116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
If you’re looking for some affordable fun in Eastern Iowa, pack your picnic basket, hop in the car and take a leisurely drive to one of the many spots where fall leaves in all their splendor are on display.
Mid-October is peak viewing time for fall leaves across Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, so plan accordingly. By early November the fall color season begins to wind down. Except for some oak trees, leaves will have fallen or turned brown for most species.
One way to find the best places to view fall foliage is to ask some Eastern Iowa moms, who are always looking for opportunities for fun family time that don’t require an electronic device. In this case, you can leave the tablets at home in exchange for some picturesque views through your car windows or out on the hiking trails.
Check out the Fall Color section of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website, iowadnr.gov, where you can download a printable Fall Colors State of Iowa map.
Pikes Peak State Park near McGregor, Iowa, is a fan favorite. “I remember always going as a kid and now take my own kids. It’s beautiful in the fall and overlooks the Mississippi River,” said Ashley Welter of Cedar Falls.
Pikes Peak features a 500-foot bluff that overlooks the Mississippi. The 970-acre park, which includes 11 miles of trails, is located on a national scenic byway and boasts Bridal Veil Falls and Point Ann as points of interest. You’ll see a lot of interesting colors as you get some exercise exploring the scenic bluffs and valleys along the Iowa–Wisconsin border.
You’ll also find plenty of arboreal beauty at Hickory Hills Park in Black Hawk County, 12 miles south of Waterloo. The 700 acre-park contains an uncommon geographic feature found mostly in Iowa—a loess-capped hill called a paha, which is a Native American word meaning high ground.
Michele Kramer of Aplington has fond memories of the fall landscape in Hickory Hills. “We used to love going there as kids when we lived in Buckingham, Iowa,” she said.
Other suggestions include the short drive down Great River Road along the Mississippi between Lansing and Harper’s Ferry in Allamakee County. Described by tourism officials as “a place to enjoy plentiful wildlife and scenic rivers with sandy islands, panoramic valleys, historic towns and timbered hills,” the area contains 19 parks across 158 acres.
Kim Tiedt of Waterloo said the area is “so beautiful with fall foliage and cliffs and bluffs.”
Jessica Dawson of Waverly recommends Backbone State Park, located three miles south of Strawberry Point in Delaware County. The park is home to the highest point in Northeast Iowa, called The Devil’s Backbone, which is formed from the steep and narrow ridge of Maquoketa River bedrock and gave the park its name. Iowa’s oldest state park, Backbone features a 21-mile multi-use trail system over 1,400 acres.
So, why do tree leaves change color, anyway?
According to the DNR, while chlorophyll in tree leaves is responsible for their green color, there are many other pigments that help the chlorophyll do its job (absorbing energy from sunlight to make food for the plant). Those pigments, which appear mostly yellow and orange, aren’t as visible while chlorophyll is being made. When the nights get longer, trees start becoming dormant in preparation for winter and chlorophyll production slows down, those orange and yellow pigments show through. The tree’s species, soil acidity and which minerals are present in the soil will impact the amount of these pigments found in the leaves.
The same kinds of pigments that make leaves yellow, orange and red are also responsible for the orange in carrots, the red in tomatoes, and the yellow in squash.