Thanks to the abnormally warm weather during the last several weeks, the fall color this season has been a disappointment. Some trees have simply dumped their green leaves without even a hint of color, while other trees have managed to change color -- a dull shade of brown.
However, some hints of real color have emerged this week, so we may yet reach a "peak" of foliage soon. The problem is that this weekend is part of firearms deer season in both Missouri and Illinois, so anybody going outdoors to look at the fall duller color will need to plan accordingly.
Below is a quick selection of state parks and National Forest recreation areas that are generally free of hunters, and where there might be some fall color. No guarantees, though.
A visit to Elephant Rocks State Park last week revealed a trace of color, so perhaps more foliage will appear in the days ahead.
The nice thing about visiting Johnsons Shut-ins State Park in the off-season is the lack of crowds. There's no waiting in a long line of cars at the entrance gate.
Although the shut-ins canyon tends to be dominated by evergreen trees, I did discover that the sun angle in the late afternoon can produce glowing reflections in the water. The challenge is that the park closes at 4 PM, so there's only a narrow window of opportunity to catch this golden light.
Taum Sauk Mountain
The overlook along the access road to Missouri's highest point provides a panoramic view to the north. If there's any foliage to see, this is a good place to enjoy it.
Pomona Natural Bridge
This landmark near Alto Pass, Illinois, is a popular fall destination. I visited two weekends ago, only to be greeted by a total lack of color. Maybe it will get better, but I doubt the scene will be as beautiful as it has been in previous years.
One of the best photo opportunities is actually the short trail leading to the bridge, complete with its rustic split-rail fencing.
The "Snake Road" at LaRue-Pine Hills in Illinois brings out the best of any season, especially the road's "tunnel of trees" during the fall.
Ghost Dance Canyon on the south side of Dixon Springs State Park is one of my favorite fall foliage finds, although finding and traversing the canyon can be a bit tricky. The secret is to look for the trailhead near the swimming pool and then hike underneath the massive arch bridge on Illinois Highway 146.
Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods Recreation Area is a long drive from Cape Girardeau, but this destination offers a surefire "bucket list" objective: catching the sunset at Camel Rock during the peak of fall. It's not easy, especially since the perfect evening tends to bring out a herd of photographers jostling for position on the rocks with their tripods (I'm not kidding).