11 Scenic Wisconsin Autumn Drives

Autumn in Wisconsin is all about the color…and getting out to see it.  Here are fall color driving tours guaranteed to put you in a front row seat for the annual show.

Marinette County’s Waterfall Tour—Marvel at a series of 14 falls and cataracts throughout this 125-mile loop tour.  Half of the falls are located in pleasant county parks with picturesque footbridges and practically-perfect picnic areas.  The county boasts some of the finest whitewater paddling in the Midwest on the Pike, Peshtigo and Pemebonwon Rivers.  They run fast and clear through pine and hardwood forests that light up in beautiful fall colors during the autumn season.  Access the falls via Parkway Road on the west side of the county, or Hwy 141 on the east. Blue “waterfall tour” signs mark the route and help you find some of the more hidden falls.

Hayward Lakes Area—Northwestern Wisconsin has developed six fall color tours ranging from 45-70 miles in Sawyer County.  Most of the driving routes traverse portions of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, the Lac Courte Oreilles Indian Reservation, or the Blue Hills vibrant with fall color this time of year.  You’ll find plenty of resort accommodations and eateries, as well as world-class fall walleye and musky fishing.  The 74-mile Tuscobia State Trail, popular with ATV riders, bisects Sawyer County and offers other fall driving tour options.

Upper Mississippi River Valley—The valley is fantastic for scenic fall drives; a broad ribbon of water shouldered by sandstone bluffs daubed in amber and rust.  Follow Hwy 35, affectionately known as the Great River Road, from Prescott to Potosi for nearly 250 miles of charming river towns, antique shops, great cafes, and stunning bluff-top views.  Observation platforms allow you to watch river barges “lock through” at Lock & Dam No. 4 at Alma, No. 6 at Trempealeau, and No. 8 at Genoa.  Enjoy three Wisconsin State Parks, a pair of Wisconsin Historical Society sites, terrific walleye and bass fishing, and some of the finest bird watching in the Midwest (they do, after all, call it the “Mississippi Flyway”).

Kewaunee and Door County—Protected by the waters of Lake Michigan, the hardwoods of Kewaunee and Door County make for scenic fall drives.  You can trace Hwy 42 north from Kewaunee to Gills Rock at the very tip of the Door County thumb (75 miles).  On your return, follow Hwy 57 down the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula for the “other half” of the Door County experience.  Along the way, enjoy a set of four popular state parks: Potawatomi, Peninsula, Newport and Whitefish Dunes.  Take in terrific bluff-top views of the lakes, seven picturesque lighthouses and a 20-minute ferry ride to Washington Island.

Wisconsin Lake Superior Scenic Byway—Start in Ashland at the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center, where a wonderful series of exhibits detail the area’s regional history and culture.  Follow Hwy 13 and the Lake Superior shore north to Bayfield, a quaint harbor town with a great fall vacation vibe.  Bayfield is also the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore; 21 gem-like coastal islands and 12 miles of mainland that are home to six lighthouses, labyrinthine sea caves, terrific blue-water sailing, and some of the best sea kayaking in the world.

Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive—Take the 115-mile ramble through the riot of oak, maple and aspen fall color in the 50,000 acres of the southern and northern units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.  The scenic fall drive traverses six Wisconsin counties; from Whitewater Lake in Walworth County north to Elkhart Lake in Sheboygan County.  The forests include much of the terminal moraine (where the last great glacier stopped 12,000 years ago) in south-central Wisconsin.

Hilltop Color Tour—A 60-foot observation tower in Rib Mountain State Park near Wausau affords a breathtaking perspective of the Wisconsin River Valley’s fall foliage below.  The mountain, estimated at one billion years old, is one of the oldest geological features on the planet.

Lake Geneva Area—A trio of Wisconsin Rustic Roads (R-11, R-12 and R-36 totaling nearly 20 miles of scenic fall driving) accesses the Lyons State Wildlife Area just northeast of the city.  They are easily accessed via Sheridan Springs Road and Spring Valley Road.  These quiet country roads traverse glacial Kettle Moraine topography passing through large wooded areas of oak, maple and hickory, as well as old cranberry bogs and the tiny community of Lyons with its several quaint churches.

Black River State Forest—The Black River State Forest lies just east of Black River Falls in west-central Wisconsin.  Its 68,000 acres accesses some unique geology that makes it a great destination for fall foliage road trips.  The forest lies in two lobes; the largest north of Interstate 94, and a smaller lobe to the south.  The southern lobe includes Castle Mound.  While driving through the beautiful fall colors, you can access the northern lobe of the forest via North Settlement Road (I-94 exit 128 at Millston).  Climb the observation tower there to see the autumn splendor, as well as sandhill cranes, geese, ducks, bobolinks, warblers, harriers, and bald eagles.

Wisconsin River/Baraboo Hills Tour—The tour begins in Lodi and heads west on Hwy 113 for five miles to Cty V and Gibraltar Rock County Park (watch for the signs).  The climb to the top is steep and not for the faint-of-heart, but the autumn views are truly spectacular.  Two miles farther on Hwy 113 and you’ll cross the Wisconsin River aboard the ColSac III Merrimac carferry—it’s free.  Hwy 113 then turns north and bisects Devil’s Lake State Park—one of Wisconsin most popular parks with terrific views of the fall color from the bluffs above the deep blue lake.

Dodgeville to Spring Green—The scenic fall drive along Hwy 23 from Dodgeville to Spring Green is one of the most picturesque in southwestern Wisconsin.  This 18-mile stretch traverses the hardwood ridges and valleys of Wisconsin’s driftless area.  For additional fall color adventure, take any of the intersecting roads that meander the coulees and echo their history—Norwegian Hollow Road, Hunter Hollow Road, or Percussion Rock Road.  Just outside Dodgeville, Governor Dodge State Park offers 5,000 acres of fun with 270 campsites, 28 miles of hiking trails and a scenic waterfall.  Closer to Spring Green, The House on the Rock’s daring infinity Room features a 218-foot-long glass walkway that hangs over the autumn splendor of the Wyoming Valley, 156 feet below.