When the sweaters come out and the kids are back at school (in person or otherwise), you know it’s time for another sure sign of the season: fall colors. You also know that you need go no farther than your nearest DuPage forest preserve to enjoy the show!
The key ingredients that give us fall colors are in the leaves throughout spring and summer. We just can’t see them. Leaves contain pigments called carotenes and xanthophyll that create yellows and oranges or anthocyanin that creates reds and purples, but these pigments are overpowered by green-producing chlorophyll that the leaves manufacture during the growing season. Only in fall when trees stop producing chlorophyll can all of the other pigments start to pop.
Leaves showing their true colors at Waterfall Glen.
One of the best ways to view an abundance of fall colors is from higher ground. At Waterfall Glen in Darien, make your way to the Sawmill Creek Bluff Overlook, which is a short walk from the waterfall parking lot on Bluff Road. From this overlook you’ll get a breathtaking look at the fall color bursting over the Rocky Glen waterfall. Walk about 2 miles south and you’ll reach the Des Plaines River Overlook with views of the treetops along the river.
Another impressive overlook is at Fullersburg Woods in Oak Brook. On the north end of the Night Heron Trail at the top of a glacial moraine you’ll find the Salt Creek Overlook. Look to the east for oaks, maples, hickories, and sycamores, some entwined with the vivid red leaves of Virginia creeper vines.
Fall colors abound along the trails at Fullersburg Woods.
Blackwell in Warrenville and Meacham Grove in Bloomingdale have their own elevated leaf-peeping spots. People may know Mount Hoy at Blackwell as a popular snow-tubing hill, but visitors hike to the top this time of year for a look at colors in the forest preserve and beyond. (You’ll find birders, there, too keeping an eye out for sharp-shinned hawks, ospreys and other birds flying south during migration.) The hill at Meacham Grove requires less of a hike up but still promises wonderful vistas.
The top of Mount Hoy at Blackwell provides stunning fall panoramic views.
If you prefer to stay under the canopy, check out Maple Grove in Downers Grove. It contains one of the largest remnant maple forests in DuPage and is ceilinged with yellows and oranges bright enough to light up the preserve even on the cloudiest days. Along the oak-lined trails at Greene Valley in Naperville, you’ll see deeper but equally beautiful amber and rusty red hues. Of course at any wooded preserve with a lake, Herrick Lake in Wheaton for example, you’ll magnify the show with colors mirrored on the surface of the water.
Maple Grove, home to one of the largest remnant maple forests in the county, is aglow this time of year.
For a more landscaped look, make St. James Farm in Warrenville your destination. Over the years the property’s previous owners, the McCormicks, planted several “allées,” parklike alleyways bordered by trees. Each allée at St. James Farm is made entirely of a single species, such as red maple, river birch, and black walnut.
Herrick Lake offers double color with fall leaves reflecting on the water.
Regardless of which destination sounds most inviting, the best thing to do is to get outside and see it for yourself. Take a ride on your bike, take your dog for a walk, or just grab a chair and take in the sights. Whatever you choose, enjoy the show!