By Jeniece Smith
Wisconsin's most enchanting time of the year is the brief but beautiful flood of fall colors across the state, starting in the north around mid-September and ending along the southern border by late October.
Make the most of this spectacular season with our three-part series highlighting optimal camping spots to enjoy peak foliage in northern, central and southern Wisconsin. Before reserving your spot, check our annual Fall Color Report for real-time details from our statewide network of foliage reporters, or text "WI FallTrips" to 468311 to receive alerts.
From the shores of Door County and across Wisconsin's highest peaks in the heartland to the awe-inspiring Mississippi River bordering the other side of the state, here are 11 prime parks and forests in central Wisconsin where you can park your RV or pitch your tent.
The Peninsula Experience
Peninsula State Park, a 3,776-acre Door County treasure jutting out into Green Bay, is the most popular camping spot in the whole state. Maybe it's because of this peninsula-on-a-peninsula's eight miles of cobblestone shoreline rimmed by towering wooded bluffs, which become even more dramatically dazzling when changing fall foliage paints over the landscape.
The Fish Creek park's more than 450 campsites are all within a five-minute walk from the water. Take a hike or bike ride through the quiet wooded trails in the interior, set up a weekend tour of the famed Eagle Bluff Lighthouse on the western shore or lose yourself in the solitude of the adjoining White Cedar Forest State Natural Area.
How about some primitive shoreline camping? Head north and across the Door Peninsula for a rugged experience at Newport State Park, a wooded wilderness paradise with 30 miles of trails and a smattering of backpacking sites along 11 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.
Further down the peninsula along Sturgeon Bay is Potawatomi State Park, which has more than a hundred campsites and a handicap-accessible cabin. The observation tower high above the water is perfect for fall color viewing.
Hit the Highest Points
Speaking of great views, lovers of hilltop vistas will find perfect panoramas from Wisconsin's loftiest summits across the state's midsection. Rising above the magnificently hilly Driftless Area near Ontario is Wildcat Mountain State Park, which offers ridgetop camping and amazing views of the scenically sinuous Kickapoo River Valley.
Another fantastic option is Roch-A-Cri State Park near Friendship, with camping in a dense oak and pine forest – along with the can't-miss highlight of a staircase ascent to panoramic views atop a 300-foot rock outcrop. Be sure to peruse the Native American petroglyphs and pictographs at the craggy mound's base.
Favor views that include sparkling water? Head to Perrot State Park, where the Trempealeau River and Mighty Mississippi meet. You can take it all in from 500-foot bluffs. Or, trek across the state to High Cliff State Park for views of Wisconsin's largest inland body of water, Lake Winnebago.
Early Native Americans considered this gorgeous limestone cliff remnant of the Niagara Escarpment sacred. You can still see the effigy mounds they built today, along with a 12-foot statue that pays tribute to Winnebago Chief Red Bird.
Woodlands and Waterways
If you're a fan of leaf-peeping in the quiet of thick timber, away from all other distractions aside from perhaps a babbling brook, the 68,000-acre Black River State Forest is perfect for you. You can even set up your tent on the shores of the Black River at the rustic East Fork Campground.
Camp right on a tiny island at the confluence of two rivers at Brunet Island State Park, or head further inland to Big Eau Pleine Park, owned by Marathon County and located on a two-mile peninsula densely wooded with sugar maples, yellow birch, red oak, basswood and hemlock.
Don't let the season slip by! Check out our fall color guide for all things autumn, including information on the mix of colors you'll see in different trees and more ideas for enjoying fall foliage.