Published: March 30, 2023
By: Adam Burns
Due to the state's breathtaking Ozark Mountains, Missouri is one the best locations in the southern Midwest to view the fall foliage. There is currently one official location in Missouri offering train rides during the autumn season, the Branson Scenic Railway.
In addition, you can ride the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad just across the border in northwestern Arkansas. They host an official "Fall Foliage Train" in climate controlled cars. It is a very popular event!
Missouri's Ozark Mountains cover an area of about 47,000 square miles. Its is known for its natural beauty, scenic drives, and outdoor recreational opportunities.
One of the main attractions here are the rivers, creeks, and lakes, ideal for fishing, boating, and other water-based activities. There are several lakes in the region, including Table Rock Lake, Lake of the Ozarks, and Bull Shoals Lake. These lakes offer opportunities for swimming, boating, fishing, and other water-based activities.
Another popular attraction are caves, notably the Fantastic Caverns, Onondaga Cave, and Meramec Caverns. These caves offer unique experiences and educational opportunities for tourists.
Aside from train rides, other popular locations to view the fall foliage in Missouri includes:
Katy Trail State Park: This 225-mile rail/trail that runs from Clinton to Machens. Most of this corridor is the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad's main line to St. Louis later abandoned under successor Union Pacific. During the fall months, the trail is surrounded by trees in a riot of colors, making it an ideal spot for a leisurely walk or bike ride. The trail is also home to several small towns that offer charming cafes and bed-and-breakfasts for those looking to stay overnight.
Lake of the Ozarks: Located in central Missouri, the lake’s shoreline is dotted with trees that turn vibrant shades of red and orange during the fall months. Visitors can enjoy scenic drives along the lake or take a boat tour to see the foliage up close.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park: This state park is situated within the Ozark Mountains. It covers 3,700 acres and is home to several hiking trails that wind through forests of oak and hickory trees, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding hills and valleys.
Mark Twain National Forest: This national forest is situated in southern Missouri and covers over 1.5 million acres. It is home to several scenic drives and hiking trails that offer beautiful views of the fall foliage. Visitors can also enjoy fishing, camping, and other outdoor activities while taking in the natural beauty of the park.
Weston Bend State Park: Located in western Missouri, Weston Bend State Park is a small park that offers stunning views of the Missouri River and the surrounding hills. During the fall months, the park’s trees turn brilliant shades of red and orange, making it an ideal spot for a picnic or a leisurely hike.
(Branson): A true tourist attraction in every sense, Missouri's most popular train excursion hosts 40-mile round trips over short line freight carrier Missouri & North Arkansas through the heart of the Ozark Mountains.
Some of Branson's other attractions, which draws hundreds of thousands each year, include live shows, country music stars, rollercoasters, Ferris wheels, cruises, and much more.
The Branson Scenic Railway does not offer dedicated fall foliage trips but their regular excursions and dinner trains continue through the autumn season offering the chance to see the Ozarks ablaze in color.
Trains depart from the restored wooden depot, originally completed by the White River Railway in 1905 (which later joined Missouri Pacific), located in the downtown district; from this point your journey will head either south to Self or north to Galena; both feature bridges, tunnels, and endless scenery through the rugged mountains.
The trip is regarded as one of America's top excursions and for good reason; in addition, at 40 miles it is also one of the longest.
If you are in Branson, you may wish to take advantage of the many other attractions located there besides the train. These include: