ST. LOUIS — Autumn is taking its hold on St. Louis, bringing cooler weather, pumpkin spice and cozy sweaters. It also means the green landscape is giving way to vibrant reds, oranges and yellows, and there's no shortage of great places to catch the changing colors.
The bi-state's great variety of trees, shrubs and vines turn at different times, giving Missourians a varied fall color season that can last four to six weeks, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation's fall foliage guide.
Peak fall color is usually mid-October, with leaves beginning to fade and drop by late October and gone completely by mid-November.
By the end of September, the list of foliage that's turning includes sassafras, sumac, Virginia creeper, black gum, bittersweet and dogwood. Around mid-October, maples, ashes, oaks and hickories reach their peak fall display.
Here are some of the best places to see the colors before they're gone.
Editor's note: The above video is from November 2021.
Great River Road
If you’re looking for a scenic drive, Great River Road offers fall vistas that are hard to beat. The route winds along the Mississippi River on the Illinois side and is famed for its scenic, tree-lined limestone bluffs which burst with color in the fall.
Here’s what it looked like in Grafton in 2019 when 5 On Your Side’s drone captured fall foliage beginning to peak.
MDC 'must sees'
MDC Community Forester Mark Grueber submits the St. Louis region's color reports for MDC's fall color guide.
On the Missouri side, he said drivers have plenty of options for scenic views.
The Interstate 44 corridor typically gives a consistent show from the 270/44 intersection westward. Grueber also recommends highways 19, 94, 100 and all around "Missouri wine country" in the Augusta and Hermann areas. For areas further south, try highways 185 from Sullivan and 21 south of Hillsboro.
If walking or driving doesn't suit you, Grueber recommends fall floats along one of the region's many rivers. The Meramec, Huzzah, Courtois and Big rivers will have beautiful views through much of the season, he said.
"Hiking, biking, or horseback riding (where permitted) will be fantastic as well, so consider a trip to Shaw Nature Reserve, Washington or Cuivre River state parks, or Hughes Mountain, Engelmann Woods, or Weldon Spring conservation areas," MDC's guide said.
It's not all about trees either.
"Even treeless areas, such as prairies and roadsides, display beautiful shades of gold, purple, olive, and auburn with autumn wildflowers, shrubs, and curing, rustling grasses," MDC said.
Types of fall leaves in the St. Louis area
St. Louis parks
City dwellers don't have to go far to experience all that autumn has to offer.
Earlier and more consistent displays can be found the further you are from the downtown St. Louis area, due to the city's urban heat island effect causing trees to be slower to change. But that doesn't mean that there aren't great places in St. Louis to do some leaf peeping.
Forest Park in St. Louis has over 45,000 trees -- and also its own fall foliage guide. One of the best views is of the Autumn Blaze Maples that blush a striking red on the Art Hill promenade. You can follow their Twitter and Instagram stories for updates on fall foliage in the park.
St. Louis County Parks
St. Louis County has an interactive map of all its parks and trails, with no shortage of options for leaf-peepers.
Registration is also open for fall color floats guided by park rangers on the Meramec River. The easy 10-mile float sets off from the Meramec Levee Recreation area in Valley Park and will give spectators a unique scenic view of the changing colors.
Missouri Botanical Garden
If you're looking for some foliage you might not see anywhere else in Missouri, check out the Missouri Botanical Garden.
"The Missouri Botanical Garden is one of the most magnificent places to see fall color in St. Louis due to the diversity of its tree canopy," said MoBOT spokesperson Catherine Martin. "The Garden's canopy is made up of more than 5,500 trees representing more than 1,000 species."
For less manicured views, the Shaw Nature Reserve, a division of the garden located in Gray Summit, offers 2,400 acres of natural landscape to hike.
The garden shared several photos from years past of what fall looks like in the Japanese Garden:
Fall colors at the Missouri Botanical Garden
The garden will also be providing weekly fall color reports on its social media pages.