After making us endure a long, hot summer, nature rewards us with crisp fall days and foliage in hues pulled straight from a box of crayons.
If you’re planning a leaf-peeping trip this autumn to catch hues of burnt siennas, scarlets, goldenrods and chestnut browns, the best time to get outside is mid-to-late October. And the best places to view fall foliage in Wheaton, IL, are just a short stroll or car ride away.
So pack a picnic basket or a weekender bag, fill up your gas tank, and enjoy a fine fall in Illinois!
Best places to view fall foliage in and around Wheaton
There are 60 forest preserves in DuPage County alone, including a handful in Wheaton. An easy way to view fall foliage is to lace up your hiking shoes for an autumn walk through a Wheaton preserve.
- Herrick Lake Forest Preserve in Wheaton is an 887-acre preserve with stately 150-year-old white, red and bur oaks, and young planted forests of American elms with understories of smaller maples, oaks, lindens and hickories. Viburnums, dogwoods, roses and blackberries are also common along the 7 miles of trails, including a section of nationally designated Danada and Herrick Lake Regional Trail. A path around the lake connects both parking lots to the picnic grounds and the trailhead, and additional trails cut through central and southern parts of the preserve.
- Adjacent to Herrick Lake Forest Preserve is Danada Forest Preserve. This 797-acre preserve features prairies, woods and wetlands, and nearly 3 miles of the Danada and Herrick Lake Regional Trail.
- Russell R. Kirt Prairie on the College of DuPage campus in nearby Glen Ellyn is open to the public and offers 40 acres of natural areas. Winding trails take visitors past woodlands and reconstructed prairie; some of the trails are wheelchair-accessible.
- Lincoln Marsh Natural Area offers 150 acres of woodland, marsh, prairie and grassland. Its trail system is a mix of woodchip, limestone and boardwalk that connects with the Illinois Prairie Path. The limestone paths are accessible to strollers, wheelchairs and bikes, though bikes aren’t allowed on the woodchip trails.
Best places to view fall foliage near Chicago
Whether you like looking at leaves from the saddle of your bike or the passenger seat of your car, here are some great places to leaf-peep. Grab your handlebars or your steering wheel, and you’ll find many prime paths and roads for fall foliage drives near Chicago.
- The Illinois Prairie Path is 61 miles of crushed limestone perfect for walking or cycling. The trail, which is one of the nation’s first rail-to-trail conversions, starts at Maywood and forks west in Wheaton, going north to Elgin and south to Aurora. Large swaths of the trail offer canopies of trees that explode with fall colors.
- The Southern DuPage County Regional Trail is a 46-mile asphalt and crushed gravel trail connecting Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve to the west and Green Valley Forest Preserve to the east. In between, the path meets up with the DuPage River Trail, which can take riders or walkers north to downtown Naperville and Warrenville or south along the DuPage River.
- Dedicated leaf-peepers make something of a pilgrimage each October to the Illinois River Road Scenic Byway, which stretches from Ottawa to Havana. Illinois Route 71, also known as Canyon Drive, winds through woodlands toward Starved Rock State Park. Along the way, you’ll see waterways and bluffs framed in fall foliage. The road follows both sides of the river, creating a nearly 300-mile loop that goes through several quaint riverfront towns.
- One website calls the Great River Road one of America’s best-kept secrets. If that’s true, it might suggest you won’t have to deal with leaf-peeper traffic jams along much of the 550-mile drive. The road, which stretches from Galena to the Cahokia Mounds, spans diverse topography, with ash, maple, hickory and oak trees lining bluffs overlooking the river. Bring your camera and be prepared to pull off the road a lot to capture all the fall colors.
Best places to view fall foliage in Chicago
Rural and suburban Illinois doesn’t have the market cornered on stunning fall foliage. Head into the city of Chicago for these autumn gems.
- Lincoln Park and Lincoln Park Zoo both boast a diversity of fall colors from enormous trees. The zoo is free, so stroll the park, then enjoy all the fall foliage inside the zoo itself; for a beautiful bonus, grab a bench by the entrance and watch yellow leaves shower down in a light breeze.
- Tourists love Millennium Park for the entertainment value of the Bean, but savvy locals skip the reflective sculpture for Nichols Bridgeway to the Art Institute. The bridgeway is flanked by trees whose leaves turn a brilliant red in the fall.
- Most people just give each other jewelry. Japan gifted Chicago an entire garden, and what a jewel it is. In 1893, Japan gifted the Osaka Japanese Garden in Jackson Park for the World’s Columbian Exposition. It’s an oasis from the hum of the city any time of year you visit, but fall is a particularly beautiful season. Make note to come back in the spring when the cherry trees bloom.
Enjoy the fall foliage (without raking leaves) at Wyndemere
The trees on our 22-acre Wheaton campus are some of the most beautiful trees in the world. Why? Because as an independent living resident, you’ll never have to rake them.
There’s more to enjoy at Wyndemere when you leave the lawn work and other chores to us. Get a little preview of our lifestyle. Contact us to arrange your personal visit, then get ready to give that old leaf blower to your kids. You’ll have much more interesting things to do this season at Wyndemere!