Leaf peepers, this could be your year.
After a wet spring and cool summer, the Midwest has the potential to see one of the best seasons for fall foliage in recent years. And that means more vibrant golds, oranges, reds and purples as trees and shrubs change colors.
“I think we will have much brighter colors than we have had the last two summers,” said Charles Barden, professor of forestry at Kansas State University. “This year, we had better growing conditions for the trees, and we didn’t lose a lot of leaves to drought like we did the last couple summers.”
The outlook is good for Missouri, too.
“A lot depends on the weather from here on out,” said Wendy Sangster, urban forester with Missouri Department of Conservation. “If we get good weather … then we could see some good fall colors this year.”
Even in October, it’s still hard to predict with any certainty what the fall colors will be like.
“It depends on whether you get a cold snap that would prematurely end the change in color and the amount of color we get,” said Robert Atchison, rural forestry coordinator for the Kansas Forest Service at Kansas State University.
“It’s the slow change of sunlight and the slow change in cool temperatures that helps make the fall so pretty.”
But the potential for a more colorful fall is there, especially with recent rains, sunny days and cool nights.
In Missouri, leaves typically start turning in late September and usually peak in mid-October. In Kansas, it’s usually the first two weeks of October. The colors typically start to wane by the end of the month.
“The peak of the color probably won’t be in the Kansas City area until the third week of October,” Barden said. “The red maple tend to color up a bit earlier.”Best viewing
Some of the best viewing in the Kansas City area is along the bluffs that overlook the Missouri River, including along Missouri 45 and Missouri 210 north of the river, Sangster said.
Also north of the river is the Maple Woods natural area east of North Oak Trafficway on 76th Street in Gladstone, as well as the Cooley Lake Conservation Area about 2.5 miles east of Missouri City on Missouri 210.
South of the Missouri River, big parks, older cemeteries and established neighborhoods with big trees should be colorful.
Nick Kuhn, community forestry program manager with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said some of the best Missouri viewing is south of Columbia through most of the Ozarks, as well as south of Springfield near Branson.
“Of course anytime you get near your larger rivers, there’s a bit of a different species mix than you see in most woods,” he said. “So you get a different set of colors. You may see some great reds and oranges in the woods, but in the river bottoms you will get more yellows.”
The Missouri Department of Conservation has a new free Fall Colors app that lets people follow the changing season. The app, which runs on Android and Apple devices, can be foundonline at its website at mdc.mo.gov/mobile/mobile-apps/mo-fall-colors. The Missouri Department of Conservation also provides weekly fall-color reports online at mdc.mo.gov/node/4548
For the most part, the best areas to view fall foliage in Kansas are in the eastern third of the state.
Baldwin City, on Oct. 19 and 20, has a Maple Leaf Festival to celebrate the changing of the fall foliage.
One of Atchison’s favorite spots is on the Glacial Hills Scenic Byway along Kansas 7, especially the area between White Cloud and the community of Fanning in northeast Kansas.
“Our native grasses have a beautiful amount of color, too, in the fall,” Atchison said. “The scenic byways that take you down through the Flint Hills are something to think about. When you live in Kansas, those are the things you want to experience, too.”
Barden said one of the nicest scenic drives is on the Frontier Military Historic Byway along U.S. 69 through Louisburg and down to Fort Scott.
And while there’s some uncertainty how this fall will pan out, there’s one thing for certain.
“I’ve never seen a bad autumn — there has always been some color that is pretty,” said Bill Graham, media specialist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. “It’s just that in some years, the leaves have been more spectacular, stunning and vibrant than in others.”