11 Scenic Drives to Experience Fall in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s Fall Color is Spectacular

Autumn in Wisconsin is all about the color. Whether on back country roads or in leafy urban parks, the beauty that emerges each year is so breathtaking that you’ve got to see it to believe it. These 11 vivid fall color driving tours put you and your crew in the front row seat for Mother Nature's annual show. Start with these suggestions and feel free to design your own fall road trip through the state. Color-spotting opportunities are waiting for you, your friends and your family around every turn — take a look! 

Insider tip: Our Fall Color Report is your interactive guide to peak colors throughout Wisconsin. With 100 fall color reporters providing updates in all 72 counties of the state, no other resource is as comprehensive or timely. 

Marinette County's Waterfall Tour

Marinette County’s Waterfall Tour is a scenic wonder, especially in autumn. Marvel at a series of 15 falls and cascades throughout a 125-mile loop drive. See one or see them all; make this fall foliage tour as long or as short as you like. Half of the falls are located in county parks with fairytale-like footbridges and picture-perfect picnic areas. It’s a tour fit for friends, family, and pups too! 

While traveling along Parkway Road on the west side of the county, or Hwy 141 on the east, look for blue "waterfall tour" signs as a guide. Check out the Marinette County Parks Department website for a downloadable map with self-guided tours to help you find the exact type of hike you’re looking for, whether that’s a short relaxing stroll or a more challenging adventure. 

The county also boasts some of the finest whitewater paddling in the Midwest. The Pike, Peshtigo and Pemebonwon Rivers run fast and clear through pine and hardwood forests, lit up with breathtaking colors during the autumn season. And their tributaries offer more than 620 miles of excellent trout fishing.

Insider tip:  Explore these whitewater rafting trips for beginners and start planning your own thrilling getaway.

Hayward Lakes Area

The Hayward Lakes Area in northwestern Wisconsin has developed six fall color tours ranging from 45 to 73 miles long 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 that are easy to follow. Fishing fans take note – Lac Courte Oreilles Lake is a trophy muskie fishery that’s also home to bass, perch, and northern pike. 

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 Trailformerly a rail corridor, bisects Sawyer County and is popular with ATV riders as an exciting way to experience the season up close.

Insider tip: Here, ATVing is a family activity perfect for taking in the fall colors. Use this guide to family ATVing around Hayward to plan your perfect trail adventure of fall in the Northwoods. 

Upper Mississippi River Valley

Red Barn

Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway

Crisp fall colors frame the views along the Bayfield Peninsula tour near the northern tip of Wisconsin. Start in Ashland at the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center where an immersive series of exhibits detail the area's history and culture and have recently been updated with portable magnifiers, character recognition devices to translate text to audio, and conference microphone systems so that everyone can enjoy their visit to the fullest. 

During your scenic fall driving tour, follow Hwy 13 and the Lake Superior shore north to Bayfield, Wisconsin's smallest city. Bayfield is also the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: 21 beautiful 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. Take a ferry to Madeline Island to visit Big Bay State Park and the Madeline Island Museum,  a State Historical Society site where you can learn about the Ojibwe people and the settlers from all over who eventually came to call the island home.

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 brilliant fall color, whitewater canoeing, kayaking, camping and trout fishing. 

Insider tip: Spend extra time exploring the Bayfield and Apostle Island area with your favorite people.

Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive

The Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive is a 115-mile ramble through oak, maple and aspen fall color in the 50,000 acres of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

The scenic fall drive traverses six Wisconsin counties; from Whitewater Lake in Walworth County 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 that left “kettles” or depressions in the landscape that range from small ponds to large valleys. This makes for many uniquely beautiful places to picnic, hike, camp, bike, swim and fish during your fall foliage road trip; don’t forget that picnic basket packed with the kids' favorites!

Marked by distinctive green and white "Acorn" signs, the driving route ends near Greenbush and the Wade Housean 1844 stagecoach inn now operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society that includes one of the last water-powered mills of its kind in North America in working condition.

Insider tip: Check out our in-depth guide to the natural wonders of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

Hilltop Color Tour

Three of the state's highest points can be found in central Wisconsin along the Hilltop Fall Color Tour from Wausau to Ogema to Neillsville.

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 four-mile-long ridge of ancient quartzite, estimated to be 1.7 billion years old, is one of the oldest geological features on the planet! The park offers 13 miles of hiking trails and over 8 miles are wheelchair accessible, so everyone in your crew can savor the fall splendor. 

