The Ozark Mountains, or The Ozarks as they are often called, span across five states in total: Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, and Kansas. Most of the region, however, is within the borders of Arkansas and Missouri, two states favored for their natural beauty, particularly in the fall when the greenery fades, leaving summer behind. Often referred to as "The Natural State," Arkansas’s autumn scenery is especially stunning in September and October, accompanied by the state's abundant natural springs and some of the country's most beautiful state parks. Towns like Eureka Springs have as many as 60 natural fountains, while places like Lakeview grant access to White River State Park.
On the other hand, Missouri features a similar natural splendor when the weather cools, with its impressive cave systems and waterways inviting endless adventure. Towns like Branson and Camdenton both feature their own unique caverns and act as a gateway to a tree-lined river or lake shore, just a short drive–or walk–from the caves. So whether you are hiking an alpine lake trail or traversing the depths of a limestone tunnel, be prepared for the Ozarks to leave you breathless this fall.
Heber Springs, Arkansas
In the heart of Heber Springs, Arkansas, you can find the town's not-so-hidden treasure: 7 natural mineral springs whose waters were once believed to have healing properties. The community’s health resort reputation is now a thing of the past, but what Heber Springs lacks in mystical healing waters, it makes up for in its glorious scenery and nature. While the springs are still a beloved attraction, available for viewing on a stroll through Spring Park, locals will tell you this Ozark Mountain town draws its largest crowds with attractions like Greers Ferry Lake (Arkansas's fourth largest lake) and the Little Red River, whose world-record-breaking trout fishing is especially popular in the fall months during their spawn season, from mid-October through November.
If hiking is more your speed, the hardwood hillsides offer an excellent escape, while hikes like the Collins Creek Trail offer a flatter excursion. The trail is a popular choice in autumn due to the seasonal foliage, and it rewards you early on with a charming waterfall, followed by another 1-mile, creek-side journey toward Little Red River.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Keeping with the town’s name, no visit to Eureka Springs would be complete without strolling the Eureka Springs’ Natural Springs Trail. With over 60 natural fountains scattered throughout the town, the trail not only features a convenient walkway through downtown Eureka, but also allows visitors to take in some of the more pronounced outflows. Popular stops like the Basin Spring (at Basin Spring Park) offer a glimpse into the past, its persisting beauty a reminder of what lured the town’s settlers here so long ago.
But perhaps even more enticing are the town’s surrounding waterways and lakes. To truly see Eureka Springs come to life in the fall, make your way to the bends and shores of the Kings River or White River (one of Arkansas's lengthier waterways), both of which are especially vibrant when the bordering trees take on the colors of autumn. Lake Leatherwood City Park is another favored nature spot, with dazzling fall foliage spread across 1,610 acres; explore the 25 miles of unique wildlife trails, as well as its namesake: Lake Leatherwood, an 85-acre spring-fed pool.
Mountain Home, Arkansas
Another Ozarks town anchored by its scenic waters, Mountain Home is home to over 67,000 acres of combined lake and river, making this alpine town a popular getaway destination year round. Fall, however, takes on an especially spirited atmosphere. Visitors and locals take to the nearby Bull Shoals-White River State Park for their trout fishing and hiking trails, whose views of the White River and Bull Shoals Lake (Arkansas's third largest lake) are especially beautiful with the changing seasons.
To witness the forest’s warm reds and yellows, make sure to visit sometime between September and October, but bear in mind that late October is when the colors are at their peak. Hikes like the Big Bluff Trail are a bit more strenuous but offer excellent views of the fall foliage, with the benefit of a bluff overlooking the White River. This is just one of the countless hikes within the massive 732-acre park.
With so much to see and do, you may find a day at Bull Shoals-White River State Park is not enough time to explore its wonders. In that case, consider reserving one of their 113 riverside campsites for a night (or more) under the stars. Less than 20 minutes northeast from Mountain Home, you will find yourself in Lakeview, a town nestled directly on the scenic shores of Bull Shoals Lake. The State Park is technically located within the town, making Lakeview the ultimate gateway to its splendor.
