When fall in Wisconsin turns the landscape from vibrant green to an explosion of reds, oranges and yellows, it’s time to start hiking. Here’s our roundup of prime fall locations — from the tops of bluffs to remote lakeshores — that are well worth the trek. Each has perfect trails to explore with family and friends, filled with memories to be made. The reward at the end is a stunning view, but the journey there is just as memorable.
If you snap a picture, share it with other fall hikers by uploading your image to the Travel Wisconsin Fall Color Report.
Interstate Park: The Grandfather of Wisconsin Parks
Head to the town of St. Croix Falls, where Interstate State Park surrounds both sides of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The park exists in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, but our side’s better. (Ok, maybe we’re a bit biased.) As Wisconsin’s oldest state park, people have been visiting since 1900 — and for good reason. Hike the Pothole, Summit Rock or River Bluff trails for the best views of the Dalles of the St. Croix. This steep-sided gorge was created after melted water from the Ice Age sculpted the riverside into uniquely carved bluffs. At the observation deck from Pothole or Summit Rock trails, the view displays colorful trees, rock formations and shimmering water. And say “hi” to The Old Man of the Dalles for us — a naturally-formed rock formation carved in the bluffs in the shape of an old man’s face. It’s Wisconsin’s natural version of Mount Rushmore!
Timm’s Hill: Where Hill is an Understatement
What’s the best way to view a sweeping, colorful fall landscape? From the highest vantage point possible, of course. Timm’s Hill in Ogema is Wisconsin’s highest geographical point, making it a perfect destination for a fall family hike. Sitting at 1,951.5 feet above sea level, you’ll see endless autumn splendor from the peak. It’s 88 steps to the top of an observation tower that sits on the hill. And the climb’s worth it. You’ll take in more than just the fall colors; you’ll see 30 miles of the surrounding glacial hills, Timm’s Lake to the north and Placid Bass Lake and High Point Village Resort to the south. Set the camera to panorama mode — the view is worth sharing and remembering.
Door County Coastal Highway: The Long and Winding Road
In this case, the destination is worth the drive rather than hike, but there are plenty of pull-over worthy hiking spots along the way. Cruise along the Door County Peninsula near Gill’s Rock on Highway 42. This National Scenic Byway is filled with twists, turns and curves — offering views of brilliant fall leaves along the way. Photographers love this spot, especially in the fall because the road is exploding with a mixture of northern hardwood, aspen and oak trees, with a few pine trees sprinkled in for a touch of green.
Rib Mountain: Pre-Ski Views
Granite Peak in Rib Mountain State Park is Wisconsin’s largest downhill ski hill. But while Granite Peak is primarily known for its skiing and other winter activities, you can take a ride on the ski lift before the snow falls to see an unforgettable display of fall colors at their peak. That means amazing views and far less coats, hats, gloves, snow pants and gear. The Granite Peak Fall Color Sky Comet Ride gives visitors a chance to sit back and enjoy the views of Wausau from the comfort of your own 700-foot elevated chair. When you get to the top, hop off and take a hike around the park. And no need to worry — your round-trip ticket takes you back down.
Parnell Observation Tower: A Real Vantage Point
The Kettle Moraine State Forest, both north and south units, are popular for fall hiking and scenic drives. In the Northern Unit, a hike to the Parnell observation tower satisfies all the fall color cravings. Take the 3.5-mile Parnell tower trail loop to the highest point in the forest where a 60-foot observation tower awaits. At the top of the tower, you’ll be surrounded by a panoramic view of rolling hills, glaciated terrain, farmland and vibrant forest. For more grounded fun, pick up some bait and cast a line off one of the Northern Unit’s three wheelchair accessible fishing piers.
Perrot State Park: Tall Bluffs Meets Fall Vistas
For one of the most stunning views on the Mississippi River, head to Perrot State Park. The park marks the meeting point for the Mississippi River and Trempealeau River and is known for its 500-foot bluffs and views of the surrounding wetlands and riverbank area. But no one said a trip for the best view was easy; there’s climbing involved here. The park offers a variety of trails that will take you to different lookout points. We recommend the views from Brady’s Bluff East and West. Both are under a mile long and when you get to the top, your hard work is rewarded with a stunning view. This is a picture-perfect spot for your next holiday card.
Holy Hill Basilica: A View That’s Just Divine
Standing atop the observation deck at Holy Hill Basilica in Hubertus has an almost spiritual feeling. Maybe it’s the view – at 192 feet tall, you’ll see a stunning view of the Kettle Moraine Southern Unit. Or maybe it’s the history of the location. Holy Hill Basilica was declared a Shrine of Mary in 1903 and in 2006 became a Minor Basilica. History and divinity aside, there’s something to be said about the climb to the top. With 178 steps to the observation tower (the highest point in southeastern Wisconsin), it feels like a miracle when you make it to the top. Look to the east and make out the Milwaukee skyline 30-some miles away. Catch a glimpse of the fall colors spreading across the Kettle Moraine State Forest. While you’re at Holy Hill visit the shrine and chapel and walk the grounds to soak in the entire experience. If you're feeling up to more hiking, check out the Ice Age Trail.
Devil’s Lake State Park: Hanging Cliffside
It’s the most popular (and largest) state park in Wisconsin for a reason. Drive into Devil’s Lake State Park this season and you’ll be blown away by fall color. It starts at the main entrance road with a welcome tunnel of bright gold maple leaves. Just the entrance is a favorite photo-op spot, but that’s not all. Take either the East Bluff or West Bluff trails for amazing views of the park and the 500-foot-tall quartzite bluffs. These oddly shaped rock bluffs are Devil’s Lake’s signature feature, attracting photographers from all over to capture their unique beauty. And don’t be alarmed if you see someone hanging from the side of a cliff. Rock climbers enjoy the fall color too and climbers from across the state and beyond enjoy scaling this mountain hidden in the heart of the Midwest.
Geneva Lake Shore Path: A Path with Million Dollar Views
For a more leisurely stroll with million-dollar views, leash up your furry friend and amble along the Geneva Lake Shore Path. The footpath, which stretches for 21 miles around Geneva Lake, offers beautiful views of glassy water and fall colors. We also love this path because it gives us the perfect opportunity to admire the gorgeous mansions that line the water. Whether it’s the Lake Geneva Estates, Stone Manor or the Wrigley Estates, these mansions, with their perfectly groomed lawns and fall color trees, are a sight that makes anyone’s jaw drop.
Mountain Fire Lookout Tower: A Radiant History of Restoration
For a 360-degree view that puts you at the very center of autumn in Wisconsin, dare to ascend the 100-foot-tall Mountain Fire Lookout Tower. The recently restored structure with a cab at the top looks over the seemingly boundless Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest that makes up 1.5 million acres of the state’s Northwoods. The view wasn’t always this abundant, however. After decades of heavy logging and fires in this area, in the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps was formed and began restoring the forest to its former natural glory. To explore the park more, check out our favorite hiking trails in the national forest.