Fall color is peaking in Eastern Iowa soon, here are some ideas of where to soak it in

Take a drive or hike north and east of Cedar Rapids to escape derecho zone

A creek flows along a trail at Pinicon Ridge Park in Central City on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. The park offers trails, camp
A creek flows along a trail at Pinicon Ridge Park in Central City on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. The park offers trails, camping and outdoor activities along the Wapsipinicon River. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

The leaves are changing, though in Cedar Rapids and the surrounding area, the arrival of fall may be bittersweet.

“I’ve always enjoyed two places for fall color, at least in this area — Lake Macbride State Park and Palisades-Kepler State Park, but of course Palisades is closed,” said Iowa Department of Natural Resources district forester Mark Vitosh. “We’re working with them, and they’re still in the stages of trying to figure out what their plan is and how long its going to take before they can open that park back up — it’s going to be a while.”

The state park, like much of the area, was badly hit by the Aug. 10 derecho that ripped through the state with hurricane-force winds. Before the park can reopen, trails must be cleared of downed trees and dangerous dangling must be removed.

In Cedar Rapids itself, the city arborist has estimated the city lost more than 65% of its tree canopy. Many parks and hiking areas remain closed.

Still, for those able to get out of town a bit, there are plenty of places the storm passed by that offer vibrant fall color and undamaged hiking trails.

Vitosh recommended heading east or north of Cedar Rapids to escape the derecho’s impact area.

“One of the great places in northeast Iowa is the Yellow River State Forest,” he said. “There are a lot of great places in Northeast Iowa.”

County parks are a great option in addition to state parks. In northeast Linn County, just west of Central City, Pinicon Ridge escaped the derecho unscathed. People can also visit Buffalo Creek Park, on County Road D62 just west of Coggon.

Morgan Creek Park and the upper part of Wanatee Park remain closed, as do the wooded trails at Wickiup Hill, though the Wickiup Hill Learning Center and playscape are open.

In addition to the county parks, Linn County has a number of nature areas; find a list

To help people plan their visits, the Iowa DNR publishes a fall color report each Monday, with updates based on observations around the state. Currently, the report says color is peaking in Northeast Iowa, though Vitosh said he’s told that will likely be extending a few more days on next week’s report.

He said the Linn and Johnson County areas could expect to see peak fall color in mid-October.

“We’re usually a week or two behind northeast Iowa. In Iowa City, we’re now seeing some yellows, we’re starting to see the purples of the white ash, the yellows of cottonwood; we’re seeing the black walnut and maples.”

Vitosh said he was worried the summer’s drought would have a negative impact on fall colors, but he’s been pleasantly surprised.

“I’m usually concerned with drought conditions that you get a lot of drying and desiccation and blah color ... but so far we haven’t had any negative impacts,” he said. “The good things we’ve had, especially in the last couple of weeks, are pretty clear days and cool nights, which are going to help with color development.”

And just because an area is not listed as at “peak” color doesn’t mean it won’t have beautiful fall leaves; as one tree fades, another species can start to show.

“I really struggle with the word peak — the maples tend to come on, but if it stays warm, sometimes you then get a good influx of the oaks,” he said.


If in doubt, he said you can always call the state park or county conservation board to ask how the colors are. Or just take a chance on a drive or hike — there is plenty of nature, unaffected by the derecho, left to enjoy across Iowa.

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