Capitol Reef National Park
Visit Capitol Reef National Park at the right time, and you’ll find an especially sweet reward: fresh-off-the-tree peaches (late summer), pears, and apples. The glorious red rock park is home to Fruita, a town erected by enterprising Mormon pioneers in 1880. Fruita’s residents eventually moved on, but the orchards they planted persist: some 1,900 trees, now carefully preserved and tended by the National Park Service. Come August and September, the trees grow heavy with ripe peaches, pears, and apples, which visitors can pick for a small fee. The park provides ladders and fruit-picking equipment; just remember to bring your own bag. Complete your trip with a hike on the 2-mile Fremont River Trail, where the cottonwoods glow gold in the sun. Once night falls, the stars glow just as bright: like Great Basin, Capitol Reef is an International Dark Sky Park. This year, the park will host its Annual Heritage Starfest September 23–24.
Yellowstone National Park
Walking into Yellowstone National Park—with its erupting geysers, boiling mud pots, and psychedelic springs—feels like walking into a nature documentary; you almost expect a soundtrack. During the fall rutting season, you get one in the form of bull elk bugling loudly and, occasionally, crashing antlers to battle over mates. The bears, too, are especially active in fall, engaged in a frenzied state of hyperphagia: eating and drinking practically nonstop to prepare for hibernation. For the best chance to see—and hear—elk, visit Mammoth Hot Springs and the Madison River; to spot bears, check the roadside meadows. Remember to give all animals a wide berth—a minimum of 100 yards for bears and wolves, 25 yards for everything else, including bison and elk. And if you want to watch geysers without the Old Faithful crowds, hike the nine miles to Shoshone Basin, the park’s largest backcountry geyser basin. Given Yellowstone’s popularity, park lodging books out well in advance; for more lodging availability, consider towns outside the park, such as Afton, Cody, and Dubois in Wyoming, and Gardiner* and Livingston* in Montana. Check weather forecasts and road closures before arriving. *Editor's note: the North and Northeast Entrances into Yellowstone are closed to visitor vehicles, but they can still be accessed through an approved tour group or by biking or walking into the park.
Smart Tip: If you have time, take a drive into Grand Teton National Park to see yellowed aspens against the jagged peaks and vibrant blue skies. Listen for elk bugles as you take in the views.