Travel: Ohio's Top Leaf-Peeping Spots
Fall is the most visually spectacular season in Ohio thanks to the rainbow of changing colors created by the trees. From the vibrant yellows and oranges on the sugar maple to the reds and purples on oaks and dogwoods, the Buckeye State’s autumn colors make it easy to appreciate living in a place with four distinct seasons.
“There are over 100 different native hardwood tree species that grow in Ohio’s woodlands,” says Greg Smith, fall color forester for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “This, plus the abundance of forested land that encompasses almost a third of the state, allows us to see fall color everywhere in Ohio.”
Other species producing vibrant hues are the hickory, green ash, yellow poplar, black cherry, sycamore and cottonwood trees (yellows and oranges); red maple (reds, of course); and sweet gum, black gum, sassafras and white ash trees (red and purple). “These colors are a result of pigments and tannins present in the leaf that are revealed when the production of green chlorophyll slows and stops in the fall, allowing these other colors to be revealed,” Smith says.
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The peak time to catch this beautiful display varies each year based on weather conditions such as rain and temperature. Colors generally begin appearing in far northern Ohio in early October and gradually move to central and southern Ohio by the end of the month. Vibrant leaves require a delicate mix of circumstances: warm, sunny days and cool but not freezing nights, as well as dry but not arid conditions.
A rainy year like Ohio had in 2018 can delay peak colors by about two weeks. The impact of the 2019 rainy season won’t be known until the leaves start to change.
Looking for the best locations to catch the fall color? With 74 Ohio state parks, 21 state forests and countless local parks to choose from, the answer is anywhere—as long as you visit during the peak time for that region. Here are some of the top spots throughout the state to take your family leaf peeping.
The 19 Metro Parks located throughout Franklin and surrounding counties provide convenient places to view fall colors. Many Metro Parks have trails that are easily traversed—an important consideration when visiting with young children—and there’s one near every suburb. As a bonus, the kids can run around on playgrounds and natural play areas.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, located between Cleveland and Akron, is one of the first areas to witness the changing of the seasons. With nearly 33,000 acres of changing foliage and 125 miles of hiking trails, Ohio’s only national park is one of the best sites in the region to admire the fall display. An especially great way to experience it is on board the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
Other good choices: The Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, where visitors can walk 65 feet above the forest on the Murch Canopy Walk; Mohican-Memorial State Forest near Loudonville, whose fire tower provides a view of the forest canopy; and Malabar Farm State Park near Lucas, where families can enjoy the historic farm set against a colorful backdrop.
Maumee State Forest and Maumee Bay State Park near Toledo are spectacular spots to enjoy early autumn. Since they are near Lake Erie, there are also opportunities to see the waterfowl, wetlands and preserved nature areas.
Also check out Metroparks Toledo, whose 12 parks each have unique natural diversity and easy trails to navigate with families. Van Buren State Park and Harrison Lake State Park both have large lakes that reflect fall colors in the water.
Almost no place in Ohio can compare to Hocking Hills State Park near Logan when it comes to fall colors. There are family-friendly trails at Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave and Rockbridge State Nature Preserve, which boasts a natural 100-foot-long bridge. An active way to sightsee in the Hocking Hills is with a zip line canopy tour through the treetops.
Shawnee State Forest is the largest forest in Ohio, with more than 60,000 acres of land and a fire tower that visitors can climb for the best views over the treetops. Explore 60 miles of hiking trails and natural habitats at this site that spans Scioto and Adams counties.
Many state parks host fall color hikes and events guided by naturalists who can speak about the changing leaves. Check with the specific parks for program times and locations.
Stay up-to-date as the leaves begin to change with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Fall Color web page at fallcolor.ohiodnr.gov, which provides weekly foliage updates.
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