Fall in Iowa delivers a stunning spectacle of fall colors: red, yellow, orange, and purple leaves abound! And the warm days and chilly nights make it the perfect time to get outdoors. Of course, the best time for fall colors in Des Moines shifts a bit from year to year, but the places to go to see them don’t!
Iowa’s Peak Fall Foliage
Looking around at trees in your neighborhood, you can tell when fall colors are at their best. Here in Central Iowa, fall colors usually peak around mid-October.
If you want to know more about this year’s peak, keep tabs on the Iowa DNR Fall Color Report. It’s an excellent guide to fall foliage in Iowa. Not only does it tell when the trees are at their peak, but 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. You might also check out this excellent Fall Foliage Map from the National Park Service.
The Best Fall Colors in Des Moines
If you want to get out and experience beautiful fall foliage around Des Moines, we recommend the following parks. To learn more, click on the name of the park.
Walnut Woods is a beautiful 260-acre park with Iowa’s largest stand of Black Walnut trees. While you’re there, have a picnic, go camping, hike the trails, or paddle the river! The great thing is, it’s situated along the Raccoon River, just minutes from Downtown Des Moines.
Brown’s Woods is Iowa’s largest urban forest. Mature oak and hickory trees grow on the hilly landscape in this 486-acre forest preserve. And with over four miles of hiking trails, it’s the perfect place to see fall colors!
Sycamore Trails are on the north side of Des Moines, on a floodplain filled with mature forest. Visitors can spot wildlife and explore the woods on 6+ miles of dirt trails along the Des Moines River.
Greenwood Ashworth Park is a 140-acre park in the heart of Des Moines. The trail surrounding the Greenwood Lagoon is an excellent place to view fall colors. Or hike the dirt trails through the dense forest in both parks. Also, Bill Riley Trail is a paved trail extending through “The Wild” for even more woodland exploration.
McRae Park is just south of downtown Des Moines, on a bluff overlooking the Raccoon River. The views are outstanding, making it the perfect place to see fall color in the heart of Des Moines. While you’re there, take the time to enjoy one of the last Oak Savanna remnants in Iowa!
Raccoon River Park is a unique 632-acre park along the Raccoon River in West Des Moines. Paddle or fish at the 232-acre Blue Heron Lake. Or bike, hike, play, or picnic (and more!) in the park’s beautiful surroundings. A 3.2-mile multi-use trail is a perfect way to experience fall colors along the lake and river banks.
Margo Frankel Woods is a small, 136-acre park. It’s the perfect place to retreat to peaceful rolling hills and dense woods. Trails wind through mature oak and walnut trees and over small streams, making it an excellent place to experience the beauty of fall.
Yellow Banks Park is a 552-acre park east of Des Moines. It’s the ideal place for fall colors, with sweeping views and bluffs over the Des Moines River valley. Explore the hiking trails, or go camping, fishing, picnicking, and paddling while there.
Thomas Mitchell Park is a scenic 197-acre park east of Des Moines. Hike the trails through the mature forest, or go on a fall creek walk through Camp Creek! You can even make it a cozy fall getaway at the campgrounds or park cabin.
Banner Lakes is a super unique (and scenic!) park, just south Des Moines. The 222-acre park was once a coal mine. Fish or paddle at the beautiful lakes. Or hike or bike around the park. The 2-mile park loop has a pedestrian lane, and there are 5½ miles of dirt trails through the woods!
Jester Park is a one-of-a-kind 1660-acre park with a natural play area, bison and elk herds, and trails in the woods and on the shores of Saylorville Lake. The park has tons of mature, native trees and lots of things to do, making it an excellent place to spend a fun fall day. Also, the campgrounds and modern cabins provide the opportunity to stay a while!
Saylorville Lake is the most popular outdoor destination in central Iowa for a good reason! And it’s an ideal place to spend a fall day (or weekend!). View the fall colors along the shores of the 6000-acre lake or from the Neal Smith Trail. The great thing is, you won’t soon run out of scenic spots throughout the 26,000-acre recreation area! And the Saylorville Lake campgrounds are some of the best in the area.
See fall colors just outside of Des Moines
If you want to drive a few minutes outside of Des Moines, there are many options for viewing fantastic fall colors. Below are a few places to experience the best of fall just outside of Des Moines.
The High Trestle Trail
Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt
Ledges State Park
Pammel State Park
Woodland Mounds State Preserve
Winterset City Park
Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge
Lake Red Rock (& the Cordova Park Observation Tower)
There you have it, some of the best places for fall colors in and around Des Moines! Do you have somewhere you love to go in the fall in Des Moines? Let us know where it is and why you love it!
- Iowa Fall Colors: Best Times, Places, and Road Trips For Fall in Iowa
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