October is an excellent time to visit Loess Hills National Scenic Byway™, Western Skies Scenic Byway, and Glacial Trail Scenic Byway in western Iowa. Peak fall foliage generally occurs earlier in the north and later in the south. Check out the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' weekly fall color report.
Loess Hills National Scenic Byway runs from near Akron in the north to Hamburg in the south. The northern end is located in Plymouth County in northwest Iowa, with peak colors predicted from the last week of September through the second week of October. Stone State Park in Sioux City is one great place to go leaf-peeping. Colors along Glacial Trail Scenic Byway in Buena Vista, Cherokee, Clay, & O'Brien counties will peak in the same timeframe.
Western Skies Scenic Byway is in Harrison, Shelby, Audubon and Guthrie counties in west-central Iowa. Peak colors are expected in the first through third weeks of October.
Floodplain forests along the Missouri River valley are abundant with glowing gold cottonwoods. Desoto National Wildlife Refuge near Missouri Valley is an exemplary location for cottonwood woodlands.
On the steep Loess Hills bluffs, tallgrass prairie grasses have turned to their characteristic amber-gold and wine-red hues. These colors contrast with the occasional dark-green coniferous junipers (eastern red cedars). Staghorn sumac and poison ivy are turning bright red. Yellow goldenrods and purple asters also dot the prairies.
The southern Loess Hills, including Waubonsie State Park in Fremont County, generally have greater tree species diversity and thus a wider array of tree foliage colors.
Similarly, some of the woodlands in Guthrie County (such as at Whiterock Conservancy and Springbrook State Park) have more diversity than the western Loess Hills, including more colorful maples.
In addition to public parks and wildlife areas, exploring backroads can be one of the best ways to see fall colors. This is especially useful for folks who may not be able to hike or bike through the hills. Loess Hills National Scenic Byway includes 185 miles of Excursion Loops, many of which traverse the most scenic, rugged, and rural terrain in the region.
Wherever you go, you will also likely see the golden fields of corn and soybeans before they are harvested. On a sunny day, they contrast with bright blue skies for a spectacular spectacle. Have fun exploring rural western Iowa by automobile, bike, on foot, or however you choose!