It’s that time of year. Pumpkin spice and apple flavors are everywhere. As summer heat fades, crisp autumn air arrives and so do fall colors.
Fall in Chicago is magical, like a breath of fresh air. But before too long, fall and all its splendor will be a distant memory. So, if you’re hoping to truly savor the colors and beauty of autumn in the Midwest, here’s a roundup of great – and sometimes unexpected – places to see fall foliage in the city and suburbs.
This Lincoln Park gem offers an urban oasis filled with water lilies and a serene landscape, perfect for picture taking as the trees start to turn. This National Historic Landmark just north of Lincoln Park Zoo, encompasses a 2.7-acre sanctuary known for its lily pond, native plants, migrating birds, butterflies and prairie-style landscape.
Palos Forest Preserve
With 15,000 acres in southwest Cook County, some call this the granddaddy of trail systems. Jump on the Palos Trail System to hike or mountain bike more than 40 miles of unpaved trails that wind through rolling hills filled with fall splendor. The trail runs through Hickory Hills, Justice, Palos Hills and Willow Springs. The Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center offers nature education and an easy 2 ½ mile path.
Get a nonstop fall show with asters, chrysanthemums, sugar maples, oaks, sweetgums and redbuds in their brilliant autumn glow. This North Shore favorite offers 27 gardens and spectacular beauty amid 385 acres in north-suburban Glencoe. Prime time to go is the first two weeks in October, but even in early November, you’ll see beautiful hues.
Best known as the site of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (and the now-under-construction Obama Presidential Center), this 551-acre historic park offers the perfect fall escape. Head to Wooded Island—just south of the Museum of Science and Industry—to find colorful aspens and maples and the Garden of the Phoenix, a scenic Japanese garden on a peaceful lagoon.
When it comes to seeing trees, there’s no better place than Morton Arboretum. You’ll find more than 4,500 varieties including golden sugar maples, walnuts and hackberries. There’s a slew of fall festivals including a glass pumpkin patch, scarecrow trail, cider and ale fest, a fall wine tasting and the Fall Color 5K Run and Walk.
Graveyards are rarely crowded, so you should have plenty of room to take in the beautiful fall foliage and get some spooky kicks at the Buena Park cemetery just north of Wrigley Field. It’s a certified arboretum with monuments like the “Eternal Silence” 10-foot bronze statue also known as “The Statue of Death.”
Head to Lake County to this forest preserve in Libertyville that encompasses more than 1,000 acres including a 129-acre lake, prairie and woodlands filled with golden shagbark hickories and oak trees.
Located on Chicago’s northwest side, this nature preserve (5801 N. Pulaski Rd.) offers abundant hiking trails and a nature center within a 155-acre campus. Visit an oak savannah, a rare landscape that used to cover much of the Midwest.
Home to the country’s first forest preserve, this haven in Palatine is known for its nearly 2,000 acres of wetlands, prairie, upland forest and wooded ravines. You’ll see plenty of fall colors along the 15 ½ miles of paved and unpaved trails. Illinois Nature Preserves Commission designated it one of the “highest quality natural areas in the state.” Catch largemouth bass and bluegill while fishing at Deer Grove Lake.
Get your fall colors on with tall red oaks, maple, ash, elm and massive ironwood trees at this 3,700-acre Cook County Forest Preserve in Elk Grove Village. It’s earned National Natural Landmark status for its diverse landscapes of upland forests, marshes and flatwoods. Look for a variety of animals and birds including mink and muskrat. And yes, there’s an actual elk herd located inside the 17-acre enclosed pasture.
This 800-acre Cook County Forest Preserve in Palos Park showcases 100-foot bluffs formed by the glaciers. It’s best known for the 125-step limestone staircase on the north side of the woods that offers aerial views. Nearby is Palos Park Woods, which is divided into North and South sections, each offering forested areas and beautiful trails to hike. Or hit the wooded footpaths in Cap Sauers Holding Nature Preserve.
There are plenty of beautiful forest preserves in Cook County. This one, in Orland Park, offers serenity and unpaved trails for an easy stroll through fall colors. Situated off the McGinnis Slough, there are plenty of waterfront views and places to reconnect with nature.
Known for its Rocky Glen waterfall that was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, this 2,503-acre park in Lemont offers extensive trails through shaded oak-and-maple forests, as well as prairies and savannas. Visit the Sawmill Creek Bluff overlook to get a full view.