Know Before You Go: Fall Color in Wisconsin

Fall color fans: The wait is finally over! As days grow shorter and the weather cools down, Wisconsin is thrilled to welcome one of the most special, scenic times of year to our state.

Wondering where you’ll be able to spot color this fall? Which trees will be the brightest red? It’s all up to Mother Nature, but we’ve done our best to compile the resources, info and tips you need to plan your perfect fall trip.

You asked, so we answered: What do I need to know about fall color in Wisconsin?

How does fall color develop?

Couple Standing Among Trees of Fall Color

Daylight hours and weather conditions are the two major players in fall color development. As sunlight hours wane, trees respond by producing less chlorophyll, causing a medley of yellow, brown and orange leaves to bloom across Wisconsin and beyond. 

Colors, especially reds, thrive in warm days and cool (but not freezing) nights. Severe weather conditions can delay or impact the season’s color – an early frost, strong winds and heavy rain are the biggest culprits.

Different species of trees produce a range of colors: in Wisconsin, you’ll find oaks (red/brown), birch (bright yellow), dogwood (purple/red), poplar (golden yellow) and maple trees (orange/red/yellow) in abundance.

When will the leaves change?

Hike in the woods during fall color

Fall color develops from north to south (cooler to warmer), typically starting in mid-September and going through October. The Wisconsin Fall Color Report is your place to go for timely updates as the season progresses – the report breaks down the percentage of color change county by county, updated regularly by Fall Color Reporters in every corner of the state.

Find the estimated week of peak, descriptions of which hues are where, weather forecasts and photos specific to location, all in one place before adventuring out to experience it for yourself. 

Where can I see fall color in Wisconsin?

Wyalusing Boots

All over! You can find fall color in every region of Wisconsin, from the deep woods of Northern Wisconsin to the rolling hills of the Driftless region. Some of our most scenic destinations are:

Door County
Bursts of color line the shores of Lake Michigan on this popular peninsula. A favorite summer vacation spot, Door County adopts an even more laid back, romantic feeling in the fall. Marvel at the view over a glass of wine on the Door County Wine Trail, or surround yourself with color on a hike through Peninsula State Park.

Great River Road
Wind your way along the Mississippi River for a fall color show atop towering limestone bluffs. You’ll pass through tiny towns and villages like StockholmPepin and Alma along the way, where B&Bs, charming cafés and local artists’ studios fill streets that feel like they’re from another time.

Immerse yourself in autumn foliage on a trip to the Northwoods, where color is just the start of fall’s festivities. Communities like Boulder JunctionBayfieldManitowish Waters and Eagle River host annual fall events to celebrate the season, each with its own unique flavor. Take a hayride, tour a cranberry marsh and snack on caramel apples under a canopy of orange and yellow leaves.

How can I see Wisconsin fall color?

Scenic Drives
Enjoy the best of Wisconsin fall color without leaving the car on one of many scenic driving routes. Cruise the backroads of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest for a tour of Northern color; State Highway 60 is a great option for those looking to stay south; and Wisconsin’s network of rustic roads takes fall beauty off the beaten track.

For more amazing autumn drive suggestions, we’ve compiled the best fall drives in Northern and Southern Wisconsin, as well as three Door County routes you can’t miss.

Train Rides
Climb aboard one of Wisconsin’s historic trains to see fall leaves from a whole new perspective. A fun activity for families with small children, many of the trains offer special autumn-themed rides, complete with colorful scenery and trips to the pumpkin patch. Find out where to ride with these five scenic fall train trips

Take a Hike

Set off on foot to get up-close and personal with the changing leaves. Wisconsin is packed with hiking trails for every interest and skill level, but you can’t go wrong on a visit to a state park – fresh air and fall color abound in parks like PerrotBlue Mound and Wyalusing, all known for their incredible views.

Bird’s Eye View
If “pretty high” just isn’t high enough, take it all the way to the top at some of Wisconsin’s tallest lookout sites. Soak up a 30-mile view from the top of Timm’s Hill, Wisconsin’s highest geographical point; take in the picture-perfect Kettle Moraine State Forest from Holy Hill Basilica; or hop on the Fall Colors Sky Ride, where you’ll soar in a chairlift over the treetops of Rib Mountain State Park.

Browse our calendar of events and fall trip ideas to find more ways to get out and enjoy the season in Wisconsin!

Ready for your next autumn adventure? See real-time, local fall color conditions with Wisconsin's Fall Color Report.

This entry was posted in State Parks & Forests Trails and Hiking