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Statewide Homegrown 2

The Best Trees for Fall Colors in Arkansas


Fall is finally here, and many Arkansans and visitors to the state consider this the best time of year to visit. It’s hard to beat a drive down one of Arkansas’s many scenic highways while taking in the bright reds, yellows and oranges of the changing leaves. Arkansas is lucky to have many deciduous trees, whose leaves turn different colors in the fall and then drop from the trees. Which trees in Arkansas produce the most color? If you’re ready for amazing fall colors, read on.

Photo by Virens (Latin for greening) via Fllickr.

Sugar Maple

Sugar maples are towering trees that can reach up to 100 feet. They carry the traditionally shaped maple leaf present in the Canadian flag and on many bottles of maple syrup. While most sugar maples are in Canada and the northern United States, their range does extend into northern Arkansas, and the trees can be found especially in the Ozark Mountain region. While their leaves are a light green during the spring and summer, in the fall, they hit vibrant hues of red, orange, and even yellow. The disparity in color comes from three different types of pigment within sugar maple leaves. This allows the leaves to produce different colors depending on sunlight. In the shade, the leaves will be yellow, while in sunlight, they’ll turn bright red. Those trees that get some sun will display a lovely shade of orange.

Fall color at Mount Magazine State Park. Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism.

Red Maple

Maple trees are easy to identify with their distinctive points at the tips of the leaves. The Red Maple is known by other names, too, like scarlet maple, Carolina Red and water maple. They are tall, beautiful trees often planted for shade but also renowned for their fall foliage when their leaves turn a deep red. These maples grow 60 to 90 feet and are abundant across the eastern half of the U.S., including the entire state of Arkansas.

Japanese Maple

Japanese maple trees are popular choices for landscaping around homes. They are relatively small trees, growing to a full height of 15 to 20 feet. They grow quickly, so once planted, you can look forward to having a good-sized tree in a few years. Japanese maples hold their leaves and colors until later in the fall, when most trees have already changed colors and dropped their leaves. Then their smaller leaves reward patient watchers with a deep red color as the last sign of fall.

Black Gum

Black Gum trees are also called Tupelos, an adaptation of the Creek name for the tree. They are slow-growing trees that reach a height of 50 to 60 feet. Black gums are unique in that they are often the only tree of their kind in the area. You’ll see them standing solo in fields or backyards. They are some of the first to change colors in the fall, turning red in late September and early October.

Sweet Gum

Sweet Gum is the commonly known name for Liquidambar. It is a large tree that can reach up to 150 feet. It is prominent across the South and well known for the seeds it drops in the form of large, prickly balls, typically called gumballs. Its leaves are star-shaped, and while many may not like the mess these gumballs make when they drop from the tree, the reward in the fall is a beautiful mix of yellow and red leaves, and sometimes even purple, depending on how much sun the tree gets during the year.

Falling Water Falls near Sand Gap in the Ozark National Forest. Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism.

White Oak

White Oak is one of the dependable fall trees. It produces a ruddy red foliage every fall, sometimes even reaching maroon in color. White Oak leaves have five to nine “fingers” that are rounded at the tips, unlike pointy maple leaves. White Oaks grow up to 80 feet and also produce large acorns. They are long-lived, sometimes producing red leaves for more than 500 years.

Hickory tree leaves near Pedestal Rock in Pelsor. Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism.

Mockernut Hickory

There are many Hickory species in Arkansas. These trees are easy to separate from others by noting their tear-shaped leaves. They all produce yellow leaves during the fall and make up many of the yellows splashed across the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains and other parts of the state. The Mockernut is a tall tree, sometimes reaching 100 feet, and is found mainly in the Ozark region of the state. Its leaves turn a golden yellow every fall.

Sumac berries on the Ozark Highlands Trail. Photo by OakleyOriginals via Flickr.

Fragrant Sumac

Fragrant Sumac is a shrub native to Arkansas, unlike some other Sumac varieties. It grows low to the ground, often under large trees like Oaks and Hickories, and can sometimes be mistaken for poison ivy. You can tell it apart from poison ivy because it lacks the telltale red vine of poison ivy and has smaller leaves. While this shrub often goes unnoticed during the summer, in the fall, it turns shades of orange and red that draw the eye to its leaves near the ground.

Crape Myrtle

Crape Myrtle is another shrub that can grow taller than most shrubs, sometimes reaching 40 feet. These trees are not native to Arkansas, but they can now be found across the state as well as the South. They are drought-resistant and grow best in heat and humidity. They are susceptible to colder temperatures, though. In the fall, their small, tear-shaped leaves are some of the last to change color, producing a range of yellow, orange and red on the same plant, which gives it a nice flame effect.


The Dogwood is an Arkansas favorite and a native tree. It is well-known for its early blooms in spring, but the dogwood also puts on a show in fall. They can be large shrubs or grow into small trees, and they’re usually found clustered together. Dogwoods produce red berries in the fall that last through winter. Their small leaves transform from green to orange and red during fall, making these shrubs and small trees stand out.

Fall in the Buffalo National River area. Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Heritage, Parks and Tourism.

Despite a hot, dry year, fall is here in Arkansas, and the changing of the leaves is one of the best times to be in the Natural State. You can find fall foliage across the state, but it starts sooner in the north than in the south. The peak of foliage begins after mid-October and runs into the first week in November. If you’re looking for some wonderful drives to see the leaves this year, check out the Ultimate NWA Fall Color Guide or the Top 8 Fall Color Road Trips in Arkansas. While you’re driving, hiking, watching football or simply working in the yard or looking out the kitchen window, enjoy these brief moments of color in Arkansas this fall.

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Kimberly S. Mitchell loves journeys, real or imagined. She has hiked the Inca Trail, walked into Panama on a rickety wooden bridge and once missed the last train of the night in Paris and walked several miles home (with friends). She believes magic can be found in life and books, loves to watch the stars appear, and still dreams of backpacking the world. Now she writes adventures to send her characters on journeys, too. Pen & Quin: International Agents of Intrigue - The Mystery of the Painted Book is her debut novel. Find out more at KSMitchell.com.

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2 responses to “The Best Trees for Fall Colors in Arkansas”

  1. […] maple trees, which found their way to the cemetery thanks to members of the Twentieth Century Club. Sugar maples are known for their striking fall foliage, transforming the landscape into a mesmerizing sea of […]

  2. […] The Best Trees for Fall Colors in Arkansas […]

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