Fall Color

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Fall Color
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Fall Color
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Predicting the peak of fall color can be difficult. Missouri is blessed with a great variety of trees, shrubs, and vines. Their leaves turn at different times, so Missourians enjoy a fall color season that may last four to six weeks. Sassafras, sumac, and Virginia creeper are some of the earliest to change, beginning in mid-September. By late September, black gum, bittersweet, and dogwood are turning.

The peak of fall color in Missouri is usually around mid-October. This is when maples, ashes, oaks, and hickories are at the height of their fall display. Normally by late October, the colors are fading and the leaves beginning to drop from the trees. Fall color is usually finished by the middle of November.

The progression of color change starts earliest in north Missouri and moves southward across the state. Generally, the color change is predictable, but it can vary from year to year. Much depends on the weather.

Where’s The Best Place?

You can enjoy Missouri’s fall color almost anywhere.

  • For spectacular vistas, choose routes along rivers with views of forested bluffs, and along ridges with sweeping scenes of forested landscapes.
  • On a smaller scale, drive on back roads, hike, or take a float trip under a colorful forest canopy on a clear, blue-sky day. Visit MDC Conservation Areas and Missouri State Parks.
  • Even treeless areas, such as prairies and roadsides, display beautiful shades of gold, purple, olive, and auburn with autumn wildflowers, shrubs, and curing, rustling grasses.
  • If you can’t get out of town, enjoy places with mature trees, such as older neighborhoods, parks, and even cemeteries.

Find events on your route

The Missouri Division of Tourism’s online calendar is packed with events happening all across Missouri this fall. Find those along your preferred routes.

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Fall Color Reports

  • Sugar Maple
    Central Region, including Columbia, Jefferson City, and Lake of the Ozarks
    Status
    Peak color

    Cooler weather has brought on great fall color only in the last few days! Lots of bright fall colors can be seen from bottomlands to uplands. In bottomlands, along creeks and rivers, mulberries, silver maple, elms, and sycamore are developing vibrant yellows. As you move uphill to the slopes and ridges above the bottomlands, sassafras and hickories are yellowing as aromatic sumac, dogwoods, and ashes add deep purples and reds to the landscape. But the real showstoppers this week are red maple and sugar maple — they have really come on strong across the region. Sugar maples are turning beautiful shades of yellow and orange and red maples are showing spectacular reds. In towns, planted red maples and sweet gums are beginning their display, adding a welcome rainbow of reds, and catalpas remain a vibrant greenish yellow. Oaks remain green for now, but those with dark red Virginia creeper growing on the trunks are an interesting sight.

    Fall Color Hot Spots

    This is a great time for a hike at Hart Creek Conservation Area in southern Boone County. Located on the hills overlooking the Missouri River, the protected slopes are wooded with showy sugar maples, while oaks and aromatic sumac crown the ridges. All the colors of autumn, combined with the sweeping vista of the Missouri River, should make for the perfect fall hike. Be sure to wear an orange vest, as archery deer hunters are also taking to the woods.

    If an easier walk is more your style, the diverse trees around Runge Nature Center are very colorful. Be sure to check out the nature program offerings so you can plan your visit (see the Events link below).

  • Sweet gum leaves in fall color
    Kansas City Region
    Status
    Beginning to turn

    Fall colors, though a bit lackluster, are progressing this week in the Kansas City Region. Unfortunately, we are seeing patches of gray where there used to be vibrant reds and yellows because many of our ash trees have died due to the invasive emerald ash borer. And some areas are even past peak, with many trees having lost their leaves — probably due to the very dry conditions earlier this fall and to leaf diseases. Meanwhile, other areas are lagging behind and are still relatively green. Keep an eye out for pockets of dramatic fall color in trees like maples and sweet gum. Oaks are still providing a lot of green, but they are starting to show some color; this year, we expect brownish shades ultimately to dominate in the oaks. The duration of fall color will depend on the weather. High winds, heavy rain, or a hard freeze will further hasten leaf drop.

