By Carla Minksy
Special to TravelWisconsin.com
Just as with any good Broadway theater, there’s not a bad seat in the house when it comes to fall in Wisconsin, with the state’s dazzling autumnal kaleidoscope guaranteed to produce standing ovations every time.
Along with the perennially favorite leaf peeping activities enjoyed on land, how about adding in some unexpected angles for experiencing the march of fall color, including intriguing vantage points from water and sky.
Head to the Ski Hill
Vicki Baumann, general manager, said the view overlooking the mountain and the city of Wausau is even more beautiful in the fall. “You can get on at the base of the mountain, get off at the top and hike a bit, and then get back on,” said Baumann.
Each chair lift seats six, and no skiing experience is required.
Cruise Wisconsin's Waters
The Apostle Islands Cruises runs tours through mid-October, taking visitors around the islands that dot Lake Superior off the Bayfield Peninsula. One of the boat captains, Robert Wilkins, painted this picture of the season.
“The mainland changes color first and then the islands, and on a calm day you can see the reflections in the steely gray water,” explained Wilkins. “We get people who come specifically to see the colors; it’s very peaceful.”
In Wisconsin Dells, the Original Wisconsin Ducks continue their land-to-water tours of Lake Delton and the Wisconsin River through mid-November, giving visitors a close-up look at the incredible scenery that first brought visitors to the area more than 150 years ago, made even prettier with the addition of autumn brushstrokes.
Zip Around a Colorful Canopy
While ziplines are plenty exhilarating on their own, there’s even more zip to the experience when it’s done in the fall. At Lake Geneva Canopy Tours in Lake Geneva, you’ll zoom along nine lines, never touching the ground once you start this two-and-a-half hour eco-adventure.
“The colors are really bright with lots of yellows, and it’s something you can’t experience from your car,” said Eric Wood, general manager. When you’re done, hang out at the fire pit in a comfy Adirondack chair or relax in a hammock and continue your step away from the digital world. These tours run year-round.
If heights are your thing, try ziplining’s cousin, the aerial adventure course. Trollhaugen’s Adventure Park in Dresser delivers the thrill of playing on a giant floating playground. “We have five different levels, starting near the ground and going upwards of 50 feet in the air,” said David Sutton, marketing director. “The burst of colors we get here in the St. Croix River Valley is among the prettiest you’ll find anywhere. It looks like a canvas painting from the air.” The challenge course is open on weekends until the snow flies.
Answer the Call of 'All Aboard'
Head to Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom for Autumn Color Weekend rides or the Pumpkin Special tours in October. The unspoiled landscape of the Baraboo Bluffs pairs beautifully with the patina of the vintage train cars.
Richard Colby, a conductor and volunteer who’s says he’s been crazy about trains his entire life, especially after seeing his first train at Mid-Continent Railway Museum many years ago, said the train travels at about 15 mph, “a good speed to take in the vivid mix of foliage in the Sauk County countryside and just relax.”
Float Above the Treetops
Book a hot air balloon flight with owner/pilot Jerome Teed of Gentle Breezes in Sun Prairie. The flight pattern is primarily Dane County, “but we fly where the wind blows,” said Teed. While the view of downtown Madison is always a hit, Teed said he loves the colors of the crops in the fall.
“The farmlands look like Packers country, all green and gold, plus it’s a vehicle to see nature, from eagles alongside you to deer below.” Tours run through October.
In Ripon, Majestic Balloons takes riders out year-round for a gentle glide, or “an aerial nature walk” as owner/balloonist Gregg Rasske likes to call it, over the rolling countryside and clear lakes of Green Lake County.
Get a Patchwork Perspective
Dave Burke, pilot of Grizzly Scenic Air Tours in Sturgeon Bay, says passengers are thrilled to see Door County’s fall colors mixing with the shoreline and cliffs, likening the center of the peninsula to a patchwork quilt. “I point out the lighthouses, the islands and the shipwrecks along the way.”
Check out even more ways to experience autumn's glow in Wisconsin and the state's most scenic drives, and subscribe to our fall color report for the latest news on where the leaves are changing across the state.