Heads up, Leaf Peepers: Where to Find Fall Foliage in Champaign-Urbana and Beyond
Pumpkins, apples, and corn mazes abound. Halloween events are getting underway, and summer is a fading memory for most of us. It’s time to get our autumn-colored glasses on and enjoy the crisp weather and fall foliage in Champaign-Urbana and across East Central Illinois.
Have you ever heard of leaf peepers, or leaf peeping? Leaf peeping is a fun term to describe traveling to view and photograph the fall foliage in areas where leaves change colors in autumn.
This is particularly popular in New England – but also in the Midwest (we hear Starved Rock and Matthiessen Park are popular Midwest leaf peeping destinations). And the good news is that you don’t have to go far to do some leaf peeping for yourself.
According to the Fall Foliage map (this is such a nifty tool!), Champaign-Urbana won’t hit maximum color until late into October. And no, you’re not imagining that this is happening later and later into the season; blame climate change.
While we’re not the rolling hills of Vermont, the Champaign-Urbana area boasts several sites to see the beauty of nature’s changing palette. Here’s a look at our favorites.
- University of Illinois Quad: Few things say “college” like the changing colors on campus in the fall. Take a stroll on the Main Quad, or head north to the Engineering Quad for a different vista. Get off campus and walk through the Urbana state streets.
- Don’t want to deal with central campus? Head down Lincoln Avenue to the Arboretum, which is full of a variety of trees on its 160-acre footprint. Loop around the paths toward the Japan House. While we rave about the cherry trees in the spring, Japan House in the fall can be almost as striking.
- Central Champaign neighborhoods. One of the most colorful Champaign neighborhoods is Clark Park, the wooded area just north of Champaign Country Club. Another beautiful area for tree spotting is along University Avenue: head east from Mattis Ave., past Prospect and Central High School and West Side Park — right into the heart of downtown Champaign. Park Avenue runs parallel to University one block north, adding brick streets and even larger trees to the mix.
- Central Urbana neighborhoods. Urbana isn’t called a tree city for nothing; it has held this designation since the program began in 1975. Urbana’s tree inventory represents one of the most diverse urban forests in the Midwest, with 262 different kinds of trees in the city. The trees of Carle Park are generally spectacular, as is the entire West Urbana neighborhood corridor.
- Meadowbrook Park, Urbana: Located just off Windsor Road, Meadowbrook offers more than a playground for the kids and trails with lots of gorgeous sculptures. What we like about Meadowbrook Park is that you can see how fall affects not only trees but other prairie plants, bushes and flowers.
- Busey Woods, Urbana: Connected to the Anita Purves Nature Center, Busey Woods is one of the best places within the Champaign-Urbana city limits to see a wide variety of nature. It is the most intact part of what once was called “Big Grove.” Take a walk on the boardwalk (stroller/wheelchair accessible!). Don’t forget to look up!
- Hessel Park, Champaign: If you want an iconic baby-in-fall-leaves photo, bring a rake to Hessel Park. There’s generally tons of leaves around — and kids can jump into a pile of leaves for a playful action shot (or be placed, ha).
- Allerton Park, Monticello: A favorite spot no matter what the season, Allerton Park offers a splendid array of flora and fauna in all its fall glory. Plan to spend a significant amount of time here, and maybe even bring a picnic lunch. A great idea for a date with your partner, as well as for exploring with kids in tow.
- Lake of the Woods, Mahomet: There’s something about seeing that covered bridge at Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve in Mahomet with all that fall foliage that makes us want to ooh and aah. These pieces of prairie and wild woods are right under our noses and over our heads.
- River Bend Forest Preserve, Mahomet is less well known than Lake of the Woods and doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles — there’s no playground or playscape — but it feels like an escape. The nature trail is wooded and provides ample crunching of leaves beneath your feet.
- Homer Lake Forest Preserve is another place — this time on the eastern side of the county — that makes you forget about life for awhile. Trails range from .7 miles to more than 4 miles long, so something for everyone. Don’t want to hike? This is a great place to bring a picnic, with plenty of picnic tables — and shelters — that overlook the lake.
- Kickapoo State Park, Oakwood: Not much further away than Allerton Park, but in the other direction (east, towards Danville). Head to this gem of an outdoor palace. When it comes to fall color, Kickapoo State Park remains somewhat of a best kept secret (SHHHHH). Weekend boating rentals are still available.
Fall Foliage Trail Map for Champaign-Urbana and Beyond