Want to enjoy leaf-peeping season but don't want to spend a bunch of money on gas? Cape Girardeau is surrounded by many acres of forest land that only require a short drive. Here is a selection of destinations within 25 miles of Cape that will explode with color in October and early November.
Trail of Tears State Park
The Mississippi River overlook at the state park is likely one of the area's most photographed scenes during the fall.
However, the best view of fall colors is from a different vantage point on Hill Road (the drive between the lake and visitor center). This overlook is frequently, uhh, overlooked by visitors, so be sure to stop at the pullout along the road to take in the view.
Directions: Take Highway 177 north. At the junction with Route V, turn right, and then make an immediate right at the park entrance gate. Past the visitor center, turn left on Hill Road for the best views.
Lake Tywappity Conservation Area
This man-made lake outside of Chaffee provides an excellent photo opportunity to catch the water against a backdrop of changing colors.
Directions: From Chaffee, take Route A east to the edge of town and turn left on Route RA. This blacktop road ends at the conservation area.
Apple Creek Conservation Area
Located in the northeast corner in Cape Girardeau County, this large conservation area features a network of horse trails that also make for excellent hiking during leaf-watching season.
Directions: Take I-55 north to Fruitland, then follow US 61 north and turn right on Route C. At the stop sign approaching New Wells, turn right, then turn right again at Route CC. Continue to County Road 525 and turn right. Follow this gravel road past the intersection with CR 524 and look for a conservation area access road on the left. Drive past the horse trailer parking area and continue to another parking lot and trailhead at the end.
Trail of Tears State Forest
While not as impressive as the Missouri park with the same name, this Illinois state forest includes its own scenic drives that snake through the woods. Some of the best photo opportunities, however, are found just outside the woods: planted fields of beans and corn provide an extra source of October color.
Directions: Take Highway 3 north and turn right on State Forest Road just before reaching Wolf Lake. Follow this blacktop road into the state forest.
Union County Refuge
The wildlife area near Ware, Illinois, offers a clear view of the river hills in the distance.
Directions: Take Highway 3 north and turn right on Refuge Road between Reynoldsville and Ware.
South Atwood Ridge
Shawnee National Forest maintains several gravel roads that climb into the river hills. Atwood Ridge, the same ridge seen from Union County Refuge, can be explored by taking Old Cape Road to Forest Road 264 near Reynoldsville. This narrow dead-end road doesn't see much traffic, but it provides a spectacular show when the foliage is at its peak.
Directions: Take Highway 3 north to Reynoldsville and turn right on Old Cape Road. Follow this blacktop drive 4.5 miles and turn left on a gravel road signed as Trail 264A. After a short distance, the road forks: bear right and follow the road as it climbs into the hills. This road was improved a few years ago, but if it gets too rough, park at a safe place and explore the rest on foot. The road eventually ends at a high point, but a hiking trail continues north to the rest of Atwood Ridge.
Horse Creek Road
This is a short dead-end Forest Service road that ascends a ridge just off Grapevine Trail Road near McClure. The road provides access to the Horse Creek Trail, a 5-mile loop through a surprisingly rugged area.
Directions: Take Highway 3 to McClure and turn right on Grapevine Trail. Follow this highway 4.7 miles and then turn right on Forest Road 220. At the top of a hill, bear right at the fork in the road and continue to the end.
Bean Ridge Road
This little corner of the Shawnee National Forest isn't well known, but it delivers plenty of fall color. Connecting Grapevine Trail Road with Thebes, Bean Ridge Road meanders through the river hills before reaching a hidden gem: Bean Ridge Pond.
Directions: Take Highway 3 south to Gale and turn left on Old Highway 3 (at the big steel bridge). After driving past Gale, turn left on Hastings Ranch Road. Turn right on Granny Hill Road, and then make a left on Bean Ridge Road. To reach the pond, drive 3 miles on Bean Ridge Road to where the road makes a sharp left and intersects two driveways. Ignore the driveway on the right (Bean Ridge Ranch Lane), which is posted against trespassing. Instead, take the lane straight ahead, which is a Forest Service access road that leads to the pond.