Columbia, Mo. – Mid-Missouri in the fall is a breathtaking sight. The state’s hardwoods put on a colorful show providing visitors many great vantage points and fun ways to take in the splendor of the season during a getaway to Columbia.
“Fall is definitely my favorite season, and the opportunities that Columbia offers during this time of year are wonderful,” says Megan McConachie, strategic communication manager for the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. “If you love fall colors, places like Rock Bridge and Finger Lakes state parks and Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area all offer the perfect chance to get outside and enjoy the fall foliage. Plus, with plenty of places in and around Columbia offering outdoor dining with locally-sourced fall ingredients, getting fresh fall air can be a culinary adventure as well.”
The peak of the fall colors in Central Missouri typically occurs in mid- to late-October when the maples, ashes, oaks and hickories are at the height of their fall display. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the peak season varies from year to year depending on the weather and can last until early November.
“There’s going to be splendid fall color this year for the maples and oaks,” says Ann Koenig, forester with Missouri Department of Conservation.
Following are some of the most popular activities and attractions for fall leaf peepers.
Hiking, biking or strolling along Columbia’s celebrated trails, the MKT Nature & Fitness Trail and Katy Trail, are a must for many visitors and locals alike. The nine-mile MKT begins in downtown Columbia at Flat Branch Park and concludes at Hindman Junction near McBaine where it connects with the 240-mile long Katy Trail State Park. The Katy Trail, Missouri’s longest and skinniest state park, runs along Columbia’s western border and offers views of the changing colors against an impressive backdrop of limestone bluffs that run along the Missouri River.
Les Bourgeois Vineyards, located along the Katy Trail in the quaint and tiny town of Rocheport about 20 miles west of Columbia, offers a stunning panoramic view of the countryside along the Missouri River from the large picture windows of the Blufftop Bistro and sprawling decks of the A-Frame. Both venues offer outdoor dining. Patrons also can celebrate the season by purchasing bottles of some of the state’s best wines, which are produced on location. Rocheport is a great stop for cyclists as Rocheport is the original Katy Trail town and home to the only railroad tunnel on the trail. The Meriwether Cafe and Bike Shop greets cyclists right as they enter the town for a stop for refreshments and outdoor dining. However, no bikes are necessary to visit this town as autumn adventurers can enjoy the drive to Rocheport either off of I-70 or on the scenic backroads. Once in Rocheport, choices of excellent locally-owned dining options, bed and breakfasts and boutique stores that await a traveler’s arrival.
Columbia’s two state parks, Rock Bridge Memorial and Finger Lakes, offers fans of fall looking for a fun adventure the chance to walk, hike and paddle (at Finger Lakes) among the colorful reds, yellows and oranges of the surrounding hardwoods.
Rock Bridge Memorial offers nine walking/hiking trails that vary in length from 1.5 miles to 6.6 miles. The most popular are the boardwalk sections of Devil’s Icebox Trail and Connor’s Cave Trail. The longer and more rugged Gans Creek Wilderness Trail offers scenic overlooks at Coyote Bluff and Shooting Star Bluff.
At Finger Lakes, hikers can spend time on the 2.4-mile Kelley Branch Trail, which traverses up and down along the Kelley Branch Stream. Highlights of this trail, which also accommodates mountain bikers, are a picturesque waterfall and the remains of an old coal mine bridge harkening back to the park’s origin as a strip mine. Finger Lakes also offers the opportunity to enjoy the vibrant colors from the water on the two connecting Aquatic Trail arms, each about two miles long. Kayak, lifejacket and paddle rentals are available at the park for those looking to spend time on the water.
Other notable spots for partaking of the colors of autumn are Cooper’s Landing Riverside Resort and Marina to the southwest of town; Peace Park near the University of Missouri campus; Stephens Lake Park near downtown Columbia; Capen Park in the Grindstone Nature Area in southern Columbia; Shelter Gardens in western Columbia; the Mizzou Botanic Garden, which comprises the entire University of Missouri campus; and the city’s conservation areas – Three Creeks, Eagle Bluffs and Rocky Fork.
Additionally, visitors to Columbia have their choice of dining options and night life that also offer outdoor seating and/or green spaces for fresh air and social distancing while enjoying their delicious dinners and tasty beverages. Columbia features over 150 restaurants and “The District,” Columbia’s historic downtown, is home to more than 95 of those restaurants, cafes, nightspots and other places to grab a bite to eat or a refreshing drink. Visitors to Columbia will find there’s cuisine to suit all tastes and budgets as elegant eateries share the spotlight with pizza parlors and burger joints.
This is a just a sample of some of Columbia’s unique and enjoyable autumn activities and attractions. For more information on parks, conservation areas, dining options or other ways to enjoy autumn around Columbia, visit the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau‘s website at www.VisitColumbiaMO.com.
STAYING SAFE IN COLUMBIA
Please note that the City of Columbia is currently under an ordinance requiring face coverings while in public. While planning your outdoor adventures in Columbia, be sure to check the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website for the most current, up-to-date safety protocols in place to protect against COVID-19 to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit for everyone.