Trees drenched in shades of red, orange, and yellow make autumn one of the best times to explore Missouri. With an abundance of hardwood forests filled with oaks, hickories, maples and more, the Show-Me State is an ideal place to find fall color.
Leaf peeping-season usually peaks from mid to late October, depending on the weather. Check the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Fall Color Forecast to get the latest updates September through November.
Here are six drives to help you discover the colors of autumn across the state:
In Hannibal, mix Mark Twain lore with the shades of fall. Take in the sweeping vista from Lover’s Leap, a huge bluff just outside the city limits. Travel south along the Mississippi River, through Louisiana and Clarksville – both have expansive river views along with shops and restaurants. In St. Louis, the Missouri Botanical Garden, Forest Park and Gateway Arch National Park offer a kaleidoscope of colorful foliage.
In the tiny village of Caledonia, visit the old-fashioned mercantile store and antique shops before driving south on Highway 21. You’ll find some of the state’s most popular outdoor spots, including Elephant Rocks State Park, Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, decked out in fall’s finest colors. Further south, a few miles off Highway 21, explore the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Near Van Buren, stop at Big Spring, one of the country’s largest natural springs.
Check out the Route 66 attractions and outdoor murals in Cuba before setting out on Highway 19. Steelville, located near the Meramec, Huzzah and Courtois rivers, is the self-proclaimed floating capital of Missouri. Further south, the road runs through the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, where Round Spring and Blue Spring sparkle in beautiful shades of blue in the middle of the forest. The Jacks Fork and Current rivers are favorite places for canoeing, kayaking and rafting. Once you reach Eminence, take a short trip up Highway 106 to see Alley Mill, one of Missouri’s striking historic red mills, sitting at the edge of Alley Spring, surrounded by gold- and copper-colored oaks and deep green pines.
The hillsides surrounding the Lake of the Ozarks put on a colorful show when the weather begins to turn cool. Drive a loop around the lake by starting in Versailles and heading down Highway 5. Fall color is especially vivid along the shoreline – in full view where the highway crosses the lake at the Hurricane Deck and Niangua bridges. In Camdenton, travel a few miles south on Highway 54 to Ha Ha Tonka State Park where the foliage provides a perfect backdrop for deep ravines, towering bluffs and the ruins of a 1905 “castle.” If you have time for a hike, miles of trails put you in the middle of it all. Turn north toward the bustling lake town of Osage Beach. Waterfront hotels, cabins and condos and numerous restaurants are located throughout the area. In Eldon, take Highway 52 for a trek through rolling farm country to return to Versailles.
Deep in the Ozark mountains, travel a winding path around Table Rock Lake and Lake Taneycomo to see southern Missouri bathed in fall’s warm colors. Explore the family friendly attractions and live entertainment in Branson before driving south on Highway 65 through the historic town of Hollister. Nearby Table Rock Lake State Park offers plenty of space to enjoy crisp temperatures and clear blue skies. Further south, take Highway 86 across the lake to Highway 13 and into Kimberling City. Continue north to Branson West where Highway 76 will take you back into Branson. Communities across the region offer hundreds of lodging and dining options.
Follow the Missouri River for breathtaking views of fall’s fabulous foliage as you go from one river town to the next. In Washington, visit Missouri Meerschaum Company – the largest and oldest manufacturer of corn cob pipes in the world – and peruse the museum to learn about the history of corn cob pipes. Just 13 miles away, New Haven is a quaint town with restaurants, artisan shops and wineries. The final leg of the route will take you south of the river through some beautiful, wooded areas to Linn.
Celebrate the season and sample the wine, beer, spirits and sausage in Hermann as you experience the region’s German heritage and the Hermann Wine Trail. Travel Highway 94, along the Missouri River, through several picturesque towns including Augusta. The region is home to dozens of wineries and bed and breakfast inns. Visit historic St. Charles where you’ll find a riverside park and dozens of shops, restaurants and points of interest, including Missouri’s First State Capitol. Leave your car behind for a couple of hours for a hike or bike ride on the Katy Trail.