Fall color occurs when chlorophyll production slows — the result of shorter days. Leaves have red and yellow pigments year round, but the colors are masked by green chlorophyll. Temperature and moisture have some effect but are not the primary influencing factors. The most vivid fall color occurs when there are cool nights and warm, sunny days.
Oaks and hickories are just starting to show their full autumn splendor, following right behind the brilliant colors of maples and ash trees. Douglas County has plenty of scenic views to take advantage of this time of year, but Lecompton resident Jay Lohmann believes the Scenic River Road is the best.
The Scenic River Road travels for the most part alongside the Kansas River from Lawrence to Tecumseh. The area is native forest, and in natural forest succession has reached a point of being filled primarily with oak and hickory trees. The color of the trees, paired with the beauty of rolling hills and the slow churning Kansas River, are a nice break from the city and the highway.
Please travel the road with caution if you choose to enjoy the view. Portions are gravel, and bicyclists and runners also frequently use the road. Dogs occasionally run free, and I have seen a loose cow or two.
Lohmann says the most spectacular portion of the Scenic River Road is close to the Douglas-Shawnee County line.
“As you get closer to Shawnee County, there are wide-open valleys where you can look out,” says Lohmann. “If you get up on any of these hills and look around, it is just spectacular.”
Lohmann also notes that he and his neighbors are used to a little extra traffic this time of year. He often sees cars with out-of-county tags and vehicle models that are rarely seen on gravel roads as others come out to enjoy the beauty of the autumn colors.
To get to the Scenic River Road from Lawrence, travel north on Kasold Drive until it ends at North 1800 Road (often referred to as the Farmers’ Turnpike). Turn left, or west, onto North 1800 Road, then turn right or north onto East 1150 Road. There is a sign designating East 1150 Road as the Scenic River Road.
The eastern section of the River Road crosses Lake View Lake and a set of railroad tracks before turning to parallel the Kansas River. The pavement ends about the time the river finally comes into view.
Through this section, the River Road offers broad windows through the trees to look out on the river and a multitude of sandbars. The road becomes East Seventh Street in Lecompton and eventually intersects with County Road 1029. At this point, turn right onto 1029, then left onto County Road 1023. Once through Lecompton, turn right again, onto East 500th Road.
The western section of the Scenic River Road is Lohmann’s favorite.
If you stay on the Scenic River Road, you will eventually end up in Tecumseh just north of U.S. Highway 40 where you can turn back, or you can continue to Kansas Highway 4 and Topeka.
The primary tree species on the River Road create a range of yellows, golds, reds and rusty brown shades. Virginia creeper and bittersweet vines climb the tree trunks with vivid hues of red and yellow. Native shrubs including coralberry add to the color in the understory.
Lohmann says he didn’t even know about the Scenic River Road until he found the house where he and his wife now reside. Besides the views, Lohmann enjoys seeing how the place has changed over the years and the pride he and his neighbors have in taking care of the area.
“This is just a fabulous place to live,” Lohmann says.