• leafer–noun, a regional term for a person who drives slowly throughout the United States during autumn while looking out the windows of their car at the annual foliage color change.

Fall ranks as the favorite time of year for many in Iowa, particularly because of the beautiful scenery that comes with it. Fall foliage paints the landscape with vibrant yellows, oranges and reds, creating picturesque settings throughout the region. There are plenty of places to experience the best of the fall foliage in the Des Moines area.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, October 6 – October 22 is prime time for Des Moines leaf peeping, with colors peaking the week of October 16-22.  Thanks to the increase in requests for info, the DNR has set up a Fall Colors Hotline to help you find the best colors…. You can get all the facts at 515-233-4110.

Park Picks

We’ve put together a short list of state parks within 25 miles of Des Moines where you can see the best fall foliage:

Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park is Iowa’s newest state park.  The 1954 plan for the 222 acres was as the Banner Mine State Wildlife Management Area. As the years went by, recreation demands changed and, in 2002, the area became Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park, a great addition to Iowa’s state park system.

Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park

c/o Lake Ahquabi State Park

16510 118th Avenue

Indianola, IA 50125

Phone:  515-961-7101

Big Creek State Park was created as part of the Saylorville project to protect Polk City from floods. A diversion dam which forms the 866-acre Big Creek Lake was primarily developed as a flood control project but also offers a wide variety of recreation. The park provides recreation for visitors of all ages and interests. The focal point of the 3,550-acre complex is the lake.

Big Creek State Park

8794 NW 125th Ave

Polk City  IA  50226

Phone:  515-984-6473

Lake Ahquabi State Park features a 115-acre reservoir. Ahquabi means “resting place” in the Fox language.  Three sections of the park were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.  Their historic importance is derived from their association with the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC).

Lake Ahquabi State Park

16510 118th Avenue

Indianola, IA 50125

Phone:  515-961-7101

Walnut Woods State Park is our number one choice for leaf peeping.  Located in suburban West Des Moines, the park preserves a bottomland hardwood forest featuring the largest natural stand of black walnut trees in North America. The Raccoon River meanders through the 260 acres, providing additional recreational activities such as fishing, horseback riding and canoeing. The park also provides picnic areas, and a limestone lodge built in the 1930s. More than 90 bird species have been seen in the park.


8951 SW 52nd Avenue

West Des Moines, Iowa   50265

Phone: 515-285-4502

Looking to get away from it all?

Sounds like it’s time for a road trip.  Check out iowa.gov or traveliowa.com for routes that will take you to the colors of fall throughout Des Moines and the surrounding area.   There’s no better way to relax and recharge as you wind your way across the state.

What Tree?  What Colors?

  • Walnut: Turns yellow in fall.
  • Red Oak: Brilliant red leaves in fall. Color probably not as intense as some hard maples.
  • White Oak: Subdued red color of leaves in fall.
  • Hickory: Leaves turn yellow, then brown before falling.
  • Ash: Leaves turn yellow, but some have a purplish cast. Leaves fall after walnut but earlier than oaks and maples.
  • Elms: Leaves turn yellow, some turn brown before falling, others while still yellow.
  • Soft maple: Leaves turn yellow.
  • Hard Maple: Brilliant red hues.
  • Sumac: Redder but often overlooked because it is a small tree confined to openings and edges.
  • Virginia Creeper: Bright red. Very spectacular when it grows on dead snags.


This blog is brought to you by Ramada Tropics Resort and Conference Center.  Ramada Tropics Resort has been named one of the best Des Moines hotels and is the only one with an indoor water park.  For more information, go to Ramada Tropics Resort and Convention Center’s website at www.ramadatropicsresort.com.