11 Best Missouri State Parks for Fall Colors

Fall in Missouri brings a touch of magic as nature changes to it’s vibrant autumn colors. Typically, around mid-October, the state’s landscape transforms into a beautiful canvas of red, orange, and gold and it’s the perfect time to visit a few Missouri State Parks for fall colors.

Maples, ashes, hickories, and oaks unveil their most resplendent hues, creating a breathtaking spectacle of fall foliage. So, if you are searching for the best scenic drives near me we’ve done the work for you if you live in Missouri! From Johnsons Shut-Ins to Mark Twain State Park, we have the best options for beautiful fall fun.

Probable dates for peak fall color in 2023 

Fall colors in Missouri
Photo Credit: Brandon from Zimmin Around the World

Northern Missouri Oct. 5-21; Southern Missouri Oct. 12-28

Predicting the peak of fall foliage can be as elusive as a game of hide-and-seek with Mother Nature herself. A multitude of variables come into play, led by the fickle nature of weather. Temperature, sunlight, and rainfall influence the timing and vibrancy of fall foliage. Any abrupt shifts in these elements or peculiar weather patterns can disrupt the leaves’ transformation.

Adding to the complexity are the diverse tree species, each adhering to its own schedule. Some trees turn earlier, while others take their sweet time. Navigating this symphony of nature’s cues, tree behaviors, and atmospheric influences offers a thrilling adventure for leaf-peepers seeking the best state parks to visit in Missouri during the fall season.

As October wanes, so do the colors, and the leaves gracefully descend to the ground. By mid-November, this enchanting autumn display bids adieu until the following year, reminding us of nature’s cyclical rhythm. So, make sure to get out and take a beautiful scenic drive or visit a state park while the colors are at their peak!

Best State Parks To Visit for Fall Colors

Discover the splendor of autumn in Missouri at these state parks, where nature paints a vivid tapestry of fall colors that will leave you awe-struck. You can truly immerse yourself in the breathtaking foliage at these top destinations.

We also have the best Pumpkin Patches in Missouri, Authentic Cider Mills in Missouri and to round out the season, the most Haunted Places in Missouri!

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park

Address: 148 Taum Sauk Trail, Middle Brook, MO 63656

Johnson Shut-Ins State Park in fall
Photo Credit: Heather Fisher

Nestled in the scenic St. Francois Mountains, Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is a fall paradise you won’t want to miss. As you venture to this natural gem, the journey itself is a treat, with winding roads and picturesque vistas that set the mood for the upcoming autumn spectacle.

Once you arrive, you’ll discover a variety of ways to enjoy the vibrant fall colors. Whether you prefer a leisurely stroll or a more challenging hike, the park has you covered. For those seeking a quick dose of nature, a short walk from the parking area reveals the stunning water features, surrounded by the rich tapestry of trees and fall foliage.

If you’re up for a longer adventure, the park offers several hiking trails to explore. The Goggins Mountain Equestrian Trail loop, spanning ten miles, provides a deeper immersion into the forest’s autumn splendor. Meanwhile, the 2-mile Scour Trail loop and a section of the Ozark Trail offer alternative routes for hikers to revel in the seasonal beauty.

Johnson’s Shut-Ins is 1 hours and 45 minutes from St. Louis and 5 hours from Kansas City.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park 

Address: 1491 Missouri D, Camdenton, MO 65020

Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Fall

Contributed by Taryn from Chasing Trail

In the heart of the Ozarks, Ha Ha Tonka State Park is a fantastic place to witness fall colors in Missouri. The park’s diverse landscape is what makes it a standout in autumn — there’s lush forest, rugged bluffs, shimmering Lake of the Ozarks, sinkholes and caves, and its crown jewel, the iconic castle ruins. Come fall, this scenery is perfectly highlighted against a backdrop of constantly-changing hues of red, gold, and orange. 

There’s no shortage of ways to explore Ha Ha Tonka, especially in the ideal fall weather. Start by donning your favorite hiking leggings and hitting the trails. Most of the park’s trails are easy to moderate and relatively short, so you can quite literally cover a lot of ground. Trail highlights include the 1.3-mile Devils Kitchen Trail, the 1.4-mile Spring Trail, and 0.4-mile Spring Trail. Of course, you can’t miss exploring the historic castle ruins and the Natural Bridge is another must-see. 