    Fall Color Hot Spots

    For scenic fall color drives in our region, try MO 45 and 224 along the Missouri River. For hiking and photography, try Big Buffalo Creek, Burr Oak Woods, and White Alloe Creek Conservation Areas; Maple Woods Natural Area; Knob Noster State Park; Forest Hills and Mount Washington cemeteries, and the Swope Memorial in Swope Park. For more places within the city, VisitKC.com also has suggestions for where to find fall color (see links below).

  • White ash in purple and yellow fall color
    Northeast Region, including Kirksville and Hannibal
    Status
    In progress

    It’s amazing that once again, not much has changed since last week; the temperatures still have not fallen sufficiently. Scarlets and purples are coming on strong in our region and will be especially striking in white ash, sumacs, sassafras, black cherry, and dogwoods. Yellows are coming out in honey locust, green ash, hackberry, hickories, tulip trees, and others. In urban areas, expect your gingko leaves to turn bright yellow in following weeks. Overall, the intensity is variable; within the same species, some individuals are showing vibrant colors while others are not turning at all. Fall color has been late this year, but with middle and late October upon us, we can expect vibrant colors soon.

    Fall Color Hot Spots

    For scenic fall color drives in our region, consider taking a drive on US 136 and MO 6; both are east-west highways through northern Missouri. For hiking, horseback riding, and photography, we suggest visiting Fox Valley Lake, Indian Hills, Mineral Hills, and Rebel’s Cove Conservation Areas.

  • Virginia creeper in red fall color with fruits, growing on side of Millsap Bridge, Lincoln County
    Northwest Region, including St. Joseph and Chillicothe
    Status
    In progress

    Still not much has changed in the Northwest Region. It seems like our color has been frozen in time, probably due to the lack of rain in most areas combined with warm nighttime temperatures. But no matter where you are, as you look across the landscape, you can still find some yellow colors. Also, there are still some scattered bright oranges, golds, and reds — especially on sugar maple — most of which are in towns. Many trees are bare or are close to being bare of leaves — this is especially the case with ashes, black walnut, cottonwood, and others. Sumacs, poison ivy, and Virginia creeper are still about the only really good, consistent color producers so far.

    We did get some much-needed rain about a week ago, but as you might expect, it takes a while for water to move all the way from the roots to the top of a tree and into the leaves. Also, we haven’t really had any long stints of cool temperatures at night. So we might be in for a later-than-average color peak in this part of the state. Or that is what we can hope.

    Fall Color Hot Spots

    For driving routes, we suggest I-29 and US 36. We encourage you to enjoy Missouri State Parks and Conservation Areas any time of the year. In the fall, the wooded loess hill bluffs along the Missouri River offer beautiful vistas.

  • Photo of winged sumac compound leaves showing wings and red fall color
    Ozark Region, including Rolla, West Plains, and Eminence
    Status
    Beginning to turn

    The Ozark Region is starting to show some noticeable fall colors. Depending on the location, from the upland hillsides, plateaus, or river bottoms, the colors are variable but are showing promise of a beautiful fall.

    Dotted across hillsides, browns and yellows are standing out. A lot of the browns are hickories that turned yellow a week or two ago. Large black gums are glowing with red and crimson. Maples, in yards or open areas, are starting to turn yellow, orange, and red.

    Small trees in the understory — the ones below the main canopy — are showing the most color in forests: a variety of greens, interspersed with yellow, orange, purple, and red. Dogwoods are showy right now with their unique purple hues.

    In open areas and along roadsides, sumac leaves are bright red. In Missouri, two species are common in these habitats: winged sumac and smooth sumac. Both are small, thicket-forming shrubs, rarely over ten feet tall, with dense clusters of berrylike, hairy, red fruits. These clusters can persist through winter and are an excellent food source for birds and wildlife.

