On Fall's Trail in Wisconsin

What to Do & Where to Do It

Bike the Wild Goose State Trail

Wrapping its way around the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area, the Wild Goose State Trail treats cyclists to a striking ornithological display. Every autumn more than 300,000 migrating Canada geese stop in the marsh in mid-October on their way to the Mississippi River Valley. Starting in the town of Juneau, the 24-mile crushed-stone trail, built as part of the "rails-to-trails" project, follows the Horicon Marsh toward the town of Oakfield. Riders interested in learning more about the marsh and its annual visitors can stop at the Marsh Haven Nature Center. The observation tower there offers a view of the surrounding marsh.

Access: From Milwaukee, north on US-41, west on WI 49, south (left) on County Road Z to Horicon Marsh headquarters on right.
Peak color: October

Take a Scenic Drive in Door County

Bordered by Lake Michigan on the east and Green Bay on the west, Door County has 250 miles of picturesque shoreline, more than any other county in the United States. It also has the most lighthouses, with 10—many over a century old—spread throughout the county. The county's nautical heritage is most evident in Sturgeon Bay, home to the Door County Maritime Museum and the Palmer Johnson shipbuilding yards, one of the largest in the Great Lakes. During autumn, Door County's maple, birch, oak ,and sumac trees burst into brilliant shades of red, orange, yellow and auburn. Fall travelers will want to stop at one of the many fruit orchards in Door County, well-known for its cherries and apples.

Route: Wisconsin 57 and Wisconsin 42 are the most scenic major roads on the Door Peninsula, which lies in northeast Wisconsin on Lake Michigan.
Peak color: Late September to mid-October

Hike Rib Mountain and Timm's Hill

With an elevation of 1,940 feet above sea level, Rib Mountain State Park near Wausau is the second-highest point in Wisconsin, while nearby Timm's Hill takes first honors, towering over Rib Mountain by a whopping 12 feet. Overlooking the Wisconsin River Valley, Rib Mountain State Park offers miles of hiking trails with great views. Wild turkey and deer are abundant here. Hikers looking for the best place for a scenic view can hike to the peak's 60-foot observation tower. On Timm's Hill, named after logging camp owner Timothy Gahan, hikers can enjoy more than seven miles of hiking trails surrounded by sugar maple, ash, basswood and white birch trees.
Access:Take I-39 to County Road N. Rib Mountain State Park is on Road N.
Peak color: Late September to mid-October

Climb Grandad Bluffs

Rising 600 feet from the Wisconsin landscape, painted with brilliant strokes of color, stately Grandad Bluff stands watch over the Mississippi River Valley near the town of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Wooded trails offer hikers an excellent opportunity to get up close to fall splendor. Squirrels, deer, and other woodland animals are common sights during a fall hike to the top of the bluff. From this vantage point—voted by readers of Wisconsin Trails as the"most scenic view in the state" —visitors can gaze upon the spectacular fall color of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.

Access: La Crosse lies on US 14-61 just south of I-90 on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border. The Bluffs lie at the edge of town.
Peak color: Late September to mid-October

Bike the Elroy-Sparta State Trail

Central Wisconsin's 32-mile Elroy-Sparta State Trail was the first rails-to-trails conversion in the country and is one of the most popular biking destinations in the state. Fall color surrounds riders as they make their way through scenic valleys, dense forests, and a trio of century-old railroad tunnels, the longest of which is more than three-quarters of a mile in length. Small towns along the route welcome bicycle tourists with a place to rest their legs and enjoy some local hospitality.
Access: Trail headquarters is located in Kendall, Wisconsin. Kendall lies at the junction of Wisconsin 71 and County Road P in the southeastern part of the state.
Peak color: Mid September to mid-October

Paddle the St. Croix Scenic Riverway

The St. Croix Scenic Riverway is one of the best paddling destinations in the midwest. Starting in Riverside, Wisconsin, the river winds its way south, dividing Wisconsin from Minnesota. Many paddlers believe that the high waters during the spring are the best time of year for canoeing on this river, but for sheer visual appeal, fall is the time to go. The river's shorelines are almost completely undeveloped, making for a truly peaceful and beautiful escape. Bald eagles, great blue herons, bitterns, beaver, and raccoons are plentiful along the way, and an occasional wolf can be seen peering cautiously from the riverbank. Visitors looking to make their trip for more than one day can take advantage of the seven state parks along the river.
Access: The St. Croix starts just outside of Gordon, Wisconsin, on US 53 in the extreme northwest of the state. See GORP's Cruising the St. Croix for more access points along the length of the river.
Peak color: Mid- to late September

Take a Scenic Drive in the Kettle Moraine State Forest

The Kettle Moraine State Forest's undulating landscape has been a haven for fall color seekers for years. The winding roads, dense stands of trees, and plentiful wildlife make it one of the best autumn drives in the state. Formed ten thousand years ago during the last ice age, the landscape here is covered with hundreds of hills called drumlins, carpeted with thick groves of trees. The drumlins drop into small valleys, or kettles, many of which have been filled by marshes or small clear lakes. Throughout the region boulders called moraines lie where the receding glaciers dropped them. For one of the best views of the Kettle Moraine fall color, travelers should head to Holy Hill near the town of Hubertus. This religious shrine sits 1,335 feet above sea level and provides views of the surrounding countryside.
Route: The 125-mile route, marked by green acorn-shaped signs, starts at Elkhart Lake (junction of Wisconsin 67 and County Road A).
Peak color: October

Paddle the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Glacial ice, wind and waves have carved the Apostle Islands for over a million years, producing dramatic shorelines featuring sandstone cliffs, sea caves and miles of pristine sand beaches. The islands are rich with wildlife ranging from white-tailed deer and bald eagles to river otters and fishers. As you paddle between islands in the fall, you'll see Northwoods color reflecting off the clear waters of Lake Superior. Red maples and yellow birches sitting atop high bluffs make for fantastic fall color photographs.

Route: The Apostle Islands are the northern-most point in Wisconsin. They lie off of Wisconsin 13.
Peak color: Mid- to late September

More about Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Hike Wyalusing State Park

In southwestern Wisconsin's Wyalusing State Park, walnut, poplar, and birch trees don hues of yellow and rust while maples and sumacs burst into reds, oranges, and purples. Willows and oak trees complete the picture. The 2,673-acre park boasts more than 20 miles of hiking trails. Ancient Indian mounds line the Sentinel Ridge trail. Hikers looking for a spectacular view can head up to Point Lookout. From here you can see the convergence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers 500 feet below. Wild turkeys, turkey vultures, and eagles are just a few of the more than 100 species of birds it's possible to see during a day trip here.
Access: Wyalusing State Park headquarters lies in the town of Bagley at the junction of County Roads A and P along the Minnesota border.
Peak color: October

Drive the Great River Road

Beginning in Dickeyville in the south, Wisconsin's Great River Road follows the western edge of the state up the Mississippi River on its way to Prescott. Running for more than 300 miles, views from the road include grand limestone bluffs, vibrantly colored shorelines, and the mighty Mississippi River. Travelers can stop and watch boats make their way though any one of the nine locks along the route. A 5-mile-long driving tour at the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge provides wildlife lovers with a wonderful opportunity to see a variety of animals, including bald eagles.
Route: Start at Dickeyville (junction of US 61 and US 151. Head northwest to Tennyson along US 61. Follow the green"wheelhouse" logo depicting a Mississippi riverboat, which marks the entire Great River Road route.
Peak color: Late September to mid-October

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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