When planning a trip to see fall foliage, many travelers start with destinations like Maine, Vermont, and the rest of the northeastern United States. By focusing on New England in the fall, they are overlooking one of the best places to see fall colors, the Midwest.
The twelve states of the Midwest have their share of beautiful trees with dazzling autumn hues. Narrowing down where to go within one state can be challenging, let alone the region. However, each state has its best known spots, and here are some of the best places to find fall foliage in the Midwest.
Best Places to Visit in the Fall in the Midwest
The fall season is the perfect time to see the autumn colors of the Midwest. Leaves change colors starting in early September in the Upper Midwest, and continue until the second week of October. You may be lucky to enjoy peak fall foliage all the way up to early November in the southern parts of the Midwest. To find the times for peak colors, use an interactive tool, (we like this fall color report from the Farmer’s Almanac), and be flexible if possible. No one can accurately predict the best time, but they can come pretty close.
Best Places in Michigan to See Fall Colors
Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan
Located on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a beautiful destination any time of year. When leaves turn color, their orange and red hues complement the copper of the water (caused by tannins leached by the cedars, spruce and hemlock in swamps drained by the river).
This is a great spot for enjoying the Michigan fall colors, but it’s also a great destination for getting outdoors. There’s hiking and canoeing in the lower falls, but the centerpiece is the upper falls. The Upper Falls drops 50 feet and stretches about 200 feet. This state park is secluded and quite often you will find yourself peacefully enjoying the changing colors without distractions.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan
Another beautiful destination in the UP is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This area is also made for outdoor adventures. Visitors can hike along the shore, rent kayaks and paddle boards, or take a cruise out of Munising, Michigan to take in the glory of the autumn trees.
Nearby Marquette, Michigan is the largest city on the Upper Peninsula. It offers mountain biking trails, a charming downtown, many vantage points for seeing fall colors on the lakeshore, lighthouses, and even breweries. Sounds like the perfect fall weekend to me!
Traverse City fall colors
There are so many charming towns to explore in the Traverse City area, I can’t possibly cover them all. Traverse City has an amazing culinary scene, apple orchards, vineyards, and even pumpkin patches. It’s the perfect base for exploring the Leelanau Peninsula wine trails, Sleeping Bear Dunes giant sand dunes and shoreline, and M-22, the highway that winds through the peninsula providing views of colorful changing leaves along the lake.
Other nearby stops for fall foliage include Bellaire, with its charming downtown, and Shanty Creek resort which has a chairlift that will take you over the treetops. Boyne Mountain and Petoskey, Michigan are other great leaf peeping spots in this area.
Manistee, Michigan, in the northwest Lower Peninsula on Lake Michigan, is a special place to visit in the fall. The region boasts two fall color seasons – the inland region with earlier signs of fall color, and the Lake Michigan coastline that stays green longer with warmth from the lake – giving visitors plenty of opportunity to see colors. There are multiple trails for hiking and biking, both along the shore and through the woods.
Consider taking one of the self guided tours recommended by the local tourism board. Their Brew & Spirits tour shows you 13 different places around town you can visit at your own pace. There’s also tours of local historic sites, U-pick farms, and even recommended autumn drives. You can find additional planning tools on the Manistee County Visitors Bureau website.
Best places for fall colors in Wisconsin
Door County, Wisconsin
We enjoy Door County in the summer, but a visit to Door County in the fall is a testament to true peace and quiet. With summer crowds gone, you can enjoy a walk along the long shoreline of this peninsula just north of Green Bay. The eastern coast of Door County runs along Lake Michigan. This part of Wisconsin can be crisp in the fall, but everywhere you look, you will find fantastic views of the area’s fall foliage.
Walk along part of the 1,200-mile-long Ice Age Scenic Trail, and visit the observation tower at Potawatomie State Park. Stretching 75 feet high, the tower allows a view of the majestic scenery, where you can soak in the uniqueness of a Door County autumn with colorful leaves spread out for miles. You can also take a trolley tour that makes several stops and gives breathtaking views of bluffs and trees.
If you haven’t been to Madison, it’s a fantastic destination for seeing fall leaves change. There are five lakes in the Madison area, and nothing is prettier than autumn leaves next to the shoreline. Elver Park has over two hundred and fifty acres perfect for hiking.
Don’t miss perfect sunset views at the Edgewater Resort or on Monona Terrace (a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired lakefront terrace). Spend the weekend at the Dane County Farmer’s Market (Saturday mornings only), take a bike ride along the Capital City State Trail, and be sure to tour the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. We think you’ll realize why fall in Madison, Wisconsin is truly something special.