Although camping at the park is definitely at its busiest during the summer months, Autumn offers the advantage of quieter campgrounds paired with the surrounding amber foliage. Wake up to riverfront views and enjoy the luxury of having time on your side. Without the hassle of the drive in, you can spend the entire day hiking a variety of the park’s paths, including the Lakeside Trail, Heritage and Habitat Trail, and the aforementioned Big Bluff Trail.
Mountain View, Arkansas
With a name like Mountain View, a visit to this secluded mountain town might sound predictable, but the attractions here are anything but common. With thousands of visitors flocking to the picturesque town of Mountain View each year, fall is an especially great time to visit the town’s main attraction: Blanchard Springs Cavern. With the summer crowds thinning, for just $3 USD per day/per vehicle, you can visit the Blanchard Springs Recreation Area, whose impressive limestone caves descend over 200 feet below the earth and can be walked on tours like the Dripstone Trail.
Opened year-round, this 1-hour cave excursion leads you along winding paths through the cave system’s upper level. Like the town’s name, areas like the "Cathedral Room" may sound misleading, as the cave’s "room" extends the length of 3 football fields, its ceilings reaching heights of 100 feet tall. At the end of your journey, once you are back above ground, make sure to check out the spring that formed this very cavern. Pouring from the mountainside, the waterfall glides to the sparkling Mirror Lake, a popular rainbow trout fishing hole and hiking hotspot.
Branson West, Missouri
Heading north from Arkansas and into Missouri, Branson West is another Ozarks town with a mighty cave system: the Talking Rocks Cavern. The attraction is open year-round, offering walkable cave tours for all ages, making this a great family-friendly fall activity. The cave remains at a constant 63 degrees, even when the weather cools. Tickets are available for purchase on-site, on a first-come, first-served basis, and the 1-hour tour is equally educational as it is astonishing. It guides you below the earth into the main area of the cavern, a 225-foot-long space with a 100-foot tall ceiling, offering awe-inspiring views of the living crystal cavern formations.
Back above ground, if you find yourself craving wide open air, drive about 20 minutes southwest of Branson West to breathe in the sights of the man-made Table Rock Lake, one of Missouri's most beautiful natural attractions. Experience part of the 800 miles of shoreline and its encircled forested hillsides on popular paths like the Table Rock Lakeshore Trail, an easy, paved lakeside stroll that hikers flock to every fall.
Like Branson West, Camdenton, Missouri, is another mountain town rich with caverns and scenic waters, with the convenient bonus of both being side-by-side. You can find the Bridal Cave and Thunder Mountain Park settled right on the shores of the Niangua Arm, a wide, majestic river-like waterway forming part of the Lake of the Ozarks. The views in fall might tempt you to stay above ground, but the caverns are equally stunning down below.
The guided cavern tours are famous for their remarkable draperies and soda straw formations, which is why thousands of visitors flock to Bridal Cave every year. The cave is rated one of America’s most scenic caves; compared to other caverns across the country, Bridal Cave offers the most formations per square foot. Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins, just south of the town, is another popular stop that offers some of the most spectacular fall views in the Ozarks. So, if you are on the hunt for a unique fall experience, with fantastic sights above ground and below, Camdenton beckons with the promise of both.
From Arkansas’s plethora of natural springs to Missouri’s abundance of unique caverns, the Ozarks invite adventure at every turn, and every altitude or depth. Whether you are hiking Little Red River or Bull Shoals Lake, autumn in the Ozarks is a unique and lively experience, sometimes attracting larger groups with the allure of fall foliage, and other times, offering a humbler, quieter atmosphere, perfect for those looking to experience the serene sights in seclusion. In any case, the Ozarks region draws its visitors with the promise of endless sights and experiences, for any traveler looking to embrace the beauty of the changing seasons.