Wisconsin explodes in vibrant colors every fall, making it a great place for leaf-peeping. Not surprisingly, many of the best spots to drink in these incredible fall colors are our state parks. Here are five that offer impressive fall foliage displays, plus some unique attractions.
Rocky mesas, buttes and pinnacles abound in Mill Bluff, a park that sprawls across Interstate 90/94. Its scattered bluffs, which range in height from 80 to more than 200 feet, stand sentinel above lush forestland, creating a striking scene. So striking, that early settlers used the bluffs as landmarks as they headed west.
The most popular viewing spot is atop Mill Bluff. Climb to the summit via 223 stone steps, built in the 1930s, then head to the viewing platform. Here, you'll be treated to sweeping views of the park, including several other rock formations. Make sure to drive across Interstate 90/94 to the other side of the park, where you can hike through the forestland on two short trails.
Natural Bridge offers four miles of hiking trails that wind through oak woods and native prairie, which in fall means a color palette ranging from subdued coppery tones on up to intense reds and yellows. But its star attraction is a massive sandstone arch, which is beautifully enhanced by the stunning fall foliage.
The arch stretches 25 feet wide and 15 feet tall, making it the largest natural bridge in Wisconsin. This magnificent formation was sculpted through wind erosion and includes a sprawling rock shelter at its base. Research, including radiocarbon assay and excavation, shows humans visited and lived here starting some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, when Wisconsin's last ice sheets began to melt.
Named after Wisconsin's first governor, Nelson Dewey, this small park was once part of Dewey's estate. The park is snugged against the stately bluffs lining the Mississippi River and contains five hiking trails. All are less than a mile, and meander through stands of hardwood, native prairie and atop a 500-foot bluff, where expansive views of the Mississippi await. During the fall, the spectacular colors, coupled with the powerful river, create an extraordinary vista.
In addition to offering splendid scenery, the park is home to three groups of Native American burial mounds and Stonefield, a state historic site that includes a recreated 1900-era farming village, Dewey's home site and the State Agricultural Museum.
Enjoy Wisconsin's vivid fall colors from the top of 300-foot Roche-a-Cri, a mound affording eye-popping views of the countryside. The mound is actually a Cambrian sandstone island that once stood in Glacial Lake Wisconsin, a massive body of water dating to the last Ice Age. Just as impressive, the mound's base is decorated with an abundance of petroglyphs and pictographs, which attract scores of visitors.
Once you've had your fill of the foliage and rock art, check out the park's six-plus miles of hiking trails, which showcase stands of oak, pine and maple, plus a restored prairie. If you're lucky, you'll spy the vultures that often soar between Roche-a-Cri and Friendship Mound, a half-mile south.
Home to Straight Lake, the Straight River, Rainbow Lake and numerous ephemeral ponds, there's no shortage of water in this park to beautifully mirror the outstanding annual fall foliage display. Take in its autumnal splendor by hiking on the challenging trail that unspools past Rainbow Lake. Or follow the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, which winds several miles through the park, unveiling prime views at every turn.
Keep an eye out for the park's glacial tunnel channel, considered the most impressive in the Midwest. (Tunnel channels form when pressurized water flowing under a glacier cuts a channel into the earth.) And don't miss the park's diverse wetland complex showcasing hardwood swamp, sedge meadow and alder thicket. Many visitors catch glimpses of Straight Lake's abundant wildlife, which includes bald eagles, trumpeter swans and river otter.
Experience more great fall color in Wisconsin on these scenic drives.