Fall in Wisconsin is full of charm and color. From apple picking to festivals celebrating culinary treats and cultures, the possibilities are endless. Take your family and hop in the car, Northern Wisconsin’s winding rustic roads and colorful forests provide the perfect scene for a gorgeous fall day.
Northwest Wisconsin Road Trips in Fall
By Carla Waldemar
St. Croix, WI
Celebrated as a National Scenic Riverway, the St. Croix is drop-dead gorgeous during the autumn season.
Pick up maps and brochures and start your 30-mile fall color road trip tour at the Polk County Information Center, located where Highway 8 intersects with Highway 35. Then head north through St. Croix Falls on Highway 87. The panorama of the river—its dam, and the forests on the neighboring shore—is on your left. Hug 87 for about five more miles till River Road forks in from the left. (It’s not well marked; if you cross Big Rock Creek, you’ve gone a couple yards too far.)
For this stretch of your fall road trip, kiss civilization goodbye: It’s just you and the glowing fall foliage of the woods and the deep blue waters, so close you could almost swan-dive from your car. As the road parts from the river, it passes a secluded cemetery and old-fashioned church on the left.
Continuing your fall road trip, turn right at 250th Avenue and trade the river for pastures dotted with grazing Guernseys and golden cornstalks. Soon you’ll meet up with 87 again at Cushing. Heading south on 87, just before 230th Avenue, you’ll see Marshland Farms on the right. Its sign touting “registered Holsteins” understates the vista of scores of black-and-white heifers munching around the pond. Pine, poplar, and maples dot fields anchored by tidy bales of hay fresh from fall harvesting.
Eureka Center comes and goes quickly. On the left soon appears Chateau St. Croix Winery & Vineyard, a European-style estate that welcomes visitors for winery tours and seasonal fall wine tastings. If you spot another cemetery, you’re three quick roads too far. But Pleasant Valley resting ground, with its spiky cedars and weathered headstones, offers a quiet sanctuary to stretch your legs and admire the beautiful fall colors.
Eight more miles and you’re back in St. Croix Falls, with the memory of this pretty little corner of Wisconsin at its best, ablaze with fall color.
Northeast Wisconsin Road Trips in Fall
By Tom Davis
Shawano County, WI
Near the intersection of Highway 22 and River Bank Road in southern Shawano County, a flock of sandhill cranes stalked around a picked cornfield. Already wearing their gray winter uniforms, they looked like Confederate recruits awaiting orders.
I can’t promise you’ll see cranes in this lovely swatch of the Embarrass River country, just as I can’t promise you’ll see deer, turkeys, or even a solitary bald eagle, the way I did. But I can promise handsome red barns, wooded ridges and valleys smoldering with fall color and riverside parks serving as the perfect backdrop for a fall road trip. That’s another thing I can promise: The sense, a few miles into your scenic fall drive, that this is a place that hasn’t been discovered, that hasn’t “gone tourist,” even a little.
Start north of Embarrass at River Bank Road, which soon merges with Highway D. Here you’ll find tidy farmsteads, cornfields crowding the road, and the first of those barns scattered iconically across the fall landscape. In the distance, the variegated hues of oaks, maples, and other hardwoods ripple beneath the green crowns of pines providing an explosion of brilliant fall colors.
Coming into Pella, be sure to visit Adams Meats (you’ll see it on the left) for a stick of wonderfully garlicky sausage and a chunk of locally made Belle Plaine cheese. Adams will process your bear for you, if you’ve thought to bring it along, but you’ll search the shelves in vain for a cracker to serve your cheese and sausage on. So bring your own, along with a knife to cut the stuff when you stop just down the road at Old Mill Park on the Embarrass River where fall color will be in full swing. It’s a pretty spot (albeit a bit unkempt), the river gurgling merrily as it braids through its bed of jumbled boulders.
Still feeling peckish? Pull up a chair at Hurricane Dawn’s, a friendly watering hole and restaurant in “downtown” Pella (across the street from a very cool low-slung stone barn), where the house specialty is the mountainous Hurricane Burger.
Continuing on your fall color road trip, take D out of Pella, head northwest toward Leopolis—an incongruously imposing name for such a tiny hamlet—and take a left onto South Town Line Road. Heading west now, the road dips as it passes through a tamarack swamp, the trees’ feathery needles gone a smoky gold. Rising again into farm country, watch for fences made of fieldstones, stones of a size that leave you wondering what manner of man and beast cleared them.
At the intersection of South Town Line Road and Highway G, take a left and head south on the latter to Caroline. “The Peaceful Valley,” proclaims the sign at the village limits. What might have struck you as corny sentiment a couple hours ago now seems perfectly descriptive. The historic Theodore Buettner flour mill still stands alongside its dam on the Middle Branch – a perfectly quaint fall scene; upstream, at American Legion Park, signs warn, without apparent irony: “Horses are not to be tied to the trees. Use hitching posts up by bar.”
The Hidden Valley Supper Club, also in Caroline, serves up more anachronism—not so much the food, which is your basic sturdy supper club fare, but the fact that they don’t take credit cards. They will, however, trust you to drive “over the hill” to Marion, the site of the nearest ATM, and return to pay your bill. In this day and age, you have to like that.
Wisconsin’s beautiful fall colors are unlike anywhere else. Whether viewing the changing leaves from your car, hiking a wondrous trail or experiencing a fall festival, Northern Wisconsin has everything you need for your a picture perfect fall road trip.