The U.S. is full of secrets, with hidden gems scattered throughout the country. Perhaps you’ve experienced fall in the Mid-Atlantic region, where the Appalachians burst into fiery hues. Now it’s time for the Midwest, where peak season generally arrives in early-mid October.
This expansive countryside features lush forests, gleaming lakes, and seas of meadows that stretch on as far as the eye can see. Here’s our Midwest roundup of fall activities including scenic drives, hiking trails, and water routes for exploring the beauty of this colorful season by boat!
Tunnel of Trees/M-119
Among the nation’s most scenic roads is M-119, a winding lakeside route in northern Michigan. This stretch is known as the Tunnel of Trees and begins in the city of Harbor Springs. Before you start your trek, grab a bite to eat at The Paper Station Bistro, which serves up hip twists on American classics. Finish your meal with a sweet treat from Kilwin’s Chocolates, an ice cream and candy chain that was founded just minutes away in nearby Petoskey.
Once you’re finished in Harbor Springs, hop in your car and get on the road! The Tunnel of Trees is a well-marked stretch of M-119 that weaves through lakeside forest for a scenic one-hour drive. Mature trees envelop the road on both sides, leading to a breathtaking explosion of color during the fall. Occasional glimpses of Lake Michigan peek through the foliage as you hug the coast on this rustic two-lane road.
The Tunnel of Trees will carry you 20 miles north to Cross Village. The designated route ends here, but the adventurous can continue on to Wilderness State Park. This sprawling preserve features miles of shoreline, extensive hiking trails, and opportunities for kayaking and canoeing on Big Stone Bay.
Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive
On the other side of Lake Michigan is the great state of Wisconsin. Natural beauty abounds and the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive is a prime example. This route extends for 115 miles through astonishing swatches of orange and yellow.
The northern end of this route begins in the scenic vacation town of Elkhart Lake, located just 20 minutes north of Westward Ho RV Resort. Wind your way south through trees painted in golden hues as you make your way through ancient Wisconsin forest. Glaciers of years past paved through the area, leaving behind rolling landscapes and unique rock formations along this tree-lined route.
As you pass by villages and communities, you’ll make your way down to Whitewater Lake, a perfect place to relax at the beach. If you’re looking for hiking trails, the lake is adjacent to the Kettle Moraine State Forest, a paradise filled with fall foliage.
John James Audubon State Park
Nestled near the Ohio River is John James Audubon State Park, a scenic retreat in Kentucky that’s just an hour away from Santa Claus, Indiana. A park, nature center, and museum celebrate the namesake naturalist whose works are housed on-site. The trails of this park are interconnected, allowing you to customize the length from a short walk to a steadier hike of a couple miles.
For a family-friendly jaunt, try out the Woodpecker Trail and loop back around using the Kentucky Coffee Tree Trail, giving you an easy hike of about one mile. For a longer route, try out the Wilderness Trail, which can be accessed from Warbler Road. This trail connects to the 1.3-mile Back Country Trail, providing a good opportunity to get the blood pumping.
While here, be sure to check out the renowned museum and nature center. You’ll be able to view original artwork from John James Audubon, while also getting a personal view of nature in the soundproof wildlife observation room.
Geneva State Park
Ohio isn’t often the first place that comes to mind for fall color, but the state is home to incredible foliage that takes on vivid hues when the season strikes. A perfect spot to partake in the color is at Geneva State Park, located along the shores of Lake Erie.
A two-mile hike and bike trail follows the coast, with vivid fall colors on one side and the rolling waves of Lake Erie on the other. Though you’ll have beautiful views any time of day, visits at dusk are breathtaking as the sunset reflects off of the water.
The park contains six miles of hiking trails in total. Explore the forest and venture deep into a world of color as you make your way through the park. While you’re in the area, visit the wineries that surround Geneva-on-the-Lake. Harvest season strikes in the fall and the wineries will be in full swing. To make exploration easy and safe, The Lodge at Geneva runs a wine shuttle that tours the area’s vineyards.
A paddler’s paradise, Grand Haven, MI, sits at the meeting point of the Grand River and Lake Michigan. The surrounding area is filled with waterways beckoning you to explore. With plenty of access points, it’s easy to create your own adventure.
The best way to find a route is to use the interactive map of the Grand River Water Heritage Trail. Launches are clearly marked and we suggest starting at Bruce Bayou or Indian Channel access points. From there, you can paddle downstream, even stopping to walk around on some of the public islands in the river. This route will carry you through the city of Grand Haven, past the Musical Fountain, and all the way to Lake Michigan. Just make sure you have someone to pick you and your boats up at the end of your adventure!
If you don’t own a boat or want another option, give Lakeshore Kayak Rental a call. They offer kayak, canoe, and paddleboat rentals with two trip options that include transportation.
Whether embarking on your own excursion or following a pre-set route, the fall foliage is sure to stun. Michigan is renowned for vibrant hues that reflect off of the water, creating a spectacular experience.
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