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Warm days, chilly nights, and autumn colors make fall perfect for getting outdoors! So, whether you want to see fall colors close to home or head out on a fall road trip, you’re in the right place. We have excellent suggestions and resources for where and when to see stunning Iowa fall colors!
Read on to find the best times, places, and road trips for seeing the breathtaking Iowa fall colors!
Table of Contents
- Iowa Fall Colors Report & Map
- Best Places to See Iowa Fall Colors
- Road Trips to See Iowa Fall Colors
Iowa Fall Colors Report & Map
When is the best time to see fall colors in Iowa? Well, that depends on where you’re at.
The trees change earlier the further north you go. For example, peak fall colors in northern Iowa often start in late September through mid-October. In Central Iowa, color usually peaks around mid-October. And southern Iowa usually sees the best fall colors in the second half of October. Check out this printable from the DNR: Best Fall Color Viewing Times in Iowa for a visual representation.
Iowa Fall Color Report
See the Iowa DNR Fall Color Report for more specific details on this year’s peak colors. It’s an excellent guide to fall foliage and peak colors, plus it has all kinds of information on fall in Iowa. They explain the leaf colors of different trees, how weather impacts the foliage, and more.
Fall Color Map
The Fall Foliage Prediction Map from Smoky Mountain National Park is a terrific way to track fall colors nationwide. On their website, also find information on the science of leaf color and a fun coloring book for kids.
Best Places to See Iowa Fall Colors
Northern & Northeast Iowa
McIntosh Woods State Park is a 60-acre park with beautiful views, several short trails, and camping on the north shores of Clear Lake.
The Iowa Great Lakes Area has lots of fun fall activities, like festivals, trails, camping, and more. Gull Point State Park is one of the best places to see fall colors.
Pikes Peak State Park is one of the absolute best places to see Iowa’s fall colors. The views from the 500-foot bluff overlooking the Mississippi River Valley are spectacular!
Effigy Mounds National Monument is beautiful in the fall! Hike miles of woodland trails among ancient burial mounds and take in colorful views of the river valley.
Decorah, Iowa, is the perfect Iowa fall getaway! This scenic town is surrounded by rolling hills and woodlands, with waterfalls to boot. Plenty of parks, trails, shopping, and restaurants make it the ideal fall destination.
Backbone State Park is a geological wonder with trails, streams, and beautiful trees! The views from the Backbone Trail are breathtaking any time of the year, especially in the fall.
Yellow River State Forest is a place to immerse yourself in fall colors. This remote area has 40+(!) miles of scenic trails to explore (with camping, trout fishing, and kayaking too).
Ledges State Park is a popular park for fall colors! Its 100-foot ridges (with views!), beautiful creek, and excellent hiking trails make it perfect for fall.
Dolliver Memorial State Park is a 594-acre park and is an ideal place for fall colors! It features limestone bluffs, unique sandstone formations, and excellent hiking throughout!
Jester Park is a one-of-a-kind 1660-acre county park and the perfect place to see fall colors. It’s on the shores of Saylorville Lake and offers camping, hiking, golfing, and more. Stop at the Visitor Center, natural play area, and bison and elk herds for more outdoor fun.
Red Rock Lake is Iowa’s largest lake – and one of the best places for a fall getaway in Central Iowa! This scenic area has outdoor recreation opportunities, like boating, camping, hiking, and biking. Plus, it’s near Pella, Iowa, a historic Dutch town with shopping, restaurants, and museums!
Pammel Park is a great fall destination with views from a 100-foot limestone ledge, or “backbone,” overlooking the Middle River. Visitors can hike, paddle, fish, and camp (and more!) in this unique woodland area.
Whiterock Conservancy is the ideal fall getaway – and a hidden gem in Central Iowa. Miles of trails stretch through diverse Iowa landscapes, perfect for seeing fall color. Plus, you can rent a unique cabin or farmhouse to make a weekend of it.
East-Central Iowa: Cedar Rapids – Iowa City Area
Lake Macbride State Park is Iowa’s largest state park, with a scenic lake, miles of trails, camping, birdwatching, and more. It’s an excellent place for a fall nature walk or camping on cool fall nights!
Palisades Kepler State Park is a scenic 840-acre park near Cedar Rapids and a fantastic place to visit in the fall. If you can, hike the Cedar Cliff Trail for beautiful views of the Cedar River Valley.
Pinicon Ridge Park is a beautiful county park ideal for fall! Head up the observation tower for great views, and go hiking, camping, fishing, and paddling. Also, check out their annual Fall Leaf Float on the Wapsipinicon River (early October).
Maquoketa Caves State Park is one of our favorite fall parks! It’s the ideal place to explore caves and see spectacular fall colors! Six miles of hiking trails offer the perfect way to experience the beauty of this great park. Plus, several campgrounds are located nearby.
Wildcat Den State Park is a favorite among photographers for a good reason! The diverse terrain includes bluffs and sandstone rock formations, great spots for seeing fall colors. Also, visit the one-room schoolhouse and historic mill while there!
Eagle Point Park in Dubuque offers spectacular views of the Mississippi River valley, where you can see three states (Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin). The rock garden, museum, and several historic park structures are excellent too.
