TROY MILLS — It’s autumn. Now’s the time to catch best foliage of 2016.

These next couple of weeks are my favorite of the year, and below are a few ideas to get the most out of the season.

I had a four-day break scheduled around last weekend and unexpectedly wound up with a lot of free time on my hands thanks to the social lives of two teenagers. I’m still coming to grips with that.

My hope to get out of town for a few days were dashed by a birthday, cross country practices and a homecoming dance.

It turned into a relaxing stay-cation and was quite enjoyable. I took a fresh look at places I’ve been and others I hadn’t for day trips.

It turned out the days off unintentionally lined up as the autumn leaves began popping and I found some of the best spots in Eastern Iowa to take it in.

I rented a Wenonah 16-foot canoe from University of Iowa’s Outdoor Rental Center on Friday evening and held onto it for the weekend (

My wife and I zipped up to Lake Macbride to catch the sunset, but arrived just as the sun was going down. Instead of paddling in the dark, we hiked out to the spillway between the lake and Iowa River.

The glow of the sun slowly faded behind the trees to the west as the moon and stars took over.

The next morning we got up at sunrise and headed back to the lake. We put in at the boat ramp on the University of Iowa field campus, Macbride Nature Recreation Area.

The overnight had dipped to 37 degrees, and it was still chilly as we started rowing. Steam rolled off the water. A couple of early fishermen were already out, quietly casting their lines. Hot coffee, stocking caps, fleece gloves and coats offset the coolness until we could feel the heat of the day.

The sun highlighted the first hints of the fall pallete on the tall oaks and maples lining the banks. We eased around the shores admiring the lake houses and waterfront decks.  

On Sunday, I got in an afternoon 20-mile bike ride from Cedar Rapids to Ely on the Cedar River Trail for the We Are CR 2016 bike ride to help businesses that suffered during the 2016 flood.

I spent more than I care to admit on popcorn from the Great American Popcorn Co., and paid my first visit to Lucky’s on 16th and Sykora Bakery as well as the Sag Wagon.  

Where the trail emerges from tree cover, you could see the leaves starting to change. That was most noticeable down near 76th Avenue SW, Wright Brothers Boulevard and into Ely.

My highlight of the weekend, though, was my first-ever canoe trip on the Wapsipinicon River.

Weeks ago I had flagged a fall float put on by Linn County Conservation as something I wanted to do.

I missed the organized float, but went anyway. With a bit of arm twisting from my wife and I, the kids joined us as we set out for just below the Troy Mills dam with the intent to paddle 13 miles to Pinicon Ridge County Park in Central City, just above the next dam (

I borrowed a kayak from a friend. My son, who’s older, mostly captained the kayak, and my daughter took a turn for a few miles.

The other three of us rode in the canoe. I have a short lawn chair lounger, which I won at the American Legion years ago, that fits perfectly in the middle position. That person can either row or more often nap and fetch food and drinks. A few bald eagles soared above, occasionally stopping to observe us perched in the highest branches. Cottages pop up on the waterside periodically. While not over populated, it’s not exactly remote either.

Towering trees line the Wapsi’s banks. Green leaves still dominate the scenery, but plenty of yellow showed through and also dashes of red. That’s what leads me to think next weekend and the weekend after will be the peak of foliage.       

We didn’t put in until 2:30 p.m., and we didn’t want to paddle in the dark so we rowed steadily and didn’t stop much.

I estimated it would take about four hours, going three miles an hour. The river still is flowing faster than normal, which helped our pace. We made it to Pinicon by 5:50 p.m.