Fall weekends are perfect for heading out on a road trip. We’ve partnered with Midwest family travel writer Kirsten Maxwell from the blog Kids Are A Trip as she reflects on her favorite drives for exploring autumn colors in the Midwest.
Fall is the ideal time to take a road trip in the Midwest. The temperature drops, leaves start to change colors, and people head out to see Mother Nature put on one of her best shows of the year. Shades of copper, burgundy, and golden yellow overtake the green leaves of summer slowly creeping from north to south. There are plenty of places around the U.S. to see the hues in all their glory, but here are our five not-to-miss fall drives in the Midwest.
Door County, Wisconsin
The Door County peninsula in northern Wisconsin attracts visitors from around the country with its renowned fall foliage. There are several ways to tour the area, from driving the 66 miles of the Coastal Byway, to the longer Door County Circle Tour, a drive that is more enjoyable if spread out over several days. The peninsula has 300 miles of coastline with Lake Michigan on the east and Green Bay on the west, offering an abundance of water views while driving through the burgundy, burnt orange, and bright amber forests. The county also boasts 11 historic lighthouses, five state parks, apple orchards, quaint villages, art galleries, and wineries, so visitors will quickly realize this destination is meant for enjoyment and relaxation.
Brown County, Indiana
Brown County is one of those places that feels like a well-kept secret. The largest park in the state is found here, providing opportunities for hiking, biking, and leaf peeping, but it never feels crowded. Scenic backroads give visitors breathtaking views of rolling hills, farmhouses, and picture-perfect picnic spots. There are historic covered bridges, a pioneer village, pumpkin patches, and festivals. Brown County is home to one of America’s original artist colonies, so there are many eclectic boutiques and galleries for shopping as well as charming cafés, distilleries, and wineries to enjoy along the way.
Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway
This drive through the south central part of the state passes inviting river towns, an abundance of wildlife, waterfalls, and breathtaking vistas. Along the scenic byway are multiple historical sites, many dedicated to the Dakota War of 1862 between settlers and the native Sioux, others a nod to the Scandinavians and Germans who settled the area. The 288-mile route begins in Big Stone Lake and weaves through golden aspen and scarlet maple forests, past rolling farmland and numerous bird watching hotspots. Be sure to stop at Minneopa State Park for a special treat, 45-foot double waterfalls. Now that’s something you don’t see every day.
Great River Road in Illinois
The perfect fall drive begins in the charming historical town of Galena, Illinois on the banks of the Galena River in the northwest corner of the state. The Great River Road continues south alongside the Mississippi River as it mirrors the Illinois state border for 550 miles. Along the drive, expect to find soaring limestone bluffs on one side with tranquil river views on the other. There are many small towns to enjoy for their history and antiques, state recreation areas for hiking or camping, and even vineyards along the way. The Great River Road makes for a perfect day or weekend trip with views that are guaranteed to be spectacular.
Tunnel of Trees, Michigan
Ask anyone from Michigan where to find the best fall drive, and you will be hard pressed to find someone that says something other than M-119, also known as the Tunnel of Trees. The route runs 16 miles along a narrow road in northern Michigan from Harbor Springs to Cross Village. The tree canopy is so thick in this area, it appears as a tunnel to those driving through it as it hugs the Lake Michigan shoreline. There are plenty of photo opportunities along the way, from those provided by Mother Nature to antique shops, Good Hart General Store, and the rustic Legs Inn. If you’re looking for a spectacular, quintessential fall drive, this may be the one for you.
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