Fall is my favorite season; I love the cooler temperatures and crisp air – and I especially look forward to the leaves changing each year!
And, even though northeast Ohio isn’t generally famous as a top spot to go leaf-peeping, anyone who lives in the area can tell you that we get some excellent color displays. (But shhh, let’s keep it between us, yes?)
Why do leaves turn color?
Deciduous trees loose their leaves each year during the fall – but why? Well, there’s a simple scientific answer: the cooler weather and less sunlight cause the leaves on trees to stop producing chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is what “feeds” the leaves and makes them green, so when it’s no longer being produced, the leaves begin to die and other colors start to show through.
Fall colors cover a wide spectrum, ranging from yellow to orange to red to purple to brown. Different trees will show different colors, and weather also plays a role in what a fall color display might look like.
Hot and dry springs/summers can lead to a shorter (and sometimes “duller”) fall color season. On the other end of the spectrum, early frosts in the fall can also dampen colors as they’re developing. The ideal weather for popping fall colors is a wet spring, a not-too-dry summer, and an early fall with warm sunny days and cool (but not too cold) nights.
But, honestly? Even in “bad” fall color years, the forests in the Cleveland area still look pretty great in the fall!
When can I see fall colors this year?
Fall color in the Cleveland area generally peaks in the second half of October. The exact dates vary year to year based on weather patterns, but the latter half of the month is usually a safe bet to go leaf-peeping.
In 2021, the week of October 18 is predicted to be peak fall color time in northern Ohio. (Though above-average temperatures in early October could delay peak color slightly.)
The best places to see fall color near Cleveland
There’s no shortage of places to see incredible fall colors in and around Cleveland, whether you want to hike, bike, or drive to see the changing leaves.
Here are my top 5 places to see great fall colors:
1. Rocky River Reservation
Just a short drive from downtown Cleveland, Rocky River Reservation always has excellent fall color. This Cleveland Metropark follows the Rocky River from Berea all the way to Lake Erie as it cuts through shale cliffs and various forests.
You’re bound to see great fall colors all throughout this park, but my personal favorite places to visit are:
Fort Hill Loop Trail
Located near the Rocky River Nature Center, Fort Hill is reached by climbing the 155 Fort Hill Stairs, which take you up to a trail that loops through a beautiful forest and offers up views of a gorge and the Rocky River below.
The stairs aren’t as daunting as they look, and the views from the trail are so great in the fall – so don’t let the steps deter you!
Berea Falls Scenic Overlook
Another of my favorite spots is Berea Falls, a little bit further south in the park. An overlook gives you a beautiful view of a multi-tiered waterfall and some arched stone bridges, and you can hike right down to the river for more views.
The forest here is usually awash in bright yellows during the fall.
2. Bedford Reservation
Bedford Reservation is probably my favorite Cleveland Metropark, simply because it’s large and there’s a lot to see! The park features a deep gorge that was carved out by Tinker’s Creek (the largest tributary to the Cuyahoga River), along with dense forested areas and even some mountain biking trails.
My top spots to go leaf-peeping are:
Tinker’s Creek Gorge Scenic Overlook
This overlook along Gorge Parkway in Walton Hills offers up spectacular views of Tinker’s Creek Gorge, which has been listed as a National Natural Landmark since 1967. The fall colors are stunning here, and the great news is that you can drive right up to this lookout; no hiking required!
Great Falls of Tinker’s Creek
If you’re up for an easy hike, then you need to head to Viaduct Park in the northeastern corner of Bedford Reservation. Here you can hit the half-mile trail that leads you to various viewing areas of the Great Falls of Tinker’s Creek, which is one of my favorite waterfalls near Cleveland.
You can walk right down to the river if you want, and enjoy the views of the falls, as well as remnants of a saw mill, grist mill, power plant, and a viaduct that carried trains over the creek.
3. North Chagrin Reservation
Located east of Cleveland, North Chagrin is a smaller Cleveland Metropark – but it still packs a punch in the fall. There are several nice trails here leading to scenic lakes and wetlands, along with a nature center, a waterfall, and even a castle.
Squire’s Castle is actually an old gatehouse from the 1890s (so there’s not much to see inside), but it makes an excellent backdrop for fall photos.
4. Holden Arboretum
Located a little further east than North Chagrin Reservation, Holden Arboretum in Kirtland is an amazing place to visit during the fall months. Not only can you stroll through the different gardens to see what’s in bloom, but you can also walk among the treetops on the Murch Canopy Walk, and get above them by climbing the Kalberer Emergent Tower.
Holden Arboretum is the only spot on this list that isn’t free to visit; you do need a timed ticket to visit, which you can purchase up to 2 weeks in advance here.
5. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Lastly, we can’t talk about fall without mentioning our very own national park, Cuyahoga Valley. This free national park has miles of beautiful forests and trails to enjoy during the fall.
Some things I highly recommend seeing/doing during peak color include:
The Ledges Trail at Virginia Kendall Ledges is, in my opinion, the best hiking trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It’s a 2.2-mile-long moderate loop trail that takes you through the forest and past some amazing sandstone rock formations. If you hike the trail going counter-clockwise, you’ll end at an overlook with fabulous views out over the forest (it’s a popular sunset spot).
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
If you want to experience fall in the national park in a unique way, you might consider booking a seat on one of the “Fall Flyer” routes of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. These 2-hour tours run on weekends through October from either Rockside Station or Akron Northside Station. Tickets cost $20-$30 per person.
Szalay’s Farm & Market
And okay, this one doesn’t really involve fall colors, per se, but Szalay’s is a fall staple in CVNP. You can head to this farm market to pick out a pumpkin, or to try out their 3-acre corn maze. It’s also close to other points of interest in the park, like the Everett Road Covered Bridge, which is a popular spot for fall photos.
Honorable mention: Lake View Cemetery
If you’ve read this blog before, then you’ll know that I’m a really big fan of Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland’s 150+ year old, European-inspired cemetery. Some big names are buried here (like John D. Rockefeller and President James A. Garfield), and the cemetery was designed to be garden-like – meaning it’s filled with trees.
Along with going to spot fall colors here, you can also snap a photo of the famous Angel of Death Victorious (AKA the Haserot Angel), which seems appropriate during Spooky Season.
Where is YOUR favorite spot to look for fall colors in and around Cleveland?
Amanda was born and raised in northeast Ohio, and has always been a fangirl of the state. Now, she wants to share her love of Cleveland with the world, highlighting all the best things to do, see, and eat in the CLE. She’s been running Cleveland Traveler since January 2019.