Alternatively, you can also rent a kayak from the visitor center (available through the end of October) and experience the park’s fall color show from the water. 

Pack lunch or at least some snacks and find a quiet place to picnic as you explore the various overlooks. With so many elevations, you’ll get many different views depending on where you are in the park!

Ha Ha Tonka is 1.5 hours from Columbia, 2.5 hours from Kansas City and 2 hours 45 minutes from St. Louis.

Elephant Rocks State Park

Address: 7390, 7406 MO-21, Belleview, MO 63623

Elephant Rocks State Park

Contributed by Linda from Linda on the Run 

If you’re looking for one of the best state parks in Missouri for fall colors then you can’t beat Elephant Rocks State Park. After all, this state park is absolutely gorgeous and is known for its amazing elephant-shaped boulders that some former miners carved their names into in the 19th century. 

Now, if you want to see stunning red, orange, and yellow-hued leaves while you trek past these amazing rock formations the be sure to visit during the last two weeks of October. 

Just hop on the Engine House Ruins Trail since the fall foliage is great and this hike in Missouri isn’t too difficult. If you want, you can also bring your bike since this park is good for biking too. 

If you are coming from St. Louis, be sure to stop by Old Village Mercantile in the town of Caledonia. This historic town was founded in 1819 and a visit to this local business feels like going back in time since you’ll see vintage signs, antiques, souvenirs, and more.

You can even treat yourself to some ice cream and fudge before having a real meal at Baylee Jo’s in Ironton. They are known for their cherry-wood smoked barbeque and delicious homemade sauces.

Elephant Rocks is 1.5 hours from St. Louis and 4.5 hours from Kansas City.

Weston Bend State Park

Address: 16600 MO-45, Weston, MO 64098

Weston Bend State Park in fall

Contributed by Brandon from Zimmin Around the World

Weston Bend State Park is a beautiful state park located in the town 
of Weston, Missouri. About a half hour drive from the center of Kansas 
City, Weston Bend State Park offers breath taking views of the 
Missouri River, hiking trails, camp grounds, picnic sites, and many 
more outdoor activities.

Fall is one of the best times to visit Weston Bend State Park. As the 
temperatures begin to cool down and the autumn leaves turn a brilliant 
yellow, orange, and red color. If you are into photography, there are 
many observation decks scattered throughout the park with great views 
of the Missouri River. Fall is also a great time to hike the many 
trails throughout the park.

Just outside of Weston Bend State Park is one of Missouri’s most 
famous small towns. The town of Weston is a popular destination for 
both locals and tourists. During the fall season, Weston is home to 
festivals and holiday celebrations.

Don’t leave Weston without a visit to O’Malley’s Pub, one of the most unique and fun pubs in the Midwest. If looking for food option, the town of Weston has many great little mom and pop restaurants that are worth trying, from BBQ and Pizza to traditional American restaurants serving comfort food.

Weston Bend State Park is 35 minutes from Kansas City, 35 minutes from St. Joseph and 4 hours from St. Louis.

Meramec State Park

Address: 115 Meramec Park Drive, Sullivan, MO 63080

Meramec River

Contributed by Jessica from Unearth the Voyage

When looking for one of the best places to see fall colors in Missouri you have to check out Meramec State Park. Meramec State Park is only an hour drive from St. Louis so it makes a perfect day trip from the city to see fall colors! Besides the caves you can explore at Meramec State Park, the park is also known for the awesome Meramec River float trips you can go on.

This is one of the best ways to see the fall colors because you can leisurely float down the river while enjoying all the changing colors along the shore. If you’re looking for a spot to check out the colors without doing a float trip, another great spot is at the end of Meramec Park Rd.

The road ends at a parking lot that has a pavilion and overlooks the rolling Missouri hills, making for a perfect place to see some fall colors! This is also a great picnic location as there is a pavilion with picnic tables to sit down and eat at. 

Meramec State Park is 1 hour from St. Louis and 4 hours from Kansas City.

