By Amy Bayer
Wisconsin’s brilliant fall foliage display is one of the state’s top attractions, and we want to make sure you get to explore as much as you can. Here are some ideas for where to hike throughout the state based on your skill level and travel companions.
Be sure to check our Fall Color Report starting in September for the latest information on areas showing peak foliage.
Here are some easy limestone or asphalt trails that are mostly flat and wide. These are great for strollers, young children and older adults.
The Hiawatha-Bearskin Trail is a total of 33 miles long, and whether you want to go for a long hike or a short walk, you are sure to see beautiful scenery along every stretch of the trail. The surface is hard-packed, mostly solid and level with long, flat, straight stretches. Featuring lakes, creeks and springs, the trail is lined by magnificent trees with colorful fall leaves. The trailhead in Minocqua has plenty of parking and a restroom, and your hike will begin with a delightful wooden bridge crossing over Lake Minocqua.
This two-mile loop provides an easy walk past stands of maple, beech and pine trees, which showcase beautiful colors in the fall. A 0.6-mile portion of the trail is graveled to facilitate easy mobility. Hikers will travel past an 85-year-old pine plantation.
There are approximately six miles of trails throughout the Nature Center with habitats that range from meadows to lakeshore to woods. All of the loops are relatively flat, and hiking here is a beautiful activity for every member of the family. The Green Tree Loop is paved with asphalt and provides access to an observation tower.
Easy to Moderate Hikes
The trails are relatively flat, but may not be conducive to strollers or wheels, with occasional roots or rocks creating an uneven surface.
This 1.3-mile trail follows the shoreline along the north side of Big Bay Point on Madeline Island. On one side you’ll see the stunning waters of Lake Superior, and along the other are the brilliant colors of hardwoods and birch trees in fall.
Located in the hardwood forest north of Hartland, this section of the Ice Age Trail offers some of the most spectacular fall hiking in the state. The 2.7-mile one-way hike follows the route of the Oconomowoc River including idyllic views of clear water and small bubbling brooks, with the backsplash of colors from the fall leaves of oaks and aspens.
This hike explores the ravines and ledges of Wyalusing State Park. Travel past Big Sand Cave and Little Sand Cave, washed-out areas of limestone with small waterfalls. Black Thunder Point, located between the two caves, offers an excellent view of the Wisconsin River and the beautiful colors of fall leaves.
These trails can have some brief difficult stretches with hills or narrow paths mixed in with easier flat sections.
The 2.5-mile trail covers a 390-foot elevation difference and provides scenic overlooks of the valleys of Vernon County below. The drive alone to Wildcat Mountain will provide breathtaking views of fall color as you wind up, down and around hairpin turns. This loop trail can be reached from either the northern end of the upper picnic area or from the nature building. Starting at the nature building, the trail can be taken on the accessible 0.4-mile portion to the Taylor Hollow Overlook, Wildcat's best view of the village of Ontario below.
The Burkhardt Trail varies in length and difficulty depending on the route you take. While it begins along the Willow River, there is a series of trails to wind to the clifftop for overlooks of the river and falls below. There is a staircase to take you down to Willow Falls.
Climb to the highest geological point in the state for lofty views of incredible color. Timms Hill County Park near Ogema offers a handful of trails, plus a hike up to the top of a wooden tower which showcases the breathtaking colors of fall below.
Moderate to Difficult Hikes
These trails are short and on a map seem deceptively easy, but once you start the long, steep climb you may wonder how such a short distance can feel so far.
This 1.7-mile trail connects the north and south shores of Devil’s Lake with periodic stone steps, making it the most gradual way up the bluff (although there is still an elevation gain of 500 feet!). There will be plenty of inspiring views of the lake below surrounded by brilliant fall foliage, as well as opportunities to see the Elephant Rock and Elephant "Cave" rock formations along the way.
Crunch through trails of fallen leaves or head to the top of the observation tower for spectacular panoramic views of Marathon County. The drive up the road to the park entrance station will shower you with fall color, and at the top you can explore the Red and Yellow Trail systems for scenic overlooks and windy routes through birch and maples. While you’re in the area, you can also take a fall color ride on the Granite Peak chairlifts for a small fee.
These hikes vary in length and terrain, but are intended for individuals who are comfortable with steep inclines and narrow trails.
Start your hike at the Mounds parking lot near the park headquarters. Meander through the lower prairie and climb stairs and a narrow trail along the top of the ridge for views of the river and surrounding colorful landscape.
These popular trails are located just west of Mellen. The first 0.6 miles are easy and flat and feature the 70-foot-high Morgan Falls. This section was reconstructed in 2002 to make it accessible for everyone. For those who are looking for the more adventurous hike stay on the trail for an additional 1.2 miles to head toward St. Peter’s Dome (known as “Old Baldy” to the locals). The trail becomes rugged with exposed rocks and steep climbs, and the view at the very end provides a breathtaking overlook of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands.
Combined, these trails provide more than five miles of rugged hiking through a forest of jack pine, oak, aspen and maple. The system is shared with mountain bikers and involves numerous hills and valleys, but you’re rewarded with incredible fall color vistas.
Check out our fall color guide for fall foliage tips and more ideas to enjoy the season.