A little over an hour drive a way, Timm's Hill near Ogema is the highest point in Wisconsin at 1,951 feet above sea level. At its top, an observation tower rises an additional 60 feet for outstanding views of the surrounding forest and its vibrant fall colors.

Good things come in threes, so round out your fall drive with The Highground near Neillsville. The site was founded as a memorial to honor Wisconsin Vietnam veterans and has since grown into a beautiful 155-acre park that overlooks colorful hillsides and glacial moraines. The park’s mission is to honor, educate, and heal veterans, their families, and all who visit this natural wonder and has many paved paths for easy viewing.

Insider Tip: Learn the science behind fall color so you can make the most of the picturesque season. 

Kewaunee and Door County

Ephraim in Fall

Framed by majestic Lake Michigan, the hardwoods of Kewaunee and Door County make for must-sees to add to your list of stunning fall drives. You and your group can trace Hwy 42 north starting from a historic lighthouse in Kewaunee for 75 miles all the way to Gills Rock at the very tip of the Door County thumb that hosts a maritime museum and hidden shipwrecks below the water. On the return trip, follow Hwy 57 down the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula for the "other half" of the Door County fall foliage 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 stunning lighthouses, apple orchards 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 for all types of groups are always close at hand.

Insider tip: Soar above the trees and get a stunning view of Green Bay with Peninsula State Park’s wheelchair-accessible Eagle Tower.

Lake Geneva Area

For more than a century, vacationers have come to the Lake Geneva area during every season. Autumn is particularly delightful here where fall colors abound on and off the lakeshore.

Three Wisconsin Rustic Roads (R-11, R-12 and R-36 totaling nearly 20 miles of scenic fall driving) access the Lyons State Wildlife Area just northeast of the city. They’re easily accessed via Sheridan Springs Road and Spring Valley Road. These quiet country roads traverse glacial Kettle Moraine topography and pass through large wooded areas of oak, maple and hickory, as well as former cranberry bogs. The tiny community of Lyons is worth a stop, with its several quaint, picturesque churches, the White River Bike Trail, and great fishing spots. And of course, the city of Lake Geneva offers many memory-making opportunities. Enjoy fall color cruises on the lake, championship golf, spa retreats, boutique shopping and a full range of dining and lodging options.

Insider tip: Need some help planning a fun weekend away in Lake Geneva? Check out some spectacular spots in this guide to getting the most of your 48 hours there.

Black River State Forest

The Black River State Forest lies just east of Black River Falls in west-central Wisconsin. Its 68,000 acres access pine and oak forests and unique geology that make it a perfect destination for fall foliage road trips. Slightly to the south you’ll find Castle Mound Pine Forest State Natural Area. A hike to the top provides colorful fall views of the former bed of glacial Lake Wisconsin, a 400-million-year-old butte, sandstone hills and castellated bluffs up to 30 feet tall that dot the forest landscape.

Access even more of the forest’s fall splendor via North Settlement Road (I-94 exit 128 at Millston). Here, the road sweeps ten miles north to the Dike 17 Wildlife Area, home to 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: Looking for more activities to become one with the Black River State Forest? Browse these 8 ways to experience the gorgeous area

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 State Natural Area (watch for the signs!). The climb to the top of this ancient butte is steep and not for the faint-of-heart, but the panoramic autumn views are truly spectacular. Journey two miles further on Hwy 113 and you'll cross the Wisconsin River aboard the Merrimac Carferry which is free and runs until the end of November or until the river ices over. Hwy 113 then turns north and bisects Devil's Lake State Park – one of Wisconsin’s most popular parks. Surround yourself with terrific views of fall color from the bluffs above the deep blue mountain lake. Continue on Hwy 113 into Baraboo, where the kids will love a stop at Circus World Museum or the International Crane Foundation.

For more fall foliage driving, follow Hwy 12 north seven miles to Fern Dell Road where you'll turn west towards the awe-inspiring 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 more 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 adventure with 270 campsites, 28 miles of hiking trails and a scenic waterfall made even more gorgeous by vibrant fall foliage.

Closer to Spring Green, 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. Tower Hill State Park and Taliesin, Architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Wisconsin home (open for tours through October 31st), are also both nearby and make for unforgettable stops.

Insider tip: Check out these five cabins along the route to help you make a vacation out of this memorable drive.

Keep the fall fun going by following Wisconsin’s Rustic Roads. 

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

This entry was posted in Things to Do Outdoors Tours