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Wave after wave of colorful views in autumn

Maple leaves turn orange red near Thornhill EducatiCenter MortArboretum early October. This is perfect time year visit Arboretum watch leaves

Maple leaves turn orange and red near the Thornhill Education Center at the Morton Arboretum in early October. This is the perfect time of year to visit the Arboretum and watch the leaves change. | Sun-Times Media File

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Updated: November 5, 2012 4:02PM

Although it happens every October — the leaves turning vibrant shades of red, gold and orange — every year it’s still a sight to behold.

Fall is in full swing, and soon “leaf peepers” will be getting glimpses of nature’s annual production.

One of the most logical places to start viewing fall color close to home is the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

“We’re already starting to see a little bit of color creeping in,” said Sharon Yielsa from the Arboretum’s plant clinic. “Probably every weekend in October is going to be different because we have such a diversity of trees here. They’re not all going to color at the same time, so it’s like wave after wave of color.”

Cooler temperatures help promote fall color. So even after the hot, dry summer we just had, September’s lower digits on the thermometer will aid in the process, she said.

A lot of the most brilliant colors come from native trees, she said, like oaks and maples. The color in trees comes from the pigments in the leaves, which is influenced by moisture, light, temperature and other factors, she said.

She is cautiously optimistic that this year will be a good one for colorful leaves. Expect to sugar maples turn a vibrant yellow and orange; while beach trees will turn yellow and brown. Oak trees will produce the brilliant reds and golds.

A lot of times, the same trees won’t produce the same colors that they did the year before.

“One year you may have russet, as opposed to next year you may have a scarlet or burgundy color,” she said.

In addition to trees, a lot of the smaller shrubs and flowers will provide unique fall colors, she said.

At the Arboretum, it’s a constant show of color rather than a peaking, she said.

“Each week is a little different,” she said. “We have on our web site a bloom and color report, if people want to look at that before they come. People can see what’s coloring this week.”

Plethora of colors

Jan Kemmerling from the Illinois Office of Tourism in Springfield said that people might be surprised to learn that Illinois has a plethora of fall colors making for picturesque drives, she said.

“Because we’ve got the rivers traveling through the state,” she said. “We’ve got (spots along) the Illinois River, Starved Rock, some of our state parks; and along the Great River Road there’s some beautiful parks with a lot of foliage that really turns quite beautiful. And I think a gem of ours is the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois that turns (colors) a little later than in Northern Illinois. We have a lot of great places.”

The week of Oct. 6-13 is Illinois Scenic Byway Week, she said.

“We think this is a great time for travelers to experience the fall colors along one of our state’s seven scenic byways,” she said. “We have a new feature on our web site that will make it very easy for visitors to plan their adventures along the byways. It’s a great opportunity for people to get out and drive the byways and experience the fall colors.”

The byways are all throughout the state. But really, if you want to see a masterpiece of reds, yellows, oranges, gold and browns, don’t mess around. Immediately head out to Starved Rock State Park in Utica.

“They have their Fall Color Weekend Oct. 20 to 21,” she said. “Complete with flowing waterfalls, towering bluffs and profound canyons, Starved Rock … is really a beauty for visitors to explore, especially in the fall season. During the Fall Colors Weekend you can set out on guided hikes and view the spectacular fall colors in the park.”

Another opportunity for some natural beauty in Northern Illinois is in St. Charles along the Fox River, she said.

“Take one of the Paddlewheel Riverboats along the river,” she said. “I think that’s a great opportunity to see some of the fall colors and shop in some of the quaint shops along the way.”

While you’re in St. Charles, stop by the Scarecrow Festival, she said.

Galena is another spot along the Great River Road that will boast some spectacular colors and beautiful vistas, Kemmerling said.

Spanning 550 miles along Illinois’ Western border, the Great River Road National Scenic Byway offers colorful views along the banks and bluffs surrounding the mighty Mississippi River.

“If you go south of Galena on the Great River Road, there’s Mississippi Palisades State Park (in Savannah, Illinois). It’s another really great park you can go climb on the bluffs and look out over the river and see all the fall foliage as well,” she said.

The Spirit of Peoria riverboat travels the Illinois River and offers fall foliage cruises, she said, going from Starved Rock down to Alton.

“If you don’t want to drive and see the fall colors, there are opportunities to get out on the riverboat and experiencing them from the river.”

Another drive recommended by the Illinois Office of Tourism is along the Ohio River Scenic Byway, she said. The byway is a 188-mile journey along the Ohio River, from the Indiana border to the Mississippi River at Cairo.

The Byway is a gateway to such unique limestone features such as Cave-in-Rock State Park and Garden of the Gods. Located in the Shawnee National Forest, Garden of the Gods is stunning collection of rock formations in southern Illinois. Visitors can witness the colors of fall on top of the giant sandstone rock formations. “There are lots of opportunities, depending on how far people want to go,” she said. “We’re always encouraging people to … get moving around Illinois.”

If you want to stay a little closer to home, she recommended checking out the Chicago Botanical Garden in Lake County as well as any of the nearby county forest preserves. has fall deals and color watches, she said.

“Each week we give an update on where fall colors are turning and where the best places are to see fall colors,” she said. “We also have an Enjoy Illinois travel app which you can download to your iPhone or your Android. It will tell you about great places to eat, great places to stay and great things to do nearby. It’s an excellent tool for people to have while they are out driving around looking at fall colors.”

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