Low-season rates for lodgings have kicked in for many areas to attract more travelers as the crowds thin.
  • Foliage and wildlife: It's not just the maples of New England putting on a show, trees are turning colors across the continent. Aspens, cottonwoods, oaks, willows, dogwoods and more are all putting on their autumn best. October is also rutting season for many of the large mammals of North America (elk, moose, antelope, bison), so it's a great time to see wildlife and the sometimes dramatic mating behavior.

The rest of the year

Some parks, Alaska's Denali National Park for example, can't be easily visited for large parts of the year due to extreme weather conditions. Other parks - notably Hawaii Volcanoes and Haleakala - can be comfortably visited year-round. In fact, apart from the the occasional road-closing lava flow, high elevation snow flurry or bad vog day, there really isn't a bad time of year even if the parks see higher numbers of visitors in the summer.

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