Best time to travel to Iowa

Fall Colors in Iowa 2024

Warm days and cool nights, very few insects, and the vibrant autumn colors make the fall season one of the best times in Iowa

Best time: October

Fall Colors in Iowa
Fall colors of Pikes Peak State, Park Clayton County, Iowa

Each autumn, thousands of Iowans and visitors venture into the countryside to marvel at the dazzling fall foliage. Ash trees, elms, hickories, bur oaks, and soft maples add shades of yellow to the palette, while hard maples contribute vivid red hues, and white oaks offer a more subdued mix of purple and brown tones.

Best Time For Fall Colors in Iowa

Typically, the first week of October is when fall colors reach their peak in Northeast Iowa, while central and southern regions hit their prime later in the month. The exact timing of the color change can shift from year to year based on weather patterns, so plan for mid-October for the best chance to see Iowa’s vibrant fall foliage. Be sure to check local fall foliage reports and forecasts for the most current updates.

Best Fall Foliage Drives in Iowa

Iowa boasts over 70 state parks and lots of scenic roads where you can experience fall colors in their full beauty.

Western Skies Scenic Byway

Western Skies Scenic Byway parallels I-80 and is one of the first state-designated scenic byways of Iowa. This 142 mi (230 km) route travels from Harrison County Historical Village and Logan to Stuart through Harrison, Shelby, Audubon, and Guthrie Counties. The drive rolls through rural Iowa communities across the scenic hills with working farmsteads and small towns. Native prairies, parks, and numerous trails beckon you to explore the great outdoors beyond your vehicle. Whiterock Conservancy is a must-visit destination, offering a unique mix of outdoor recreation, conservation, agriculture, and Iowa's darkest skies for stargazing. Activities available here include horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking.

River Bluffs Scenic Byway

River Bluffs Scenic Byway in Northeast Iowa boasts breathtaking bluffs, winding roads, forested hills, and meandering rivers. Off the route, you can hike at Effigy Mounds National Monument and explore the prehistoric American Indian mounds in the shapes of bears and birds. For city lovers, there are lots of heritage sites, charming antique shops, and down-home restaurants to be experienced along central streets in St. Olaf, Clermont, West Union, Fayette, Volga, and Elkader. On its eastern ends, the River Bluffs Scenic Byway connects to Great River Road in Marquette and Guttenberg.

Culminating in a mesmerizing three-state view of the Mississippi River, the River Bluffs Scenic Byway leads to Pikes Peak State Park near McGregor. This park is a hiker's paradise, with trails that wind through stunning wooded bluffs and valleys. One trail passes Bridal Veil Falls, a refreshing spring, while another leads to Point Ann overlooks and the town of McGregor, offering an invigorating hike with breathtaking views. An exercise trail is also located at the edge of the campground.

Great River Road National Scenic Byway

Great River Road National Scenic Byway is part of the ten-state Great River Road, which runs from Minneapolis, Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana, along the route of the Mississippi River. There are several road entry points along Iowa's segment, which are marked with a pilot wheel sign. The river towns like Lansing, Guttenberg, Balltown, Dubuque, Bellevue, Clinton, Bettendorf, Burlington, Fort Madison, and Keokuk boast rich architecture, a series of locks and dams, cozy inns, restaurants, antique shops, access to wildlife refuges, and panoramic views of the Old Man River and autumnal trees. In Balltown, you will find Breitbach's Country Dining, Iowa's oldest bar and restaurant.

Best Places to See Fall Colors in Iowa, Near Des Moines

Jester Park in Granger

Jester Park in Granger, just a half-hour drive from Des Moines, offers some 1,675 ac (678 ha) of scenic nature on the shores of Saylorville Lake. On weekends, you can head to the park's Equestrian Center for a one-hour walking horse ride. The park offers almost 170 campsites along Saylorville lakeshore and scattered on the wooded hills overlooking the lake. Besides viewing fall foliage, you can watch local wildlife from the observation deck of the Elk and Bison Educational Plaza, where you can also find educational displays, spotting scopes, and a picnic area. If you want to go hiking, try the Stagecoach Trail, a two-mile moderate path with views of Saylorville Lake, and Hickory Ridge Trail, a less-than-a-mile path through a wooded ravine with a narrow stream.

Big Creek State Park in Polk City

Across Saylorville Lake, you can visit Big Creek State Park in Polk City, which is also a 30-minute drive from Des Moines. The 26 mi (42 km) paved multi-use Neal Smith Trail allows pedestrians and cyclists to travel from Des Moines through the Saylorville Lake area to Big Creek State Park. The 3,550 ac (1437 ha) park boasts excellent boating and fishing activities on Big Creek Lake. The year-round fishing promises a catch of crappie, largemouth bass, bluegill, walleye, muskie, and channel catfish. If you are a boating enthusiast, you can choose between pontoon boats, kayaks, and paddleboards. Camping is not permitted at Big Creek State Park, but you can check out a few large federal and county camping areas several miles away on Saylorville Lake.

Walnut Woods State Park in West Des Moines

Walnut Woods State Park in West Des Moines is an excellent picnic spot with grills and tables close to the Racoon River. The park encompasses 260 ac (105 ha) of wooded bottomland along the river, where a big surviving natural stand of black walnut trees resides. The Racoon River offers great canoeing and fishing opportunities. Nature lovers can enjoy birdwatching, as over 90 bird species have been identified along the park's trails and the river. You can also go on a horse ride along the equestrian trail in the park. There is a shady campground with full hookups, modern restrooms, and an RV dump station.

Fall Events in Iowa

Visitors can combine the pleasure of viewing stunning fall foliage with the excitement of attending some of Iowa's fall events. If you're in the Algona area, you can attend the Last Call Before Fall on September 29, a family-friendly festival featuring fall-themed activities, food, music, and games. Another great option is the annual Kalona Fall Festival on September 27-28, a tradition spanning over 50 years, where you'll find homemade foods, live entertainment, local artisans, old-world demonstrations, and kids' activities. Alternatively, explore history at the Humboldt County Historical Museum's Fall Festival on September 21, where visitors can stroll through historical buildings, enjoy local vendors, food, music, and more.

The Iowa Fall Colors Map

When you decide to go leaf-peeping in Iowa, be sure to plan your trip accordingly. The Iowa fall colors map below, featuring all the mentioned locations, will help you with this task.

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