Where to see leaves change in Illinois
Great River Road in Galena, Illinois
Running 550 miles along the Mississippi River, the Great River Road offers dozens of opportunities to take in beautiful fall foliage. But, Galena, the home of former President Ulysses S. Grant, may be home to some of the best fall foliage in Illinois. With hills stretching high above the quaint downtown area, leaves with their red, orange, yellow and brown colors add to the beauty of this picturesque town.
The town has just over 3,000 residents, and people know Galena is one of the best Midwest weekend getaways. Mom-and-pop stores and boutiques share space on the main street with restaurants and bars. Main Street is walkable, and as you stroll through town, you’ll see the colorful trees on the rolling hills that border town.
As you drive the Great River Road, you’ll also witness the colors of autumn on the trees on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. A Midwest road trip along the Great River Road, including a stop in Galena, should top your list of things to do in Illinois.
Starved Rock State Park in Oglesby, Illinois
For those wanting fall colors near Chicago, Starved Rock State Park is one of the best Midwest weekend getaways. It’s not too far of a drive, but it feels like a world away. Families will enjoy the easy trails, winding through creeks and canyons.
If there has been heavy rain or snow run off (not in autumn obviously), you can see waterfalls in 14 of the 18 canyons throughout the park. There are giant caves as well as several cliffs overlooking the Illinois River, providing beautiful views of Starved Rock fall leaves.
There are plenty of places near Chicago to enjoy fall days, including the Morton Arboretum and the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Fall foliage road trip in Indiana
Brown County State Park in Indiana
A drive through Brown County State Park in Indiana allows for impressive views of trees dotted with reds, yellows, oranges, browns, and even purples. The state park, about 40 minutes east of Bloomington, gives visitors an opportunity to see miles of fall foliage from vantage points along several vistas.
With nearly 20 miles of hiking trails and another 70 horse trails, Brown County State Park is perfect for exploring and getting up close to foliage. Pack a basket and enjoy a picnic for the perfect fall day.
French Lick in Indiana
You know we love French Lick in the summer, but did you know it’s just as impressive in the fall? Take a train ride on the French Lick Scenic Railroad through Hoosier National Forest to see those beautiful autumn leaves from a different point of view. Or how about a fall foliage wine cruise on Patoka Lake?
Kids will love riding horses on the trails of French Lick Resort, and older kids would love to head out on an ATV at Wilstem Ranch. French Lick has endless opportunities for seeing fall foliage, the hard part will be deciding what to do first.
Morgan County in Indiana
If you encounter crowds in Brown County, head to neighboring Morgan County. Morgan County is where the glaciers of the Ice Age stopped, so as you travel the county from north to south you see the transition from flat plains to rolling hills.
It is also home to 80% of the tree canopy of central Indiana, so you know you’re bound to see a lot of fall colors! There’s a fall foliage festival, apple orchards, and even a zip line that gives you a closeup of the colorful trees.
Best Fall Leaves Minnesota
Scenic North Shore Drive in Minnesota
Hugging Lake Superior from Duluth to the Canadian border, a drive along the Scenic North Shore Drive is a connection with nature. With several communities and nature stops to make, such as Grand Marais and Split Rock Lighthouse, you can spend an entire day taking in the vibrant colors. Nearly the entire drive will present fall colors, with reds and golden yellow as the dominant hues.
Gooseberry Falls State Park is a great stop. You can walk next to the waterfalls and stream. As you make your way farther north, plan a short hike to Portage Falls. Just feet from the northern border, the High Falls has a 120-foot drop. The sound of the water rushing over the edge and spilling in the bay below is almost deafening. You’ll hear the falls from the visitors center.
The Scenic North Shore could possibly be the most beautiful area in Minnesota to enjoy fall colors.
Where to See Fall Colors in Ohio
Hocking Hills State Park
Located in southeastern Ohio, Hocking Hills State Park might be the state’s best kept secret. This beautiful area is chock full of hiking trails that take you past caves, waterfalls, and breathtaking views. Drive along the Hocking Hills Scenic Byway for some of the best fall scenery, go rock climbing, or take a canoe ride on one of the park’s rivers. Be sure to make time for the local fall festivals, covered bridges, and Hocking Valley Scenic Railway.
It can be hard to choose the best places to visit in fall in the Midwest, but these ones are some of my favorites. So, pack the car and the family and head out to take in the magic that is fall in the Midwest.
Don’t forget to check the fall foliage map to find out the best times to see the leaves changing in the Midwest.