Rustic charm, stunning leaves and more festivals than any other season, autumn in Wisconsin is a sight to see. Whether traveling Wisconsin’s scenic Great River Road in Southwest Wisconsin or cruising around the Kettle Moraine State Forest in the Southeast, fall in Wisconsin is the perfect destination for road trips.
Southwest Wisconsin Road Trips in Fall
By Laura Beausire
Spring Green & River Valley
It’s a cold, gold autumn day and you feel like exploring the remote valleys, ridges, and meandering rivers of the Spring Green and the River Valley areas. A series of narrow bridges cross the Wisconsin River at Lone Rock. Follow Highway 133 west for a beautiful fall view overlooking the river in Grant County. Steal a glance at the hillsides—they’re a tapestry of glowing fall color.
Avoca Prairie & Savanna State Natural Area
Just before you arrive in Avoca, turn onto Hay Lane Road, which leads to the 1,885-acre Avoca Prairie and Savanna State Natural Area, the largest remnant prairie this side of the Mississippi River; its sandy ridges and wetlands look much the same today as they did before human settlement. Take your time and soak up the sea of tawny russet and misty green grasses and seasonal fall wildflowers; more than 200 species flourish here. If you’re lucky, you might spot one of Avoca’s rare animal species, like the red-shouldered hawk or the northern harrier. This step out of time might cost you your dry shoes, but your soul will be richer.
Continue west into Muscoda, the self-styled Morel Mushroom Capital of Wisconsin. Turn right at the Industrial Park and stop at Meister Cheese Company, which produces a galaxy of cheeses, including Wild Morel & Leek Jack and Horseradish Cheddar as well as other seasonal fall favorites.
Don’t miss Ellis Nelson’s fabulously helter-skelter art studio located at the corner of Highway 133 and Second Street, just as you enter town. The yard overflows with what appears to be junk; on closer inspection, you’ll notice dozens of Nelson’s remarkably fluid and graceful metal sculptures of long-legged water birds and woodland creatures rising from tree stump perches.
Cross the river on Highway 80 and turn east onto Highway 60 for a glorious return trip, as the road hugs a lazy stretch of the Wisconsin and gilded branches provide a heavenly canopy of fall foliage.
Southeast Wisconsin Road Trips in Fall
By Shannon Jackson Arnold
My dream was always to live in New England. When I landed in Waukesha County’s “Lake Country” with my husband, I realized that everything I loved about New England was right in my own backyard: the rolling hills, the fall foliage, the red barns and farm stands, the lakes dotted with boats, the charming small towns – all perfect for scenic fall road trips.
One of my favorite ways to savor autumn—and feed my Yankee nostalgia—is to travel north on Highway 83 from Interstate 94 in Delafield. About two miles along 83, on your left, is the 1928 renovated barn that houses Bryan Becker Clay Werks, with its handmade pottery, paintings, and jewelry (it’s my favorite place to buy earrings).
Continue into Chenequa, where the palatial homes lining Pine Lake make this winding, tree-lined stretch all the more picturesque beside the beautiful fall colors. If you canoe or kayak, Beaver Lake’s carry-in boat launch, right off 83, offers house gawking and fall color appreciation at a leisurely pace.
Past North Lake, you’ll reach farmland. Don’t be alarmed by goats grazing on grass-topped barns; that’s just Homestead Animal Farm, with its petting zoo, corn maze, and seasonal pumpkins.
Shortly after Homestead, go right onto County Line Road/Highway Q. At the intersection of highways Q, E, and K find parking and two entry points for the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Head to the northern entrance for a moderately hilly hike that hugs the Oconomowoc River before heading to higher (and flatter) ground where the views of fall foliage are spectacular.
Back on the road, go a half mile east on Q and turn onto Monches Road, a Rustic Road. You’ll find Monches Farm, a gift shop and artful nursery specializing in field-grown perennials and herbs.
Monches Road meets St. Augustine Road; turn left and take St. Augustine north (two more Rustic Roads—Emerald and Donegal—are worth side trips) to Holy Hill Road. Make a left toward Holy Hill, the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians. At 1,350 feet above sea level, it provides vistas for up to 40 miles, an observation tower, 400 wooded acres to explore, a café with bakery items, and a stunning Neo-Romanesque cathedral—all of which make for a fitting end to this breathtaking fall road trip.
Don’t be afraid to slow down, relax and enjoy fall in Wisconsin. With magnificent fall colors, an abundance of festivals and harvests, rich heritage and outstanding stewardship, take a fall road trip unlike any other in Wisconsin.
Don’t let the season slip by! Check out our fall color guide for all things autumn and camp your way through the hues in southern Wisconsin.