Autumn is arguably the season Ohio does best.
The changing leaves that provide the backdrop of all of central Ohioans’ favorite fall activities—corn mazes, apple picking, pumpkin carving, football games—are worthy of attention in and of themselves.
In central Ohio, leaves should reach their peak color during the third week of October, according to the Ohio Division of Natural Resources (ODNR), which puts out a fall foliage report.
“This year the weather’s been excellent for growing trees,” ODNR forester Casey Burdick said. “We’ve had very nice moderate rains throughout the summers and spring months, which has allowed the trees to catch up a little bit from the past two years of having really hot and dry summers and falls.”
Experts have predicted this will be a good year for foliage-viewing, Burdick said.
“We are noticing a little bit of fall color in some of our maples, especially in urban areas,” she said. “They’re starting to show reds and oranges, and that’s actually just brought on by stress from past years’ dry weather. But true fall color is actually brought on by the shortening of the days.”
Foliage worshippers should hope for bright, sunny days and nights that are cool, but not freezing, along with moderate rainfall that is needed to allow the trees to finish out their seasonal life cycle. According to Burdick, that’s the recipe for good color this fall.
A good forecast means this year is a good time to make the pursuit of foliage panoramas the purpose of your excursion, not just the backdrop.
Luckily, central Ohio is full of opportunities to take in nature’s watercolors on display. Looking for the best places to get a good view? Try these ideas:
Hike the ridges and valleys of Deer Creek State Park near Mount Sterling, where the fall foliage is complemented by abundant wildflowers including aster, goldenrod and chicory.
Burdick said she recommends staying near the lake, where the oldest trees are located.
For a grand tour, join the second annual Deer Creek Fall Color Ride Oct. 19, hosted by the Friends of Madison County Parks and Trails. Bike ride options include 38-and 77-mile routes. The shorter route loops to Darbydale and around toward London along Deer Creek. The longer route meanders along Darby Creek to Williamsport, to the Deer Creek valley via Deer Creek State Park, then back to London. Both rides kick off between 8 and 10 a.m. from the Prairie Grass Trail trailhead located behind the Madison County Senior Citizens Center at 280 W. High St. in London.
Registration is $8 and includes detailed tour maps, identification number (which must be displayed at all times), and support services. The Friends will also have t-shirts available for purchase on the day of the tour for $15. For more information or to register, go to www.fmcpt.com and click on “Events.”
Take a peaceful stroll through Greenlawn Cemetery, which occupies hundreds of acres off of Sullivant Avenue on the west side of Columbus and is as much a park as a cemetery.
The rolling hills, mature trees (the cemetery has been there since 1848), and parklike setting makes it a peaceful place to view the golden season.
The cemetery is also a recognized place for birdwatching and is home to several rare species, so keep an eye out for movement in the trees.
Check out the large beech and sugar maple trees at Tucker State Nature Preserve, part of Blacklick Woods Metro Park.
Also in Reynoldsburg, take a stroll through Pine Quarry Park in Reynoldsburg, a city park where tall pines form the green backdrop for a variety of brightly hued trees, along the creek in what was once a rock quarry.
By bike or on foot, you can enjoy Blacklick Creek trail, which follows along Blacklick Creek from Reynoldsburg all the way south to Three Creeks Metro Park in Groveport.
If you feel like a drive, head out to downtown Newark and take Jacksonville Road (13) down to I-70.
ODNR recommends this route as one of the best drives for fall foliage in the state.
Track down a specific color of leaves by knowing what kind of tree you’re looking at. Gantz Park in Grove City is home to the Gantz Park Arboretum, where you can learn about trees as you take in the fiery displays of color.
The arboretum encompasses the entire eastern side of the park. Common Ohio trees that turn yellow in the fall include ash, beech, birch, black walnut, tulip poplar, black locust, hickory, cottonwood, sycamore and basswood.
Expect red leaves from oak, dogwood, sumac and black cherry trees. Some trees exhibit multiple colors, including buckeye, red maple, sweetgum, sassafrass and sugar maple.
Watch the sun set over the trees at Scioto Audubon Metro Park, located on the Whittier Peninsula along the Scioto River.
This park has a lookout tower to climb for a view of the foliage against the downtown skyline, or you can bring your own equipment and scale the park’s climbing wall.
The park is open late several Fridays during the fall, giving visitors a chance to see the foliage against the sunset.
Check out a new place for fall foliage viewing at Walnut Woods Metro Park in Groveport, a 1,100-acre park that opened in 2011.
The park borders Little Walnut Creek and offers a chance to amble through stands of pine and sweet gum trees in the developed parts of the park. Dogs can enjoy the foliage here, too, at a 4-acre dog park.
For more ideas on where to go to take in the autumn wonders, visit the Metro Parks website at www.metroparks.net. To get the fall color reports, visit www.fallcolor.ohiodnr.gov.