30 Great Midwest Fall Color Getaways

Memorial Tower Kansas City
National World War I Museum and Memorial Tower. Photo: Courtesy of Visit KC

Take a scenic drive; explore a city, state or national park; or wander the tree-shaded streets of a small town to enjoy fall color getaways in the Midwest.

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South Dakota: Custer State Park

Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup South Dakota
Ackmerman + Gruber

At 71,000 acres, Custer State Park is one of the nation's largest state parks, known for granite spires called Needles and the 1,500 head of bison that wander freely. Fall bring special events like the park's legendary bison roundup. You can't go wrong with any of the trails here for fall color, but for a short, 1-mile walk, it's hard to beat the loop around lovely Sylvan Lake. Or drive the Needles Highway for spectacular views of the granite formations. Read about 5 unforgettable fall experiences in the Black Hills.

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Kansas City, Missouri

Memorial Tower Kansas City
National World War I Museum and Memorial Tower. Courtesy of Visit KC

Tapas on patios, spirited festivals, foliage-shrouded museums: In Kansas City, fall is a long, leisurely and resounding last hurrah to summer. Wander through the regal oasis of the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden, see the city (and fall color) from the 217-foot-tall Liberty Memorial Tower at the National WWI Museum and Memorial, and indulge in creative dining at spots like Baba's Pantry, a Palestinian deli; or Grünauer, a fine-dining destination that will transport you to Austria with schnitzels and strudels. Read more about our fall getaway in Kansas City.

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Michigan: Mackinac Region

Grand Hotel Mackinac Island in fall
The stately Grand Hotel, which hosts Cork & Fork and has the world’s longest front porch, overlooks the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge. Sara Wright

If you've only been to Michigan's Mackinac region during the summer (or never been at all), you owe yourself a fall trip. You'll find the best seats on ferries, prime lakeside-restaurant tables, wonderfully deserted hiking trails, bargain hotel rates—and stunning fall color. Plus, a new food festival, Cork & Fork at the Grand Hotel, promises a weekend of great food created by Midwest female chefs.

Thanks to the insulating effects of the Great Lakes, the color show here often starts in late September and stretches into late October. Fall foliage forms a backdrop everywhere you turn: riding along on an island carriage tour; driving the Tunnel of Trees (State-119) near Cross Village; exploring Mackinac Island State Park; or crossing a forest-canopied bridge at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park near Mackinaw City. Read more about why you should visit this idyllic, car-free destination.

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Wisconsin: Lake Geneva

Geneva Lake
Courtesy of Geneva Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Fall brings crisp days and radiant foliage to Lake Geneva, 80 miles northwest of Chicago's Loop. Enjoy boat trips, boutique shopping, inventive restaurants and pampering lodgings. Stroll along the 21-mile lakeshore path that puts you, literally, in the backyards of the lavish estates that ring Geneva Lake. Fall activities typically include apple and pumpkin picking, corn mazes, and Oktoberfest. See our Lake Geneva area trip guide.

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Missouri: Wineries near Hermann

Missouri's Stone Hill Winery, Hermann
Stone Hill Winery. Courtesy of David Bishop and Stone Hill Winery

If autumn could be captured in a glass, it would be this: a cabernet sauvignon, glistening ruby red like fall leaves, reflecting the golden glint of the late-day Missouri sun. To capture this vignette, travel to one of central Missouri's wineries (including Stone Hill Winery, pictured) near Hermann and Defiance along the Missouri River. When October arrives, the region gives a new twist to Oktoberfest festivities by celebrating with fall winery tours and tastings. See how to make the best of a fall weekend in the Hermann area.

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Wisconsin: Door County

Things to Do in Door County--Peninsula State Park
Peninsula State Park. Courtesy of Destination Door County

Many of the pioneers who settled in Door County in the 18th and 19th centuries came from New England, and their white clapboard architecture has earned Door County the moniker Cape Cod of the Midwest. In fall, as foliage turns fiery red and orange, the quaint maritime villages of Sturgeon Bay, Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Ephraim and Sister Bay look all the more like New England. Throughout the county, five state parks also show off fall's finest colors. See our trip guide to Door County.

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Michigan: M-22 color tour

Michigan: M-22 color tour
M-22. Ryan Donnell

A single highway, M-22, traces the Lake Michigan shore up from Manistee, around the Leelanau Peninsula, then back down to Traverse City—116 gorgeous miles in all. The scenery flits between idyllic towns and breathtaking vistas of 400-foot golden sand dunes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore crowned with an autumn cap of red, green and gold leaves. Northern Michigan's rich soil and lake-tempered climate make for fantastic local wine and produce. Look for roadside fruit stands with the final harvest of heirloom tomatoes and squash—or the first of pears and apples. Read about the best things to do in and around Traverse City.

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Indiana: Parke County's covered bridges

Billie Creek Bridge in Parke County.
Billie Creek Bridge. Bob Stefko

Thirty-one covered bridges punctuate Parke County's landscape like the miniature buildings in a model train set. Here, 55 miles west of Indianapolis in the Wabash River Valley, you'll find the nation's highest concentration of covered bridges. Stop by the visitors center in Rockville, pick up maps and set out on a self-guided trip through time. The half-century-old Covered Bridge Festival (Oct. 13-22, 2023) brings food vendors, crafts and entertainment to Rockville.

