The Morton Arboretum is a 1,700-acre living museum that features more than 222,000 live plants. These specimens have been carefully sought out from around the world to represent more than 40 countries within the northern temperate time zone.
The arboretum is flanked by gardens arranged with a distinct theme, which could be a smell, color or a particular horticulture lesson. Between these gardens live hundreds and hundreds of trees. Each and every plant and tree is selected for its ability to thrive in the region's climate and soil. The result is one of the most comprehensive collections of woody plants on the continent.
While the arboretum is beautiful at any time of year, one of the best times to visit is in autumn. Each year, the arboretum’s impressive plant collection erupts into a glorious display of fall colors. Guests can stroll beneath the tree canopies and enjoy the crisp autumn air while learning about native flora and fauna.
Fall also means a range of events at the Arboretum. The Fall 5k Run & Walk on Oct. 1 is a fun and challenging way to support the Morton Arboretum’s mission. The Glass Pumpkin Patch is a dazzling display of more than 4,000 hand-blown creations from Oct. 11 through 15. The annual Cider and Ale Festival lets visitors sip ciders and seasonal beers while enjoying live music on Oct. 21. Bring your kids for Trick or Trees, a free day of games, crafts and costumes on every weekend in October and on Columbus Day.
4100 IL-53, Lisle, IL
Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park is just 90 miles from Chicago, but once you’re there it feels like a world away. Hiking along the 13 miles of trails, you’ll become completely immersed in the rugged, untamed landscape of the park. Along the way, you’ll see towering trees, native wildlife, and sandstone bluffs and canyons that were formed from thousands of years of melting glaciers.
The park has been named a National Historic Landmark and attracts more than two million visits each year. If you’ve been before, consider visiting again at a different time of year. Each season is it’s own unique experience. While many people visit in the spring for peak waterfall viewing, the area truly shines in the fall. October is the busiest time of year for the park, and for good reason. Hikers flock to the area to see the spectacular shades of fall foliage.
Climbing to the top of iconic Starved Rock, visitors will be treated to panoramic views of seasonal tones along the Illinois River. The park boasts an array of local trees, including oaks, ash, cottonwoods, maples, cedars and hickories. Many reach their peak fall colors in October, showing off shades of vivid reds, oranges and yellows. For a more secluded experience, check out nearby Matthiessen State Park. The smaller, but no less scenic, locale is a great way to get your fall fix while avoiding the crowds.
Starved Rock celebrates all the beautiful bounty of the season during the annual Fall Colors Weekend on Oct. 21 and 22. Guides take hikers up overlooks and through canyons in search of the best autumn hues, while explaining the history and geology of the park. There are about two to four guided hikes each day, leaving from the Starved Rock Visitor Center at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
2668 E. 875th Rd., Oglesby, IL
Chicago Botanic Garden
Since opening more than 40 years ago, the Chicago Botanic Garden has matured from a scenic spot to visit into a renowned conservation center. It stretches over 385 acres, comprised of nine islands, six miles of shoreline, and 27 distinct gardens, each with their own unique focus. The collection draws more than one million visitors annually, making it the second most-visited botanic garden of its size in the country.
Many of these visitors come in the fall, when the garden’s bountiful display is truly a sight to see. The Garden transforms from a lush green oasis to an awe- inspiring display of autumnal beauty. “We have the plants best adapted to the Chicago area, and because of that, their fall colors are spectacular,”says Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation. “The Garden has a collection that’s close to 12,000 types of plants with amazing fall color.”
1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe, IL