Florida fall foliage, believe it or not, features brilliant hues and spectacular scenery. The changing colors of leaves in autumn is one of nature’s most beloved rites of passage -- and makes for one of the most popular and inexpensive getaways for families -- even in the Sunshine State. As part of LeafQuest -- a MapQuest series helping leaf peepers across North America find easy and rewarding destinations -- here are three recommended spots for viewing Florida fall foliage. — Lance Gould
Torreya State Park
Torreya State Park -- in the center of Florida's panhandle, just west of Tallahassee -- boasts that its "Forests of hardwood trees provide the finest display of fall color found in Florida." Sure, the competition isn't as stiff as it is in, say, Vermont, but a tour through Torreya's 12,000 acres will still present views of sweetgum, southern sugar maple and sourwood trees in glorious oranges, yellows and reds, complementing the coniferous greens of the Florida torreyas for which the park is named. The Florida torreya -- one of North America’s most critically endangered trees -- is so rare that it is found only on the 150-foot-high bluffs overlooking the Apalachicola River, and there are believed to be only 200 or so left.
County Road 271, Bristol, FL 32321 | Get Directions
Ormond Scenic Loop
Want some dolphins, palm trees and sunny ocean views with your autumn reds, golds and oranges? The Ormond Scenic Loop & Trail is a 30-mile circle along the east coast of northern Florida that cuts through four state parks (including Tomoka State Park), six local parks and 10 miles of up-close-and-personal ocean views. The color is brought to you primarily by pignut hickories and red maples, while canopies of spooky live (read: green) oaks line the route. And when you want a change of scenery from fall foliage, keep your eyes out for humpback and northern right whales and endangered sea turtles. That's autumn, Florida style. Start your quest in Tomoka, which in addition to boasting a hardwood forest with fall foliage is also a safe haven for the West Indian manatee.
1920 N. Beach St., Ormond Beach, FL 32174 | Get Directions
Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park
Fall foliage in Edward Ball Wakulla Prings State Park is more like early-winter foliage, but the leaves of the Florida sugar maple and American beech trees and beautyberry bushes here do change, giving passengers on wildlife-viewing cruises an eyeful of golden yellows and oranges -- and purple fruiting on the beautyberry bushes. River visitors will also get some eye-popping non-foliage sights, including "ancient remains of great furry elephants (mastodons)." The park was also the setting for an old Tarzan film from Hollywood's Golden Age, and, before he passed on, was home to Henry the Pole Vaulting Fish, the world's only trained bass.
465 Wakulla Park Drive, Wakulla Springs, FL 32327 | Get Directions
Torreya State Park on the Apalachicola River
Did we miss a Florida fall-foliage spot? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
Want other great fall-foliage destinations? Check out more LeafQuest.
LeafQuest Special: Read ex-Navy SEAL team leader (and former Floridian) Chuck Pfarrer's take on Michigan foliage.
Interested in more stories about Florida? Go to Patch and scroll the list of states to get great local coverage of your neighborhood.