When it comes to finding spectacular fall colors, we know New England can’t be beat. But, there’s also plenty to see right here in good ol’ Central Iowa. From vibrant reds and oranges to brilliant golds and yellows, the season is just starting to peak. Here are four different ways to spend a day enjoying our wonderful fall scenery and have some special fall family fun.
Hit the road for a Scenic Drive – Historic Hills Scenic Byway
Driving through a beautiful countryside framed by colorful forests and rolling hills is the best way to enjoy the fall foliage spectacle. Included in every top autumn foliage road trip list in Iowa is the Historic Hills Scenic Byway, which is 110 miles, winding through the southeast corner of the state. The Byway is a real treasure chest of serene autumn landscapes, soothingly peaceful little towns and old houses.
The drive is ideal for families: apart from admiring the beauty of nature, there is so much to do on the way. You can stop and do a little shopping in the historic village of Bentonsport, where merchants keep old craftsmanship alive in their specialty shops. There is also a state forest and two state parks along the route where you can get out a do a little exploring or make a weekend of it and go camping.
Go on a Bike Ride – Neal Smith Trail
For a different kind of foliage experience, try a short bike trip through the colorful woods. Central Iowa has many bike trails that cut through scenic landscapes. Far away and well-protected from busy roads, they allow bikers to experience nature’s beauty up-close.
For a safe and easy family bike ride, hop on the Neal Smith Trail, which is a 26-mile multipurpose trail that extends from Des Moines through the Saylorville Lake area to Big Creek State Park. This paved and well-maintained trail showcases mature forest, rolling prairie, oak savannas, and panoramic views of Saylorville Lake.
The trail has several amenities including benches where weary bikers can take a short break, grab a sip of water or a quick snack. It is easily accessible with at least 13 trail heads offering trail access and parking.
Saddle up for a Trail Ride – Barnum Equestrian Center
Have you ever roamed the autumn forest on the back of a trusty, calm horse? If yes, you know the thrill of getting lost in the luxuriously colorful woods on a crisp fall afternoon with peace and calm settling around you while you can only hear the whisper of falling leaves and the crackling of twigs that your horse treads on. If not, you should give it a try!
Barnum Equestrian Center at Wesley Woods, located about ten minutes southwest of Indianola or 20 minutes south of Des Moines offers horseback trail rides to individuals and groups. You can schedule an 1 1/2 hour experience for up to 12 riders. Ride time includes safety orientation, helmet fitting, and practicing skills in the arena. Once riders show skills competency, they will head out on the trail, weather permitting. Children eight years old and older may participate on a trail ride.
Take a Hike – Ledges State Park
There’s no better time to go for a hike than autumn with spectacular views waiting just around the bend. Plus, the crisp, cooler air makes it easier to hike longer without fatigue. So, toss on that cozy sweater, grab your thermos of hot cider, pack up the family and head out for an enjoyable morning or afternoon hike.
Ledges State Park near Boone is one of Iowa’s most popular parks. Its trails lead up and down steep slopes to scenic overlooks and provide access to spectacular views of Pea’s Creek “canyon”. While most of the trails include steep portions, a fully accessible interpretive trail to Lost Lake is located at the southern part of the park.
Ledges has a few picnic areas located throughout the park, so it would be fun to pack a lunch. Unfortunately, the restrooms are closed for the winter season, so be sure to use the potty before you get there!
What is your family’s favorite way to take in Des Moines’ vibrant fall colors? Tell us in the comments below!