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Chicago Nature Now! Alert &
Fall Color Report
November 3, 2017

“Plan your Chicago fall-color weekend with Chicago nature news & info
to help you discover the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

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Fall-color highlights to help you plan your fall outing around Chicago:

This is a crazy year where it seems like each individual tree is doing its own thing. Depending the preserve location and the species of tree, my overall estimate of peak fall color is currently at 70 to 100 percent. My definition of peak color means “a maximum color mix,” which often includes a little green. That’s because, if you wait for the green to go away, most of the leaves are already on the ground. The plants of Chicago’s prairies are also exhibiting fall’s effects, with a tallgrass tapestry of autumn foliage: towering waves of red-stemmed grasses and tawny, fluffy spikes of gayfeather that glow in the sunlight. In one small patch of prairie, you’ll often find more color than any autumn woodland in the region: oranges, golds, reds, maroons, cyans, browns, and tans. Here’s a list of preserves that are worth visiting as they begin changing into their autumn wardrobes:

  • Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, Illinois: Walk this hill prairie and the large grassland at its base.
  • Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois: Get a wilderness experience by hiking the trails early in the day when few people visit.
  • Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois: Walk the wide trails to see the fall colors through the preserve’s various habitats.
  • Lake in the Hills Fen: Visit to experience the fens and the grand prairie expanse of grasses.
  • Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: This is a beautiful prairie in September.
  • Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois: This is another preserve that provides an escape from urban life..
  • Theodore Stone Preserve: Recently, the trails have been greatly improved. It’s a great time to see tall waves of red grasses.
  • Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale, Illinois: This is a beautiful prairie very close to Chicago’s city limits.
  • Powderhorn Prairie: This is the most biodiverse site within the city limits of Chicago, though the trails are not well established. So be careful.
  • Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Visit to experience the towering grasses and venerable bur oaks.
  • Fermilab Prairie in Batavia: Feel small as you walk along wide prairie trails amidst skybound grasses and plants.
  • Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest, Illinois: Take a nice long walk along the wide trails to experience the changing colors of the prairie and wetlands.
  • Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois: Come for a walk through the grand expanse. Then take in the view from the deck of the prairie house at the north end.
  • Cowles Bog: The trail is closed as they construct a new boardwalk. Immerse yourself in the early-autumn color on the trail that leads to Lake Michigan.
  • Miller Woods: Visit this large black oak savanna for galloping ferns and the variety of colors and textures.

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Here are examples of fall color in Chicago’s preserves from previous years. Get out there, and discover what this fall brings:

 

 

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, where the prairie meets the woodland, late-September grasses turn to gold.*

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, where the prairie meets the woodland, grasses turn to gold.*

 

At Spears Woods, along the shore of Hogwash Slough, the first light to fall upon this autumn wetland reveals an intricate patina of frost formed by the foggy night air.*

At Spears Woods, along the shore of Hogwash Slough, the first light to fall upon this autumn wetland reveals an intricate patina of frost formed by the foggy night air.*

 

Autumn is the Chicago area is spectacular, especially along Sawmill Creek in Waterfall Glen in Darien, Illinois.*

Compared to the golden maples of autumn, oaks can be a bit understated. Here, at Bluff Spring Fen, this bur oak, when placed in the spotlight, certainly puts on a show.*

 

At Spears Woods, this ephemeral pond becomes a portal into an afternoon of autumn splendor.*

At Spears Woods, this ephemeral pond becomes a portal into an afternoon of autumn splendor.*

 

In the fall at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, don’t just stare up at the trees. Look down. There’s a bounty of color at your feet. Here, a black oak leaf landed amidst a bed of pasture rose with leaves more vibrant than any tree in this savanna.*

In the fall at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, don’t just stare up at the trees. Look down. There’s a bounty of color at your feet. Here, a black oak leaf landed amidst a bed of pasture rose with leaves more vibrant than any tree in this savanna.*

 

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, this radiant bush reaching out into the sand prairie is shrubby cinquefoil. In the summer, the plant is undramatic. Like a long, drawnout fireworks display, it releases its arsenal of flowers over a two- to three-month period as one flower explodes over here and another over there. But, in the fall, with foliage burning bright, shrubby cinquefoil goes all out, putting on one of the finest finales of any plant. There’s a lesson here. This fall, spare yourself the stiff neck from staring up at the trees and visit the prairie where you’ll find more color than in any woodland.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, this radiant bush reaching out into the sand prairie is shrubby cinquefoil. In the summer, the plant is undramatic. Like a long, drawnout fireworks display, it releases its arsenal of flowers over a two- to three-month period as one flower explodes over here and another over there. But, in the fall, with foliage burning bright, shrubby cinquefoil goes all out, putting on one of the finest finales of any plant. There’s a lesson here. This fall, spare yourself the stiff neck from staring up at the trees and visit the prairie where you’ll find more color than in any woodland.*

 

Visit Raccoon Grove in the fall for its golden maples and picturesque stream.*

Visit Raccoon Grove in the fall for its golden maples and picturesque stream.*

 

In the fall at Black Partridge Woods, I head to the high vantage point of these bluffs to immerse myself in the intoxicating colors and textures of the tiered foliage. Down below, the creek bed is dry. But when the flow returns, fallen leaves will ride the colorful currents that reflect the radiant dome.*

In the fall at Black Partridge Woods, I head to the high vantage point of these bluffs to immerse myself in the intoxicating colors and textures of the tiered foliage. Down below, the creek bed is dry. But when the flow returns, fallen leaves will ride the colorful currents that reflect the radiant dome.*

 

Autumn is the Chicago area is spectacular, especially along Sawmill Creek in Waterfall Glen in Darien, Illinois.*

Autumn is the Chicago area is spectacular, especially along Sawmill Creek in Waterfall Glen in Darien, Illinois.*

 

As you hike the boardwalk and the narrow sections of the Cowles Bog Trail, you may find yourself glancing down to watch your step. But in the fall, remember to raise your eyes to view the scenery in the skies.*

As you hike the boardwalk and the narrow sections of the Cowles Bog Trail, you may find yourself glancing down to watch your step. But in the fall, remember to raise your eyes to view the scenery in the skies.*

 

My favorite part of Hoosier Prairie State Nature Preserve is the trail that winds beneath the black oaks of the savanna. Here, ferns begin to don the colors of autumn.*

In the September savanna at Hoosier Prairie, ferns begin to change color long before the trees.*

 

At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, acrobatic cinnamon ferns take hold in the soggy ground of Cowles Bog, which is not a bog at all but, rather, a wetland known as a fen.*

At Cowles Bog in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the change to autumn colors begin with the ferns. Here, acrobatic cinnamon ferns take hold in the soggy ground of Cowles Bog, which is not a bog at all but, rather, a wetland known as a fen.*

* Photo is representational and was not recorded this year. Bloom times vary from year to year.

 

If you’d like to help your neighbors discover national-park quality natural events around town, then become an official scout. Or, you can help by just sending us pictures and a text description from your visit. Another way is to post your pictures to Instagram using these essential hashtags: #ChicagoNatureNow and #NameOfPreserve.

Do you find this website useful? Do you benefit from our many hours of weekly scouting? Then please help keep it going by donating or purchasing my nationally-acclaimed book.

—Mike

 

© 2017, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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