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Fall Colors Abound at Land Between The Lakes

October 31, 2018 | Jessica Perkins

The smell of fall is already permeating the air around Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. Wafts of roasting marshmallows and pumpkin spice are now filling our noses and the cooler temperatures are starting to set in.

If you’re looking for some affordable family fun, or just a day trip getaway with a friend, you’ll find lots of natural treasures to enjoy at the Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area (LBL). Fall is a great time to enjoy these 151,000 acres that are filled with trees of all varieties, from black gums to Virginia Creepers to sumacs and more.

There are lots of great fall colors to take in, from bright shades of red in the black gums, sumacs and Virginia Creepers to the brilliant orange leaves of the sassafras trees.

Tulip poplars and hickory trees display luscious shades of yellow, while the oak trees display various shades of red, brown and russet. If you happen to come upon the maples and sweetgums you’ll find vibrant shades of red, yellow and orange to enjoy there, as well.

“Temperature, light and water supply trigger the natural process that causes leaves to turn from green to the stunning display of colors seen during the fall,” Yvonne Helton, LBL silviculturist says.

“These factors also influence the degree and duration of fall colors. The timing of the color changes varies by species. Black gums and sumacs usually turn first. Tulip poplars, sweetgums, sassafras and maples follow soon after. Oak leaves turn last, long after other species have already shed their leaves.”

For those coming to LBL in the autumn, the leaves begin to change colors around the first part of October. Depending on the type of tree you’re observing, you’ll see minimal signs of changes around the first of the month. By the middle of October, visitors will see an increase in the patches of color until finally by the end of the season the oak leaves begin to turn about the first part of November.

Some favorite fall foliage viewing spots found around Land Between the Lakes include:

  • The Trace runs from Grand Rivers, Kentucky, to Dover, Tennessee. This 45-mile corridor runs north-south through the heart of LBL, making it a popular route for those seeking a scenic view that offers a wide variety of tree species to view.

  • The 2.2-mile hiking trail that wraps around Hematite Lake offers majestic views of tree canopies in all sorts of colors. To view the best variety of fall foliage, you’ll want to walk these trails around the middle of October through the first part of November. The forests located in this area are the closest you will find to “old growth” forests in LBL.

  • Honker Lake is also a great viewing spot for hikers. This 4.5-mile trail offers hikers a variety of sites and sounds to take in. Trees found along the bottomland forest present a canvas of crimson reds, deep yellows, and vibrant orange colors. In addition to vibrant colors, Honker Lake also provides plenty of opportunities to observe wildlife in their natural habitats.

  • If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten track, then LBL Road #174 (the Pryor Creek Area) is a great spot to take in the fall weather and views. This gravel road is located near the KY/TN border in LBL and crosses paths with the Wrangler horse trails. It’s a quiet spot to take in a lot of different trees and to enjoy the scenery of which nature has gifted us.
Whether hiking, biking or paddling through these hardwood forests, visitors to Land Between the Lakes will find hundreds of miles of designated trails, offering picturesque views of the region’s various fall colors. You can also enjoy the fall foliage from the comfort of your vehicle, if that’s your preference.

There is so much natural beauty to take in as you hike along the hiking and bike trails of the Land Between the Lakes. Those who wish to see a different side of these forests should consider taking a canoe or kayak out on the lake waters while the temperatures are still warm enough to enjoy some lakeside views of the fall foliage.

So, grab your favorite fall beverage and a tasty snack from one of the region’s finest shops and bakeries as you enjoy a casual trek along these scenic byways. A trip to Land Between the Lakes will truly satisfy your longing for fall foliage and outdoor recreation.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 23, 2017.

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