Secrets to discovering national parks this fall

Maybe your kids aren’t in school yet.  Maybe you’ve just shipped your last one off to college. Maybe you are new grandparents angling for more time with the baby.

Wherever you are on the raising kids spectrum,  national parks are a great bet in fall.  The weather (hopefully) is wonderful, the crowds are gone, and you should be able to get a room at that iconic lodge, whether you are at Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, maybe even snaring a bargain.

You’ll also get some exercise is some of the most beautiful spots in the country. (Go to and look for the park you want to visit. Look for special programs and packages from concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts.)

Take your pick—Joshua Tree National Park in California, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in Utah, Olympic National Park in Washington State and  Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the East Coast, the nation’s most visited.

You don’t only have to go to the most famous or most visited either. There are 397 national parks to choose from. Here's what I wrote about national parks and kids.

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Looking for a special getaway with the kids?  For the second year Grand Canyon Railway  (GCR) will offer its special “Pumpkin Patch Train” on all weekends in October. Children will have 30-45 minutes to pick out a pumpkin from the “secret pumpkin patch." Everyone will enjoy a new haunted train car, a hay maze and crafts in and around the historic 1908 train depot. Pumpkin decorating and face painting will take place at the depot as well.

There are plenty of other options too to get outdoors at state parks and elsewhere. Here are my Fourteen Favorite Fall Getaways to get outdoors and have some fun with—or without—the kids. (Beer festival anyone?)

The Ohio State Park Lodges’ “Stays 4 A’s” program allows students with A’s on their report cards to transform those A’s into $10 discounts off the price of a lodge room at  Salt Fork State Park Lodge in central Ohio near Cambridge, Mohican State Park Lodge in north central Ohio near Loudonville, Punderson Manor State Park Lodge in northeastern Ohio near Newbury, Maumee Bay State Park Lodge in northwestern Ohio near Toledo and Deer Creek State Park Lodge near Columbus.

At the same time, The Appalachian Mountain Club, for example,  has a variety of kids play and stay and eat free programs at their Cardigan Lodge in New Hampshire, where you can also stay in huts along the Appalachian Trail, giving kids a taste of back packing without lugging all the gear.

Getting away with your gal pals: Stay in Jackson, Wyoming and you’ll have all the hiking, rafting and horseback riding you want in and around Grand Teton National Park.

For couples:  Combine a trip to Acadia National Park where you can hike along the shore line on Desert Island, Maine, and have Bar Harbor, the town for fine restaurants and B&Bs and spectacular coast line, nearby.

Now where’s your backpack!