Castlewood State Park

Address: 1401 Kiefer Creek Rd, Ballwin, MO 63021

Castlewood State Park

Situated along the Meramec River, Castlewood offers picturesque trails with river views and wooded areas that come alive with vibrant fall shades.

Castlewood State Park is a great spot for some fall fun, and it’s not too far from St. Louis. You’ll enjoy a scenic drive there, with some nice country roads to check out on the way.

Once you’re at the park, you’ve got plenty to do. There’s a 3-mile trail called the Scenic River Trail that takes you up and down the hill. You can go up or down first, your call. But if you start by going counter-clockwise, you’ll find a cool wooden boardwalk staircase that leads down to the river.

Now, the best part – picnicking! There are spots by the stream where you can enjoy a good old picnic lunch. If you’re not into picnicking, no worries. There are some neat restaurants nearby where you can grab a bite.

One possible route is to head west on Manchester Road (Highway 100). You can take this road through the charming towns of Ballwin and Wildwood. Eventually, Manchester Road will lead you to the entrance of Castlewood State Park.

Another option is to take I-270 West to I-44 West. Take the exit for Route 141 North, and then turn left onto Route 141 North. Continue on Route 141 North until you reach the intersection with New Ballwin Road. Turn left onto New Ballwin Road, and it will lead you to the park entrance.

Castlewood State Park is 30 minutes from St. Louis and 3.5 hours from Kansas City.

Mark Twain State Park

Mark Twain State Park

Nestled in the Salt River Hills of north-central Missouri, Mark Twain National Forest offers a great fall escape.

For a fun road trip, consider taking Highway 61 or I-70 West from St. Louis. Along the way, you’ll pass through charming small towns and rolling countryside, making the journey as enjoyable as the destination.

Once at Mark Twain National Forest, you’ll find numerous picnic spots and over 6 miles of hiking trails with lake views. Check out the Dogwood Trail for a scenic autumn stroll, winding through an oak-hickory forest along the lake’s edge.

For a memorable picnic, head to Buzzards Roost or near the Mark Twain museum. Both spots offer fantastic bluff overlooks, perfect for savoring your meal amidst the fall foliage.

If you’re visiting in mid to late October, you’re in for the best show of fall colors around the Cannon Dam area.

Don’t forget to swing by The Mark Twain Birthplace Memorial Museum to delve into a bit of local history.

And if you didn’t pack a picnic, worry not. The Junction Restaurant is famed for serving up the best tenderloin in the Show-Me state.

If you’re up for it, camping at Mark Twain National Forest is a fantastic option, with fall adding an extra layer of beauty to the experience. It’s a slice of Missouri’s natural beauty waiting to be explored and enjoyed.

Mark Twain State Park is 1 hour from Columbia, 2 hours from St. Louis and 3 hours from Kansas City.

Additional Missouri State Parks Worth a Visit for Fall Foliage

Cuivre River State Park: Known for its diverse landscapes, Cuivre River State Park offers striking fall foliage, especially around Lake Lincoln and the park’s many hiking trails.

Onondaga Cave State Park: Explore cave formations and hiking trails enveloped in autumn’s vibrant colors in this southeastern Missouri gem.

Taum Sauk Mountain State Park: This is a great option for a drive or to explore on foot. You can enjoy breathtaking views from the state’s highest point in Missouri. For the best fall foliage experience the Mina Sauk Falls Trail is a top choice. This trail takes you through a beautiful hardwood forest, offering stunning vistas of the vibrant autumn colors as you make your way to Missouri’s highest waterfall, Mina Sauk Falls.

Table Rock State Park: If you want a truly magnificent display of fall colors, the Ozark Mountains will be ablaze in hues of red, orange, and gold during autumn. For the best fall foliage views, the White River Valley Trail is a popular choice, guiding hikers through the heart of this natural spectacle, where the colorful leaves mirror the beauty of Table Rock Lake.

Fall Foliage Tips

Remember that the timing of peak fall colors can vary each year, so it’s advisable to check local foliage reports and plan your visit accordingly to witness the most breathtaking displays of nature’s artistry.

More Missouri Fall Fun

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