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Memories of autumn

Enjoy the colors of Kentucky trees

Each October, my senses are literally overwhelmed by brilliant red maple leaves, the bright yellow-golden leaves of hickories—and every color in between. I’m left pondering how in the world nature can concoct such beauty. It’s my favorite month to get outdoors, take to the trails, and watch the show Mother Nature produces, especially in Kentucky, home to a nationally significant diversity of hardwoods.

Shorter days, less sunlight, and cool nights trigger leaves to stop producing the chemical chlorophyll, which gives them their green color. Beautiful fall color begins to appear, which is actually the beginning of the dying process—but in the weeks before the leaves fall, Kentucky’s multitude of tree species look profoundly alive.

Great places to see the splendor of fall include Breaks Interstate Park, which straddles the border of Kentucky and Virginia. From the overlooks, you can look down into a gorge that’s five miles long and 1,650 feet deep. Similar high points overlooking mountainous forests with fall color stretching out for miles can be found at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.

Another canyon system, Red River Gorge, is a favorite autumn destination of mine because of the beautiful reds and oranges against the backdrop of sandstone cliffs and arches.

Three more locations I highly recommend combine the rush of white water and spectacular color: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Rockcastle River, and Cumberland Falls State Resort Park.

City dwellers from Louisville don’t have to go far to spend a colorful fall day on the hiking trails. Dozens of tree species show off a variety of hues at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.

In western Kentucky, the luminosity of autumn breaks out at Pennyrile Forest State Resort Park, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, and along the banks of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Anywhere in Kentucky where there’s an expanse of forest has great potential.

As a general rule, mid to late October is prime time, but Kentucky’s peak color periods can fluctuate, depending on weather conditions. Each year, countless color seekers contact the Kentucky Department of Tourism trying to find out the exact week of peak, prompting the agency to create the ColorFall Program, which evolved into an interactive website. Spotters at state parks across the state feed the most up-to-date color information and upload photos to The popular website also includes information about fun autumn activities and festivals across the state.

So, put on your sweater and join me out there this October. Bring your camera and hiking stick and lose yourself in autumn’s brilliance. Go home with vivid, colorful memories before the gray of winter sets in.


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