Find Dazzling Fall Colors with These Expert Tips

Outdoor Places to GoFall

You don’t have to look far for spectacular fall colors in Chicagoland, but a little bit of know-how can help you savor the season’s brilliant hues in all their glory. We spoke with Spencer Campbell, the Plant Clinic manager at The Morton Arboretum, for tips on exploring fall colors.

In addition to his tips, we’ve got a round-up of our favorite local destinations for admiring fall foliage. Scroll to the bottom for a free printable of common local leaves that fall in our neighborhoods so you can go on a leaf hunt, too!

Trees with red leaves, showcasing beautiful fall colors

When do leaves start changing colors in Chicagoland?

Campbell says that leaves usually begin changing colors in late September. The weather affects exactly when.

“Bright, sunny days and cool nights will start to initiate this transition from the growing season to the dormant season,” he says.

Look out for for sun-drenched autumn days combined with cool nights around 50 degrees, which provide the right conditions for trees to begin changing colors.

When is the best time during the fall to see fall colors?

Different trees change color at different times, so enjoy the variations throughout the season, which Campbell says usually continues until the first or second week of November.

Sumac shrubs begin changing in September, followed by maples with bright oranges and yellows. The season culminates with oaks in the middle of October, or even into November, depending on the weather.

The sights can change by the day. For example, Campbell says ginkgo trees, which turn a spectacular “creamy yellow school bus color,” drop their leaves very quickly once they start. “When they decide to go, it’s usually over within 24 hours,” he says. One day, ginkgo trees are full of yellow; the next, it’s bare branches.

How can you tell which trees are changing colors in Illinois right now?

If there’s a particular tree whose colors you love, keep an eye out for it in your own neighborhood. Our leaf guide below can help you find common trees with beautiful displays of color.

The arboretum also puts out weekly fall color reports beginning in September, helping visitors know when they can find particular trees at their most vibrant. Additionally, Campbell says that anyone can call The Morton Arboretum Plant Clinic at (630) 719-2424 for “up-to-the-minute” updates on color.

The clinic is always happy to answer questions on plants for the public, too. They take questions about plants and trees (about 18,000 a year!) from all around the world. You can call, email, or walk into the clinic, which is right across from the restaurant in the main visitor’s center.

Where are the best places to see fall color in Chicagoland?

While Campbell is understandably partial to the Arboretum, which he says has “one of the best displays of fall colors in northern Illinois,” he says that we’re lucky to live in an area with many great changing colors.

Local forest preserves are great places to walk through and find beautiful colors. (Keep reading for our round-up of our own favorite locales!) Campbell says that the Greene Valley Forest Preserve’s scenic overlook is one he particularly enjoys for a panoramic view of the colors for miles around.

Another great location? Right where you live. “It’s a great opportunity to explore and become more invested in what’s growing locally, in your own neighborhood.”

We hope these tips help you and your family explore fall in Chicagoland! Keep reading for local places to visit, plus our guide to common local leaf types.

The Morton Arboretum Children's Garden with yellow fall colors and leaves dropping in the fall

Where to Find Fall Colors in Chicagoland

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve 
Northgate Rd. (entrance)
Darien, IL 60439
(630) 933-7248

A well-known spot for hiking in Illinois with over 2,500 acres of prairies, savannas, and woodlands. Don’t miss our insider tips before you go! This map with directions includes where to park, too.

Lyman Woods Nature Center
901 31st Street
Downers Grove, IL 60515
(630) 963-9388

Lyman Woods has more than 150 acres of oak woods, prairies, and marsh habitats. Start at the Interpretive Center before hiking through Lyman Woods, which is known for its trails through diverse wildlife, native landscaping, and a butterfly garden.

Maple Grove Forest Preserve
Maple Ave. (entrance)
Downers Grove, IL 60515
(630) 933-7200

Smaller woods with a one-mile trail where you’ll find a delightful display of colors when the maples begin to change. Near the entrance, there’s a fun playground area, as well as a picnic pavilion.

Here’s a map with directions including where to park.

Patriots Park/Barth Pond
55th & Grand
Downers Grove, IL 60515
(630) 960-7500

A half-mile paved walking trail circles a large pond at this local park. There’s also a nice playground, picnic shelter, and tables nearby if you would like to pack a lunch.

The Morton Arboretum
4100 Illinois 53
Lisle, IL 60532
(630) 968-0074

This tree haven boasts 16+ miles of hiking trails, a Children’s Garden, and countless educational programs. Check for weekly fall color reports beginning in September.

The Big Rock Visitor’s station, the East Woods, the oak collection, and the maple collection are all beautiful spots in the arboretum to enjoy colors. Check out the katsura trees, including one in the Grand Garden, to enjoy the cotton-candy aroma they produce in the fall.

Twenty-Sixth Street Woods
26th St – West of Maple Ave
La Grange Park, IL 60526
(800) 870-3666

Hike or bike your way through this picturesque trail. It’s a great way to take in the changing leaves. Picnic groves and canoe landings on site, too.

Gradient orange to yellow leaves on a tree in a suburban neighborhood, showing off fall colors in Illinois

LaGrange Park Woods
10 W 31st St
La Grange Park, IL 60526
(800) 870-3666

Across the street from Possum Hollow and connected to the larger Salt Creek and Bemis Woods, this is a smaller wooded area that is perfect for little fall explorers.

