Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Embrace Autumn in America’s Heartland

New England gets most of the attention every autumn, but America’s heartland is just as impressive when it comes to fall foliage. The Midwest delivers river bluffs, rolling hills and rural valleys bursting with a cornucopia of reds, oranges and yellows, purples, maroons and magentas. Visitors can take a scenic drive along a roadway or board a sightseeing cruise on a river to revel in these heartland states’ fall colors.



Fall colors blanket Iowa every autumn, but the best color is generally in the northeast corner “because that’s the portion of Iowa that was untouched by glaciers,” said Jessica O’Riley, tourism communications manager for the Iowa Tourism Office. “It’s especially scenic up there. However, that’s not to diminish other places.”

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway runs along the Mississippi River, which doubles as the state’s eastern border. Mount Hosmer overlooks Lansing and delivers panoramic views of the river and Illinois on the other side. Fifty miles south, Pikes Peak State Park has a 500-foot-high bluff overlooking the Mississippi, as well as trails and picnic shelters.

Le Claire is the home base of Antique Archeology, the store featured on the History Channel’s “American Pickers,” and is also where the Riverboat Twilight launches fall-color cruises.

The 100-mile Driftless Area Scenic Byway snakes across the northeastern part of the state over hills and through valleys. At the Effigy Mounds National Monument, visitors will find more than 200 prehistoric Native American mounds, many in the shape of bears and birds.

In southeastern Iowa, the 110-mile Historic Hills Scenic Byway goes through the Villages of Van Buren, which have large Mennonite and Old Order Amish communities and throw the Scenic Drive Festival the second weekend of every October.

The Scenic City Empress Riverboat in Iowa Falls offers sightseeing cruises, group tours and private charters on the Iowa River aboard its 50-passenger pontoon riverboat. On the state’s far western edge, Stone State Park in Sioux City delivers impressive color among its 1,069 acres.


Missouri’s fall colors are a rainbow of autumn because “most of our state is made up of oak hickory forest,” which includes about 25 different species of oak trees and a dozen or so hickory species, as well as dogwood, redbud, sassafras, tupelo and more, said Mark Grueber, community forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

“We can get a lot of variety,” Grueber said of the state’s fall foliage.

A scenic drive on Interstate 44 from St. Louis southwest to Rolla features rolling hills and forested vistas. Route 19 is a picturesque two-lane highway that winds through the heart of the Ozarks from Salem to Alton.

Due west of St. Louis, Missouri wine country delivers fall foliage and award-winning wines. Route 94 leads to Augusta and Hermann, both popular destinations with several wineries. In Hermann, Stone Hill Winery offers daily tours and tastings, a restaurant and a private dining room. At Montelle Winery in Augusta, groups can take in views from the deck or arrange for a sunset dinner. In addition to wine tastings, visitors can sample Montelle’s apple, peach, cherry and grape brandies distilled on-site.

One of the best ways to experience Missouri’s fall colors is to get off the road and onto the river, Grueber said. Several concessionaries can take groups for fall floats on the Current and Jacks Fork rivers, which are part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways system.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.