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Published Jul/Aug 2005

Left: Lovely autumn vistas, like this one near Clarksville, Mo., can be found along scenic state Route 79. Missouri Department of Tourism photo

Pick one of these pretty fall drives to enjoy Midwestern splendor.
By Karen Gibson

An artist’s palette barely holds a candle to autumn in the Midwest. Colors, both bold and subtly shaded, flood the countryside. Those in search of the perfect fall drive will be rewarded by a bounty of colors and other fascinating sights. Here are six autumn drives that make us all aspire to be artists.

Missouri marvelous foliage

The best time for fall foliage drives in Missouri is anytime from September through October, and the Show-Me state offers plenty of spectacular fall foliage, from Ozark vistas near Branson to farms in the northern section of Missouri. Flame-colored leaves of sugar maple or plum ash trees dazzle sojourners.

One well-known route shows Missouri autumn at its finest. Scenic state Route 79 north of St. Louis follows the Mississippi River for about 90 miles of the Great River Road’s 215 Missouri miles. This stretch is part of the extensive Great River Road National Scenic Byway that incorporates different riverside roads in a number of states that hug the Mississippi. Along this portion in Missouri, roadside pumpkin patches add a harvest feel to this winding two-lane road.

Between the sleepy historical towns of Clarksville, Louisiana and Hannibal to the north, several scenic turnoffs offer vistas, each better than the last. Take a picnic lunch to the top of a bluff lined with white sycamores. Look down on a puffy collage of brilliant yellows, oranges, reds and greens.

Hannibal has retained its river town character and history tied to Mark Twain. The flavor of bygone days comes alive during the annual Autumn Historic Folklife Festival, Oct. 15 and 16. Clarksville also hosts its annual Applefest on the second weekend of October, and the Colorfest in Louisiana will be Oct. 22–23.

Enjoying Indiana’s color

Autumn emerges brilliantly along the Ohio River National Scenic Byway in southern Indiana. The route stretches about 300 miles in Indiana, so for those who want to stretch their legs, make a stop at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial on state Highway 162 in Lincoln City.

For a different autumn look, try the Amish country of northern Indiana. More than 20,000 Amish have called northern Indiana home since first settling here in 1840. One tour of the area is called the Heritage Trail, named by “Life” magazine as one of the most scenic drives in the United States.

The Heritage Trail is a 90-mile loop through Amish Country. Back roads scenery, farms and small towns mark the way. The Elkhart County Visitors Center (219 Caravan Drive) offers audiotapes or discs to assist with the journey.

Splashes of gold and orange adorn the countryside. The simple beauty of the Amish way of life joins with the autumn season like a horse and buggy, something you’re likely to see plenty of, as that is the preferred Amish mode of transportation.

As a courtesy, remember to honor the Amish wish and do not take photographs of Amish residents.

To learn more about how the Amish live, visit Amish Acres (1600 W. Market St.), an 80-acre homestead located in Nappanee. It is a historic restoration of an actual Amish farm. Time a visit for the 30th Annual Apple Festival in Nappanee from Sept. 16–18 for a taste of cider, apple pie, fritters and more. Catch a performance of the musical “Plain and Fancy” at the Round Barn Theater through Oct. 29.

Honest, Illinois is splendid in autumn

The land of Lincoln is also the land of picture-perfect drives that hug clear, flowing creeks and winding rivers. The Great River Road continues from Missouri into Illinois (state Route 100), and is especially pretty near Alton. White-tailed deer can be found grazing amid colorful maples and cottonwood in the state parks.

One Illinois trek stands apart from the rest. Named by pioneers more than 200 years ago, the 165-mile Historic National Road in southern Illinois continues to make an impression today because of the rolling hills, charming small towns and historic sites along the way.

The Historic National Road follows along U.S. Route 40, stretching from Illinois’ eastern border near Marshall across the state to Collinsville near the Illinois-Missouri border. One is never far from an Abraham Lincoln relic, and his log cabin is north in Lerna (Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, 400 S. Lincoln Highway Road).

Near Collinsville, Native American culture is celebrated at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (30 Ramey Road) during Pow Wow, Sept. 9–11. Crafts and dancing draw people from all over the country. Across the road from the visitors’ center, the 100-foot-high Monks Mound preserves the remains of an ancient Native American city. Cahokia Mounds is closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Kansas’ color rivals the Emerald City

The changing season is most evident along the hills and valleys of northeast Kansas. Snowy milkweed sits alongside cattails and sumac on the Glacial Hills Scenic Byway.

Start your drive where state Highways 7 and 92 meet in Leavenworth. Known for having the oldest continuously operated fort west of the Missouri River, Leavenworth is a river town that boasts a strong pioneer heritage.

Kansas Highway 7 traverses through the Kansas Glacial Hills as it follows the Missouri River along the Kansas-Missouri border for 63 miles. Glaciers once covered this part of Kansas, and when they vanished, they left their mark with carved out valleys and pink boulders of Sioux quartzite. Clear running streams and rolling hills are also part of the landscape.

North of Leavenworth is Atchison, another river town with brick streets and charming Victorian homes from the 1800s. Aviatrix Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison. Her home, now the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum (223 N. Terrace St.), sits on a hill overlooking the Missouri River.

Near the Nebraska border, look to the bluffs of the small town of White Cloud for an awe-inspiring view of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and even Iowa on a clear day at the 4-State Lookout.

The Midwest’s fall bounty is a feast for the senses. Pick a byway or two and experience the best this region has to offer.

Karen Gibson is a contributor from Norman, Okla.


Above: In southern Indiana, the Ohio River National Scenic Byway offers great fall color and historic sites, like the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. Indiana Office of Tourism Development photo

Before You Go
For more information contact:

• Missouri Division of Tourism, 1-800-519-4800 or visit online at www.VisitMo.com;

• Indiana Office of Tourism Development, 1-888-ENJOY-IN or www.EnjoyIndiana.com;

• Illinois Bureau of Tourism at 1-800-2CONNECT or online at www.enjoyilli nois.com;

• Kansas Travel and Tourism Division at 1-800-2KANSAS or www.TravelKS.com.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

Follow the steps of
Lewis & Clark

By Karen Gibson

For a scenic drive steeped in history, consider following Missouri Highway 94, which follows the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
Travel in the footsteps of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who explored and mapped the territory west of the Mississippi.

The famous travelers began their journey by crossing the Mississippi River near St. Louis on May 14, 1804. Following the Missouri River, they crossed central Missouri. Today’s traveler can do the same by following Highway 94.

Stop off at the Daniel Boone Home and Boonesfield Village (1868 Highway F) in Defiance for some pioneer education. In fact, the site hosts its annual Pioneer Days festival Sept. 24–25. Stretch your legs along the Katy Trail, a 225-mile hiking-biking path that hugs the river. Wineries and Oktoberfest celebrations make nice stops along Highway 94 or state Highway 100.

Scenic Katy Trail State Park is perfect for a fall hike or bicycle ride. Missouri Department of Tourism photo

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