Fall Color in Wisconsin
Autumn in Wisconsin is all about the color … and getting out to see it. Here are eleven fall color driving tours guaranteed to put you in a front row seat for Mother Nature's annual show. Of course, you can always design your own fall driving tour; from urban parks to colorful country roads, Wisconsin is loaded with colorama opportunities throughout the autumn season.
Insider tip: Our Fall Color Report is your guide to peak colors throughout Wisconsin. With 100 fall color reporters providing updates in all 72 counties of the state, no other report is as comprehensive or timely. Find more tips on the best fall drives in Northern and Southern Wisconsin.
Marinette County's Waterfall Tour
Marinette County's Waterfall Tour is a scenic wonder in autumn. Marvel at a series of 14 falls and cataracts throughout this 125-mile loop tour. See one or see them all; make your fall foliage driving tour as long or as short as you want! Half of the falls are located in pleasant county parks with picturesque footbridges and practically-perfect picnic areas.
Marinette County boasts some of the finest whitewater paddling in the Midwest on the Pike, Peshtigo and Pemebonwon Rivers. They run fast and clear through pine and hardwood forests that light up in beautiful fall colors during the autumn season. Their tributaries offer more than 620 miles of excellent trout fishing.
Access the falls via Parkway Road on the west side of the county, or Hwy 141 on the east. Blue "waterfall tour" signs mark the route and help you find some of the more hidden – and lovely – falls.
Insider tip: Try one of these five lodging options along the route, ranging from a yurt to a resort!
Hayward Lakes Area
The Hayward Lakes Area in northwestern Wisconsin has developed six fall color tours ranging from 45-70 miles in Sawyer County. Most of the driving routes traverse portions of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, the Lac Courte Oreilles Indian Reservation, or the Blue Hills vibrant with fall color this time of year. Fall foliage scenic routes are well-marked with numbered signs that incorporate a distinctive leaf-design.
Hayward is one of Wisconsin's prime fall vacation areas, so you'll find plenty of resort accommodations and eateries, as well as world-class fall walleye and musky fishing. The 74-mile Tuscobia State Trail, popular with ATV riders, bisects Sawyer County and offers other fall driving tour options.
Insider tip: Check out ideas for more sightseeing, dining and lodging in this handy guide to fall fun in the Northwoods.
Upper Mississippi River Valley
The Upper Mississippi River Valley is fantastic for scenic fall drives; a broad ribbon of water shouldered by sandstone bluffs daubed in amber and rust. Follow Hwy 35, affectionately known as the Great River Road, from Prescott to Potosi for nearly 250 miles of charming river towns, antique shops, great cafes, and stunning bluff-top views.
Along the way, observation platforms allow you to watch river barges "lock through" at Lock & Dam No. 4 at Alma, No. 6 at Trempealeau, and No. 8 at Genoa. Enjoy three Wisconsin State Parks, a pair of Wisconsin Historical Society sites, terrific walleye and bass fishing, and some of the finest bird watching in the Midwest (they do, after all, call it the "Mississippi Flyway").
Insider tip: Stay at one of these five historic hotels, B&Bs and even a farm along the Mississippi River.
Kewaunee and Door County
Protected by the warming waters of Lake Michigan, the hardwoods of Kewaunee and Door County make for scenic fall drives. You can trace Hwy 42 north from Kewaunee to Gills Rock at the very tip of the Door County thumb (75 miles). On your return fall foliage road trip, follow Hwy 57 down the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula for the "other half" of the Door County experience.
Along the way, enjoy a set of four popular state parks: Potawatomi, Peninsula, Newport and Whitefish Dunes. Beyond those local favorites, you'll want to take in terrific bluff-top views of the lakes, seven picturesque lighthouses, apple orchards to pick-a-peck, and a 20-minute ferry ride to Washington Island. The Door County peninsula is one of Wisconsin's premier fall vacation destinations, so quality accommodations, restaurants, shopping and attractions are always close at hand.
Insider tip: Want to pillow your head on Wisconsin's famed Door Peninsula without emptying your pockets? Try these five charming (and cheap) cabins!
Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway
Fall colors frame the views along the Bayfield Peninsula tour. Start in Ashland at the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center where a wonderful series of exhibits detail the area's regional history and culture.
During your scenic fall driving tour follow Hwy 13 and the Lake Superior shore north to Bayfield, a quaint harbor town with a great fall vacation vibe. Bayfield is also the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore; 21 gem-like coastal islands and 12 miles of mainland that are home to six lighthouses, labyrinthine sea caves, terrific blue-water sailing, and some of the best sea kayaking in the world. You can take a ferry to Madeline Island where you can visit Big Bay State Park and a State Historical Society site.
North of Bayfield, Hwy 13 swings west paralleling Lake Superior's southern shore for forty miles to the Brule River State Forest – 40,000 acres of beautiful fall color, whitewater canoeing, kayaking, camping and trout fishing.
Insider tip: Book one of these five cabins along Hwy 13 on the Bayfield Peninsula!
Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive
The scenic fall drive traverses six Wisconsin counties; from Whitewater Lake in Walworth County north to Elkhart Lake in Sheboygan County. The forests include much of the terminal moraine (where the last great glacier stopped 12,000 years ago) in south-central Wisconsin. There are many places to picnic, hike, camp, bike, swim and fish during your fall foliage road trip.