    Compared to this time last year, we are another week or more from peak color. The well-named scarlet oak is so far showing only a slight fading of its green leaves. The extended summer and fall drought and lack of cold nighttime temperatures may be delaying the peak of fall color. We still have a lot to look forward to.

    Fall Color Hot Spots

    As fall color develops, virtually any wooded area will become scenic. Our suggestions this week are listed in the links below. It’s a great time to seek out a new area you haven’t visited before.

    In addition to the public areas listed below, we also suggest visiting the Baptist Camp access to the Current River, which is southeast of Montauk State Park (from Montauk State Park, drive east on County Road 6670/644 about 1.6 miles; then, turn right onto County Road 653 and drive about 1.5 miles to the access). We also recommend hiking the Lick Log Hollow Trail, which is at Angeline Conservation Area.

  • Fall color landscape at Elephant Rocks State Park, October 20, 2021
    Southeast Region, including Cape Girardeau, Farmington, and Poplar Bluff
    Status
    In progress

    The patches of fall color are growing stronger this week. Sunshine has dominated the forecast, though another rainy spell is expected this weekend. We’ll have to see if the sunshine will intensify the colors, or if the impending rain will mute them. Meanwhile, dogwoods sparkle with magenta and purple while ashes grace us with maroon and burgundy. Hickories provide a buttery yellow warmth. Black gum still dazzles with crimson, and sugar maples are starting to acquire their brilliant, warm spectrum of yellows, oranges, and reds. Oaks are making their fall color appearance, lending a calmer complement of creamy yellow, tan, and russet shades. Elm trees greet the sun with their own golden hues. Peak color is around the corner in the next week or so.

    Fall Color Hot Spots

    Reap the health benefits of being in nature: Get outside and inhale the autumn breeze; take a meditative stance; go for a hike, or horse or bicycle ride, or float trip. Enjoy the gradual transformation of fall color in your travels. This week, we feature a tour of the sites of the Arcadia Valley, in the St. Francois Mountains. The following destinations are suggested.

  • Closeup of flowering dogwood leaves in fall color
    Southwest Region, including Springfield, Branson, and Joplin
    Status
    In progress

    Little change has occurred in fall color this past week. It continues to be variable across the Southwest Region.

    In the northern counties, sassafras and sumacs are in full red color. The trees growing along stream bottoms are all starting to change to yellows and light greens, and the sycamores are turning their normal brown color. Hickory leaves are turning yellows and browns and are falling off. The oaks are still pretty green here. Dogwoods have been really nice this year.

    In the southern counties, sumacs, Virginia creeper, sassafras, and dogwoods are all showing shades of red or orange, with many dropping leaves. Some yellows are coming out in cherry and hackberry along the bottoms and along roadsides.

    Fall Color Hot Spots

    With fall color more developed in the northern part of our region, we suggest driving along MO 64 and visiting MDC conservation areas in Laclede, Dallas, Hickory, Polk, Cedar, and Dade counties.

    Throughout the region, in communities you can see individual maples showing shades of red, but these are variable.

  • Pawpaw leaves in fall color
    St. Louis Region
    Status
    In progress

    The unusually warm weather has been delaying widespread color change across the region, although you can find some consistent color in the early-changing species such as flowering dogwood, persimmon, sassafras, sumacs, Virginia creeper, hickories, maples, redbud, hackberry, black walnut, pawpaw, and black haw. The areas that were drier, especially late in the year, are more muted, and some early defoliation or browning is prevalent. The most consistent color change is still in areas outside of St. Louis city, where warmer nights are delaying widespread color change. The cooler nights along with warm, sunny days should start to trigger more widespread color throughout the region.

    Fall Color Hot Spots

    We’re still not seeing large areas with fall color, but check out Daniel Boone, Little Creek, or B. K. Leach Conservation Areas for some early displays. Fall wildflowers are still a good bet for consistent color, so visiting area prairies at Busch, Valley View or Victoria Glades Conservation Areas or Shaw Nature Reserve should give you a chance to see both wildflowers and a splash of fall color.