Preparation Canyon State Park offers views of fall colors unlike any other place in Iowa. Hike winding trails through the remote rolling landscape of the beautiful Loess Hills. The more adventurous among us might consider hiking to primitive backcountry campsites.
Hitchcock Nature Center near Council Bluffs offers yet another great place to experience Iowa’s scenic Loess Hills. This 1200+ acre nature area is home to significant remnants of prairie. And it’s the perfect place to see fall colors from the observation tower or take in a fall nature program.
Rathbun Lake is an 11,000-acre lake near Chariton with 155 miles of shoreline and plenty of outdoor adventures. Consider Rathbun Lake for a fun fall getaway; rent a nearby cabin and take in the fall colors by land or water.
Stephens State Forest is Iowa’s largest state forest – with over 15,000 acres of remote woodlands and prairie, it’s a great place to visit in the fall. Trails and primitive camping offer two fall activities perfect for nature lovers!
Lake Wapello State Park is one of our favorite Southeast Iowa parks – a beautiful hidden gem no matter the season. This 1100+-acre park has a clear lake, a nice Lakeshore trail, and excellent camping, fishing, and picnic spots.
Geode State Park is a beautiful Southeast Iowa park full of color in the fall! Explore over six miles of multi-use trails around the lake for some great views. It’s also the perfect spot for fall camping and paddling!
Shimek State Forest is a 9400+ acre secluded nature area, perfect for those who want to escape the hustle and bustle and immerse themselves in the fall colors. The best way to see Shimek is by trail (equestrian & hiking).
Waubonsie State Park is another excellent place to see the spectacular Loess Hills of western Iowa! The park offers phenomenal views of the Loess Hills; the Sunset Ridge Nature Trail is the most popular trail with views of the Missouri River Valley. Also, check out the Waubonsie Overlook to see more fall colors!
Road Trips to See Iowa Fall Colors
Driving the scenic byways is a fun way to explore and see the best of fall in Iowa! Make it a fun fall road trip and stop in the small towns for great food, shopping, and fall events.
Northeast & Eastern Iowa Fall Drives
This area of the state is a fantastic place to take a fall road trip – to see the fall colors and so much more. Make it a fun fall getaway with stops at all the interesting and beautiful towns and parks on your route.
Great River Road National Scenic Byway
Pass through river towns as you marvel at the fall colors and fantastic views of the Mississippi! This national byway stretches from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The 328-mile Iowa section follows the Mississippi River and is, perhaps, the most scenic Iowa fall drive.
Even more, there are many great places to stop along the route! Stop at any of eighteen interpretive centers and several historic river towns with shopping, eateries, museums, and parks. It could take days to see everything along this beautiful byway, so make reservations and make a weekend of it.
See the Iowa Byways Great River Road brochure for more information on this route.
More Northeast & Eastern Iowa Drives
- Driftless Area Scenic Byway (Postville, Harpers Ferry, Decorah)
- River Bluffs Scenic Byway (Marquette, West Union, Fayette, Elkader, Guttenberg)
- Grant Wood Scenic Byway (Bellevue to Stone City)
Southeast Iowa Fall Drive
Historic Hills Scenic Byway is a 110-mile route that stretches through Amish country and historic Iowa towns, like Bentonsport, Keosauqua, and Moravia, to name a few. This byway takes you over hillsides and dense woodlands and is an excellent way to see the fall colors!
Keep an eye out for horses and buggies, and stop at local Amish and Mennonite businesses on the northwestern end of the route. And be sure to stop at Rathbun Lake or Lake Wapello State Park for a lakeside picnic.
See the Travel Iowa website for more details.
Central Iowa Fall Drive
Winterset, Iowa, is a fun fall destination! The good news is that there’s a great driving route where you can see the fall colors and enjoy all the town’s sights. The Covered Bridges Scenic Byway is an 82-mile route where you can see the historic covered bridges of Madison County and explore the museums, parks, and shops while you’re there.
Western Iowa Fall Drive
Loess Hills National Scenic Byway is a beautiful drive that passes through unique landscapes north of Sioux City to Hamburg! Stop along the route for more of the Loess Hills. Take in the views at an overlook, or hike along the ridges of the hills for spectacular views.
See the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway Guide for more information.
For maps, stops, and more details on scenic byways, see the Iowa Byway Travel Guide.
- Backroads & Byways of Iowa: Drives, Day Trips and Weekend Excursions
- DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer: Iowa
- Iowa: A Photographic Journey
- Iowa State Parks: A Century of Stewardship, 1920-2020
Fall books for kids:
- Trees, Leaves, Flowers and Seeds: A Visual Encyclopedia of the Plant Kingdom
- We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt
- Pete the Cat Falling for Autumn: A Fall Book for Kids
- There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves!
Des Moines Outdoors Articles
- Fall Camping Tips: The Best Things to Wear, Bring, and Do
- Easy Camping Food Ideas: 10 Simple No-Stress Camping Recipes
- 10+ Best Things to Do in the Fall in Des Moines
- The Best Fall Colors in Des Moines, Iowa
Get out and see some of Iowa’s best places for fall colors! Do you have a favorite fall destination in Iowa? Let us know where it is and why you love it!