Find your fall: Bright leaves, colorful hikes abound in Eastern Iowa

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Autumn is here, and with it the beauty of changing leaves. Looking for a place to take in Mother Nature’s autumn show?

Iowa offers plenty of beautiful hikes, scenic campgrounds and idyllic picnic spots to enjoy the vibrant display.

Here are nine places to see some of the region’s best fall color.

1. YELLOW RIVER STATE FOREST

729 State Forest Rd., Harpers Ferry

Backpackers don’t have to leave Iowa for a true backcountry experience. With 32 miles of trails in northeast Iowa, the Yellow River Forest includes the Paint Creek Unit, with fishing, equestrian campgrounds, hiking, snowmobiling and horse trails, as well as scenic overlooks and picnic areas.

Outside magazine once named the forest’s Backpack Trail the best hike in Iowa.

2. PIKES PEAK STATE PARK

32264 Pikes Peak Rd., McGregor

With breathtaking views of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers converging from the top of a 500-foot bluff, hikers on 11 miles of trails can see sheer walls of Decorah limestone, view the Bridal Veil Falls and find fossil remains of brachiopods, cephalopods and other prehistoric creatures.

Effigy Mounds National Monument is a short drive away.

3. BACKBONE STATE PARK

1347 129th St., Dundee

With scenic points overlooking Backbone Park and the Maquoketa River, this park near Strawberry Point in northwestern Delaware County has 21 miles of hiking and multiuse trails, campgrounds and cabins. Take the rocky staircases to the “Devil’s Backbone,” one of the highest points in Iowa, visit Backbone Lake and hike in a woodland full of oak and maple trees on more than 2,000 acres.

4. MINES OF SPAIN STATE RECREATION AREA

8991 Bellevue Heights, Dubuque

Thirteen nature walks within this park offer plenty of limestone bluffs and scenic vistas, with a chance to spot bobcats, red-shouldered hawks, flying squirrels and bald eagles. Walk on two floating trails to a wildlife observation deck in a 15-acre wetland, climb staircases and trails through the Horseshoe Bluff Interpretive Area and visit the E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center to see a bird and butterfly garden, native prairies, woodland flower gardens, hiking trails and the historic Junkerman farm site, along with other attractions.

5. MAQUOKETA CAVES STATE PARK

10970 98th St., Maquoketa

The caves close to exploration on Oct. 15 for bat hibernation and reopen in May. Even after the caves close, however, visitors can hike the six miles of trails, with highlights like the “Natural Bridge,” nearly 50 feet above Raccoon Creek, the 17-ton "Balanced Rock," restored prairie and an experimental oak savanna restoration.

6. HICKORY HILL PARK

800 Conklin St., Iowa City

You don’t have to get out of town to see beautiful wooded views. This 185-acre park in Iowa City is an urban oasis of trails and trees, where hikers might cross paths with deer or foxes and are sure to see beautiful wildflowers and plenty of fall color.

7. WILDCAT DEN STATE PARK

1884 Wildcat Den Rd., Muscatine

This park just a mile from the Mississippi River combines natural beauty with historic structures such as the Pine Creek Grist Mill, built in 1848, and the turn-of-the-century Melpine Schoolhouse. Trails wind past centuries-old pine trees lining 75-foot cliffs and take hikers to beautiful bluffs and natural features like Steamboat Rock and Devil’s Punch Bowl.

8. LAKE WAPELLO STATE PARK

15248 Campground Rd., Drakesville

With more than 1,000 acres of wooded hillsides and shaded picnic areas around Lake Wapello, visitors can camp or stay in family cabins, fish on the lake or hike at this former Boy Scout camp 30 miles south of Ottumwa.

9. LACEY-KEOSAUQUA STATE PARK

22895 Lacey Trail, Keosauqua

With 19 sacred burial mounds overlooking the Des Moines River, this state park includes gently sloping trails, a small swimming lake and a peaceful park, complete with cabins and quick access to the villages of Van Buren County and the Southeast Iowa Bike Trail, a 46-mile route connecting the park with Geode State Park. The campground is closed through Oct. 31 for renovations.

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