Marked by distinctive green and white "Acorn" signs, the scenic fall drive ends near Greenbush and the Wade House – an 1844 stagecoach inn operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Insider tip: Extend your visit with a stay at one of these B&Bs near Kettle Moraine State Forest units.
Hilltop Color Tour
A 60-foot observation tower in Rib Mountain State Park near Wausau affords a breathtaking perspective of the Wisconsin River Valley's fall foliage below. The mountain, estimated at one billion years old, is one of the oldest geological features on the planet.
Timm's Hill, near Ogema, is the highest point in Wisconsin – 1,951 feet above sea level. The peak is preserved in Timm's Hill County Park. At its top, an observation tower rises an additional 60 feet for outstanding views of the surrounding forest and its breathtaking fall colors.
One of the best fall foliage drives includes The Highground near Neillsville which occupies a ridge that overlooks colorful hillsides and glacial moraines. It is dedicated as a memorial park with many sculptural tributes to Wisconsin veterans.
Insider tip: Browse these five cabin and cottage rentals along the Hilltop Fall Color Tour route.
Lake Geneva Area
For more than a century, vacationers have come to the Lake Geneva Area in every season. Autumn is particularly delightful here where fall colors abound.
A trio of Wisconsin Rustic Roads (R-11, R-12 and R-36 totaling nearly 20 miles of scenic fall driving) accesses the Lyons State Wildlife Area just northeast of the city. They are easily accessed via Sheridan Springs Road and Spring Valley Road. These quiet country roads traverse glacial Kettle Moraine topography passing through large wooded areas of oak, maple and hickory, as well as old cranberry bogs and the tiny community of Lyons with its several quaint churches. Of course, the Lake Geneva area offers much more for the fall traveler. Enjoy fall color cruises on the lake, championship golf, spa retreats, boutique shopping, a full range of dining and lodging options – even a chance to see the giant telescope at the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay.
Insider tip: Go off the beaten path with a stay at one of these cheap waterfront cottages in the area.
Black River State Forest
The Black River State Forest lies just east of Black River Falls in west-central Wisconsin. Its 68,000 acres accesses some unique geology that makes it a great destination for fall foliage road trips. The forest lies in two lobes; the largest north of Interstate 94, and a smaller lobe to the south. The southern lobe includes Castle Mound. A hike to the top provides colorful fall views of the former bed of glacial Lake Wisconsin, as well as the unglaciated buttes, sandstone hills and castellated bluffs that dot the fall forest landscape.
While driving through the beautiful fall colors, you can access the northern lobe of the forest via North Settlement Road (I-94 exit 128 at Millston). The road sweeps north ten miles to the Dike 17 Wildlife Area. Climb the observation tower there to see the autumn splendor, as well as sandhill cranes, geese, ducks, bobolinks, warblers, harriers, and bald eagles. The forest also offers 98 family campsites, 27 miles of hiking trails, and 33 miles of mountain bike and ATV trails. As a bonus, the Black River Falls area is rich in cranberry bogs, turned red in autumn with the seasonal harvest.
Insider tip: Want to explore more of the Black River State Forest without roughing it? Try one of these five nearby cabins.
Wisconsin River/Baraboo Hills Tour
The Wisconsin River/Baraboo Hills Fall Tour begins in Lodi and heads west on Hwy 113 for five miles to Cty V and Gibraltar Rock County Park (watch for the signs). The climb to the top is steep and not for the faint-of-heart, but the autumn views are truly spectacular. Two miles further on Hwy 113 and you'll cross the Wisconsin River aboard the ColSac III Merrimac carferry – it's free. Hwy 113 then turns north and bisects Devil's Lake State Park – one of Wisconsin most popular parks with terrific views of the fall color from the bluffs above the deep blue lake. Hwy 113 continues into Baraboo where the kids will love a stop at Circus World Museum.
For more fall foliage driving, follow Hwy 12 north seven miles to Fern Dell Road west to Mirror Lake State Park. From there the many amusements of Wisconsin Dells – including autumn boat tours through the carved sandstone bluffs of the Wisconsin River – are just minutes away.
Insider tip: These five cabins along the route are perfect for autumn in the Baraboo Hills.
Dodgeville to Spring Green
The scenic fall drive along Hwy 23 from Dodgeville to Spring Green is one of the most picturesque in southwestern Wisconsin. This 18-mile stretch traverses the hardwood ridges and valleys of Wisconsin's driftless area. During your fall foliage road trip, you can visit a pair of Wisconsin state parks as well as two of the state's top tourism attractions. For additional fall color adventure, take any of the intersecting roads that meander the coulees and echo their history – Norwegian Hollow Road, Hunter Hollow Road, or Percussion Rock Road.
Just outside Dodgeville, Governor Dodge State Park offers 5,000 acres of fun with 270 campsites, 28 miles of hiking trails and a scenic waterfall. Closer to Spring Green, The House on the Rock's daring infinity Room features a 218-foot-long glass walkway that hangs over the autumn splendor of the Wyoming Valley, 156 feet below. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Wisconsin home, Taliesin, is nearby as is Tower Hill State Park.
Insider tip: We've picked five cabins along the route to help you make a vacation out of this picturesque drive!