Autumn is the time of year to enjoy colorful woodland treks. Fall’s cooler nights are working their leaf-changing magic, dusting the Chicago trees in mauve and crimson. Hike, bike or drive to these five best locations to see Chicago’s fall colors.

Ryerson Conservation Area
21950 N. Riverwoods Road
Riverwoods, IL 60015
(847) 968-3320

A hint that the Ryerson Conservation Area, a Lake County Forest Preserve, has great fall color is its annual sugar maple tapping in the spring. But in fall, all you need to do is drive to the woodsy, north-suburban suburb of Riverwoods between Half Day Road (Illinois Highway 22) and Deerfield Road to see that Ryerson is a color destination. Pull into the Welcome Center to pick up a trail map, then trek its Des Plaines River maple forest trails.

River Trail Nature Center
3120 Milwaukee Ave.
Northbrook, IL 60062
(847) 824-8360

To see the beautiful fall color of maple trees closer to Chicago, go over to River Trail, a Cook County Forest Preserves District property in north-suburban Northbrook. Similar to Ryerson, the forest preserve is along the Des Plaines River. Follow signs from the entrance on Milwaukee Avenue to the Nature Center for a trail guide. The maples cast a golden glow over forest trails and the Nature Center’s exhibits are worth a peek.

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

There’s no question that with more than 200,000 plants spread across 1,700 acres, the Morton Arboretum is a colorful place in spring, summer and fall and dramatic in the winter. But for brilliant autumn color, go there in October. Because the grounds are huge, the best place to start is the Visitor Center for a road guide and color suggestions. For the Arboretum’s Fall Color Festival activities, click here. However, because plants are here from all over the world, look for a changing fall color landscape from mid-September through early November. The Arboretum typically posts a fall color guide on its website beginning in mid-September.

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Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve
Old Elm Rd. & Simonds Way
Moraine, IL 60045
(847) 367-6640

Once part of the Fort Sheridan Army Base, the forest preserve is 270 acres of bluffs, ravines, prairie, savanna, woods and sand that have wonderful Lake Michigan views. An oak forest, prairie, hickories and sugar maples color the landscape against the blues of the lake and sky. A section is closed off for bluff repairs but there are still enough places to hike and enjoy the scenery.

Lincoln Park North Pond Sanctuary
2045 Lincoln Park West
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 742-7726

Lincoln Park basically stretches from the Gold Coast to the Edgewater neighborhood, abutting and just west of Lake Michigan which means that residents and commuters along North Lake Shore Drive and the Inner Drive are treated to changing plant colors in different parts of the park. However, when seeking just one part to walk and explore – go to the North Pond Sanctuary between Stockton and Cannon Drives on the east and west and between Diversey and Fullerton Parkways to the north and south. Look for everything from silver and gold to copper and orange as as the area’s sugar and silver maples, honey locust, paper birch, American elm, Hawthorn and catalpa trees don their fall hues. Try to capture the Chicago skyline in the background in some of the photos. The North Pond Sanctuary is a Lincoln Park Conservancy project co-managed by the Chicago Park District. For more Lincoln Park Conservancy information, click here.

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Jodie Jacobs is a veteran journalist who loves writing about Chicago, art, theater, museums and travel. Her work can be found on