Lisle Community Park
1925 Ohio St.
Lisle, IL 60532

A big, picturesque park with nature trails, ponds, and picnic shelters. You’ll find playgrounds throughout the park, too.

Greene Valley Forest Preserve Scenic Overlook
Access drive off Greene Road, south of 79th Street in Naperville
(630) 933-7248

This huge forest preserve has fall colors to find throughout, including an oak woodland north of 79th street. Head to the 190-foot-tall scenic overlook for panoramic views of fall color from above — and a glimpse of the Chicago skyline on clear days. Don’t worry about the climb; the parking lot is at the summit. If you’d like to hike from there, the Hawk Trail that rings the hill is just shy of two miles.

The overlook is open most Saturdays and Sundays from 11am – 6pm from May 6 to October 29, 2023, but may close for construction or maintenance.

Knoch Knolls Park
320 Knoch Knolls Road
Naperville, IL 60565
(630) 864-3964

Explore the hiking and biking trails at this beautiful park that includes a playground, a nature center, and places to picnic, fish, boat and kayak. Another fun way to wander through the fall landscape? The 18-hole disc golf course.

Central Park
1450 Forest Gate Road
Oak Brook, IL 60523

Oak Brook Park District’s Central Park features looped trails perfect for viewing the vibrant colors of the season, several playgrounds, fishing ponds, and a bike path. Our walking playground tour is great to do in the fall.

Fullersburg Woods
3609 Spring Road
Oak Brook, IL 60523
(630) 850-8110

A 220-acre prime wildlife spot with numerous trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing and boating. Features a fantastic nature center, as well as Graue Mill and Museum.

Mayslake Forest Preserve
1717 West 31st Street
Oak Brook, IL 60523
(630) 933-7200

Mayslake features 13 acres of wetlands, 9 acres of lakes/ponds and a 15-acre savanna and restored prairie. There’s a one-mile trail circling a lake and several historic Mayslake Peabody Estate buildings that would be a prime spot for leaf-spotting!

Trailside Museum of Natural History
738 Thatcher Ave
River Forest, IL 60305
(708) 366-6530

Neat place to explore that features unpaved walking trails near the museum. You can also wind through Thatcher Woods’ beautiful oak woodlands and floodplain forest.

Busse Woods (Ned Brown Preserve)
E Higgins Road/Route 72, east of I-290/Hwy 53
Cook County, IL 60007

With more than 3,500 acres, this preserve includes upland forest, meadow, water, and even an elk pasture. That diversity makes for gorgeous variety of color in the fall.

There are about 13 miles of paved trails to hike. The main loop, which rounds around Busse Reservoir, is about 7 miles long, but you can find shorter paths on the map.

Bemis Woods
Wolf Road between 31st Street and Ogden Avenue
Westchester, IL 60558
(800) 870-3666

Bemis Woods is connected to a series of forest preserves. Take your pick of shorter trails, or venture off for a longer hike or bird-watching adventure with the family.

Bemis is also home to the Go Ape Treetop Adventure Course, which would be a really cool way to spend time among the changing leaves.

Cantigny Park
1S151 Winfield Road
Wheaton, IL 60189
(630) 668-5161

Nicely landscaped grounds, a three mile nature trail, and a fun fall event lineup make this a great spot to see fall colors.

Cosley Zoo
1356 North Gary Ave.
Wheaton, IL 60187
(630) 665-5534

A smaller zoo that holds a cute pumpkin fest in October. This is a fantastic way to check out the changing fall leaves and all kinds of animals at the same time!

Danada Forest Preserve
3S580 Naperville Road
Wheaton, IL 60189
(630) 933-7200

Scenic rolling terrain offers places to hike, fish, and picnic, as well as the beautiful Danada House and Danada Equestrian Center.

Herrick Lake Forest Preserve
Butterfield Rd. (entrance)
Wheaton, IL 60189
(630) 933-7200

Nearly 900 acres of land and 7 miles of trails amidst mature upland woods featuring 150-year-old oaks. See this helpful map with directions, including where to park.

St. James Farm Forest Preserve
Winfield Rd. (entrance)
Wheaton, IL 60189
(630) 933-7200

St. James Farm has more than 100 acres of woodlands, prairies, and wetlands, including a nearly 2-mile trail. Check out this map to see where to park before your visit.

Little Red Schoolhouse
9800 Willow Springs Rd
Willow Springs, IL 60480
(708) 839-6897

Gorgeous hiking trails surround this large nature center with live animals and neat nature-themed activities.

Fall Leaf Guide Download

There’s nothing more fun for little autumn explorers than searching for colorful leaves! Our handy leaf guide illustrates all the common leaves found in the Midwest to take along on your adventure, similar to that of a scavenger hunt. It’s perfect for a walk around the neighborhood or in the forest preserve. Try to find all the leaves on the page!

Click here to download the Leaf Hunt (pdf file) and print it out, or click on the image below to be taken to a higher resolution version.

In search of more fall fun? Head over to our Fall Activities for Kids page! Does your family have a favorite place to see fall colors that we missed? Let us know in the comments below so we can add to our list!

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