When the season comes, fall colors explode across Illinois state parks, national forests, recreation areas, and scenic drives which overlook grand rivers. In northern Illinois, the leaf colors begin to change by the third or fourth week of September and peak around mid-October. Whereas in central Illinois, fall hues unveil themselves only during the second week of October and peak later in the month. Southern Illinois is the last to see this burst of color—not arriving until late October or even early November.
Chicago area (peak foliage: second week of October)
Though visiting a state forest sounds like a great idea, you might not need to leave the Windy City, as the Chicago area has a surprisingly large variety of spots to view the colors of autumn. Plan your itinerary across such popular places as The University of Chicago, Potawatomi Woods, Chicago Botanic Garden, the Morton Arboretum, and Swallow Cliff Woods.
Galena area (peak foliage: second week of October)
Galena lures crowds of leaf peepers in the period between mid-September and late October. The rolling hills blend with the 19th-century architecture and the Galena River as the backdrop make it a perfect fall foliage destination. Explore the scenic Galena River Trail by bike, or rent a kayak and view the fall colors from the water. Stunning panoramic views open from the top of Chestnut Mountain Resort. Take a ski lift ride to the summit or discover the area's picturesque hiking trails. For a scenic drive, follow 40-mi (64-km) Stagecoach Trail rimmed with foliage, or take State-84 to Mississippi Palisades State Park boasting stunning overlooks.
Fall Colors at Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks (peak foliage: mid-October)
The city of Oglesby boasts two state parks within 5 mi (8 km) that take top positions on the list of best fall foliage places in Illinois. Discover Matthiessen State Park along the Vermillion River and Starved Rock State Park along the Illinois River. The parks are at their best when trails, canyons, and waterfalls are surrounded by vivid red, yellow, and orange. Explore the beauty on your own, join a guided hike, or hop on a Fall Colors Trolley Tour.
Pere Marquette State Park (peak foliage: second week of October)
Pere Marquette State Park is a favorite fall getaway near St. Louis, Missouri. The state park is the largest in Illinois, offering 8,050 ac (3,260 ha) to soak in the fall scenery. One of the park's main assets can be found at the confluence of the Mississippi River and the Illinois River. Also, the Great River Road winding alongside the Mississippi River is considered by many to be the most scenic drive in Illinois, especially the passage between Alton and Pere Marquette State Park.
Garden of the Gods (peak foliage: last week of October)
In southern Illinois, Garden of the Gods Recreation Area in Herod takes the cake. The best vantage points can be found atop 300 million year old towering rock formations. From these ancient bluffs, you'll be soaking up breathtaking panoramas of the Shawnee National Forest. For the best vistas, come here at sunset.
Where to stay
Take a look at the Illinois fall foliage map to find the most convenient option to book for a night or two. Make sure to book in advance, as bed and breakfast rooms fill up quickly during the peak foliage season.
When is the best time to visit Illinois to see fall foliage?
In Northern Illinois, leaves start to change color in late September and reach their peak by middle October. Central Illinois's leaves change and peak in color by the second week of October. Fall color is spotted in Southern Illinois later than other parts of the state and is usually at its peak in late October or early November. Show more
Where are the best places to see fall colors in the Chicago area?
A tour of the Chicago area for viewing fall colors may include some popular sites like The University of Chicago, Morton Arboretum, Chicago Botanic Garden, or Potawatomi Woods. Also, the 40-mile scenic Stagecoach Trail along with Galena experiences a significant surge of visitors during mid-September and late October period. Show more
What other outdoor activities can be enjoyed in Illinois during fall?
Other than enjoying Fall Colors in Illinois, tourists can explore the scenic Galena River Trail on a bike or by renting a kayak, a hike can be enjoyed at Matthiessen State Park, or join a Fall Colors Trolley Tour in Starved Rock State Park. Great River Road alongside the Mississippi River also offers scenic beauty, much famous for its drive among the travelers. Show more
Where can visitors find the largest state park in Illinois?
The vast stretch of 8,050 acres of Perry Marquette State Park invites visitors who wish to enjoy the autumnal colors the longest. The largest state park in Illinois is at the confluence of Mississippi River and the Illinois River. For those who desire a scenic drive along with remarkable views, the Great River Road that is considered the best scenic drive in Illinois, especially from Alton to Perry Marquette State Park. Show more
Where is the best place to watch the sunset while enjoying fall colors in Illinois?
In southern Illinois, the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area in Herod is the perfect spot to enjoy fall colors amidst sunset views. As the sun sets over Shawnee National Forest from the 300-million-year-old rock formations, one can capture breathtaking panoramic views that create a picture-perfect view that tourists long for. Show more
Find hotels and airbnbs near Illinois Fall Colors (Map)
- The University of Chicago
- Potawatomi Woods
- Chicago Botanic Garden
- The Morton Arboretum
- Swallow Cliff Woods
- Galena River Trail
- Chestnut Mountain Resort
- W Stagecoach Trail
- Mississippi Palisades State Park
- Mattiessen State Park
- Starved Rock State Park
- Pere Marquette State Park
- Alton (Great River Rd)
- Garden of the Gods Recreation Area