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 trails great for exploring 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 tagging it #TravelWI.
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 for a show-stopping color show. 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 roadside explodes with a mixture of northern hardwood, aspen and oak trees, with a few pine trees sprinkled in for a touch of green. Enjoy the fresh fall air with your crew by stopping for a hike in Ellison Bay Bluff County Park.
Rib Mountain: Take A Magical Chair Lift Ride Together
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 and your crew can take a ride on the ski lift before the snow falls to see an unforgettable display of fall colors at their peak.
The Granite Peak Fall Color Chairlift Rides 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 where you and your group can enjoy burgers, brats and fall flavored brews.
Parnell Observation Tower: A Real Vantage Point
Both the northern and southern units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest are popular spots for hiking and taking scenic drives in fall. In the Northern Unit, a hike to the Parnell observation tower is sure to satisfy your 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, rolling 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 autumn views on the Mississippi River, head to Perrot State Park. The park marks the meeting point for the Mississippi and Trempealeau Rivers and is known for its 500-foot bluffs and views of the surrounding wetlands and riverbank area. You’ll find a variety of trails here that will take you to different lookout points. Brady’s Bluff East and West are both under a mile long and when you get to the top, your steep hike is rewarded with a stunning view of the flowing rivers and vibrant foliage. This is a picture-perfect spot for your next holiday card—say cheese!
Holy Hill Basilica: A View That’s Just Divine
Standing atop the observation deck at Holy Hill Basilica in Hubertus will bring your fall fun to thrilling new heights. At 192 feet tall, you’ll see a stunning view of the Kettle Moraine Southern Unit lit up with spectacular color. Though climbing the 178 steps to the observation tower (the highest point in southeastern Wisconsin) may be a challenge, you and your group will be rewarded with a panoramic view like no other., Look to the east and you can even get a glimpse of the Milwaukee skyline 30-some miles away
While you’re at Holy Hill, visit the shrine and chapel and walk the grounds to soak in the entire experience—there's even a café inside where you and your group can refuel. If you're feeling up to more hiking, check out nearby Glacial Hills County Park.
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 Parkin autumn and you'll be surrounded 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 dramatically shaped rock bluffs are Devil’s Lake’s signature feature, attracting photographers from all over the world to capture their unique beauty.
Geneva Lake Shore Path: A Walk 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 historic 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 these hiking trails in the national forest.