Color your world

Above the Grove Portage Trail at the River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook, the canopy of trees was taxicab yellow. With the sun pouring down from above, the colors glowed.

Beneath them, we walkers gaped at the view, pointed our cameras and counted ourselves lucky.

It was the same on the adjacent multiuse trail, where sections are bordered by carpets of maple saplings.

"It looks like the whole area is ablaze," said Jerry Maflin, who walks his dogs here. "I mean, it's gorgeous."

There has been a lot of gorgeousness going around, and even last week's particularly riotous fall beauty doesn't spell the end.

The transformation of fall foliage is a progressive event, and there are still trees waiting for their close-up. Oak trees are late color-changers, and white oaks are just beginning to turn wine purple, said Ed Hedborn, manager of plant records at the Morton Arboretum. Red maples and some pin oaks could be brilliant scarlet red into the first week of November.

And this year's colors have been quite good, he said. Though the summer's drought left some trees with less intense color, he said, other trees were watered or benefited from a passing shower at a crucial time and have put on an impressive autumn display.

As for the best places to catch the show, "it's actually pretty simple," said Barbara Wood, deputy director of natural resources at the Chicago Park District. "Wherever there are trees."

Still, she has favorites. She recommends the lakefront, on both the North Side and South Side, and the city's large parks.

"Particularly those that have lagoons," she said. "You have good fall color and the reflection in the water; you double the effect." Jackson Park, Washington Park, Garfield Park, Humboldt Park and Columbus Park would all make fine places for a fall walk, she said.

Susan Holt, director of the River Trail Nature Center, touts the drama of its basswoods and sugar maples.

"People go to Vermont to see sugar maples, when we've got them right here," she said.

The sugar maple, whose fiery oranges and reds make it an autumn star, grows in flood plains like the east side of the Des Plaines River, she said. And basswoods, which are among tree species that can't produce red pigment, are known for their bright yellows.

At the Morton Arboretum, Hedborn recommends the maple collection and the sugar maple-rich native woodlands on both the east side and the west side's Lake Marmo. For later-changing trees, he suggests the oak collection.

"A lot of the white oaks look pretty good," he said. "I'm seeing some yellow, some purple, some wine color as well as a little brown. It's a real interesting mix."

Jerry Adelmann, president of Openlands, recommended four spots, each with its own distinctive look:

•Glacial Park in McHenry County: "It's large, they have a wonderful trail system. There are savannas, forest and open areas ... and the ancient oaks are really gorgeous."

Ryerson Woods in Riverwoods, a Lake County forest preserve that is also one of my favorites: "It's just a classic," Adelmann said, with an area that is an Illinois Nature Preserve and one of the highest-grade forests in the region.

•Openlands' Lakeshore Preserve and Lake County's adjacent Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve near Highland Park. Located on Lake Michigan on the former Army base, it offers ravines, oak groves and dramatic lake views from a high bluff.

Adelmann's fourth choice is another of my favorites, the Palos preserves, the largest contiguous piece of land in the Cook County forest preserve system.