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St. Louis

Gateway Arch St. Louis Missouri
Gateway Arch. Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux

Fall lingers in Missouri and we like to, too. Roam the grounds of the Gateway Arch, stroll the Missouri Botanical Garden, picnic in the 1,200 acres of Forest Park, indulge in silky frozen custard at Ted Drewes...you'll find many ways to celebrate the season in St. Louis. Read about St. Louis' national park, imaginative museums and incredible restaurants.

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Cleveland: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Randall L. Schieber

In Cleveland, you can have your nature and your city, too. Just 20 minutes from downtown is Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a 33,000-acre preserve. Where mules once pulled canal boats, walkers and bicyclists now stream along the 20-mile Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. More ambitious hikers choose from an additional 100 miles of trails. Families tour a 19th-century living history museum, and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad chugs past heron and bald eagle nests (and may offer ghost train rides in autumn!). Read about exploring parks, music history and mod museums in Cleveland.

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Michigan: Keweenaw Peninsula

Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula
Haven Falls. Bob Stefko

The only things crowding Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula in autumn are miles of coastline, fall color and Lake Superior lore. Take scenic drives, explore areas such as Haven Falls, learn about the region's copper heritage or just relax and take in the views. See our trip guide to the Upper Peninsula.

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Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway

Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park. Ginger Crichton

Within easy drives of Chicago and St. Louis, the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway threads through natural areas and past water views, bluffs and brilliant fall foliage. Along the way, you'll also find welcoming hearths, inspiring art and history, memorable meals, and locally produced wines. Read more about Illinois River Road attractions.

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Minnesota: Root River Valley

Magelssen Bluff Minnesota
Magelssen Bluff.

A rare mix of activities comes together in the Root River Valley in the southeast corner of Minnesota. Along the 30-mile stretch between Lanesboro and Houston, the river, the paved Root River State Trail and the Historic Bluff Country National Scenic Byway (State-16) run parallel, offering different ways to explore storybook towns and the scenic stretches in between. Hardwood trees cloak the limestone bluffs, transforming the valley into a quilt of colors. Read about the best things to do in Lanesboro and the Root River Valley.

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Ohio: Ashtabula County's Covered Bridges

Ashtabula County, Ohio
Benetka Covered Bridge.

Benetka Road Covered Bridge, built about 1900 and renovated in 1985, spans the Ashtabula River and is one of 19 historic and reconstructed bridges in northeast Ohio's Ashtabula County. In the fall, the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival (Oct. 14-15, 2023) features self-guided tours of the bridges plus a parade, quilt show and other entertainment in Jefferson. Extend the fall experience by exploring the orchards and vineyards around pretty lake towns in Ashtabula, which borders Lake Erie.

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Illinois: Shawnee Hills Wine Trail

Blue Sky Vineyard Shawnee Hills Wine Trail Illinois
Courtesy of Blue Sky Vineyard

Along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, wineries like Blue Sky Vineyards offer sips of award-winning Illinois wines, while a short drive away, fresh-picked apples fill baskets at Rendleman Orchards' Farm Market, and apple dumplings tempt at Flamm Orchards. Walking trails around Cedar Lake cross creek shallows; hilly hikes through Little Grand Canyon and Giant City State Park shred stereotypes about Illinois' landscape. Dozens of bed-and-breakfasts and cabins burrow in the hills, and the wineries reveal personalities all their own.

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Illinois: Galena

Church in Galena

Galena shines in the fall, and the little river town in northwest Illinois' rolling hills continues to evolve. Take a cruise to admire the forested bluffs from the Missisippi River; shop and dine in downtown Galena; visit area vineyards for tastings and tours. Read about our fall getaway to Galena.

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Minnesota: North Shore

Grand Marais, North Shore
Grand Marais.

Minnesota's North Shore is a 154-mile stretch of waterfalls, densely wooded inland mountains, pebbled Lake Superior shoreline, and small towns. In autumn, woods dotted with maples flaming red and orange attract hikers along the Superior Hiking Trail. The North Shore Scenic Drive (State-61) runs 150 miles from Duluth at the southwestern tip of the lake to Grand Portage at the Canadian border. Along the way, eight state parks beckon with waterfalls, forest trails and achingly beautiful Lake Superior views. See our trip guide to Duluth and the North Shore.

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Wisconsin: Cranberry Harvest

Wisconsin's cranberry harvest
David Nevala

Family farms and berry-theme attractions in central Wisconsin draw visitors for the autumn cranberry harvest. Here, 100 miles northwest of Madison, farms grow more than half the nation's cranberry supply. Come for the Warrens Cranberry Festival (Sept. 22-24, 2023) or explore the history of Wisconsin cranberries at the Cranberry Discovery Center. Wetlands and hiking trails beckon at nearby Black River State Forest.

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Ohio: Hocking Hills State Park

Rock House, Hocking Hills State Park
Rock House, Hocking Hills State Park. Ryan Donnell

Explore soaring shelf caves, deep gorges and sweeping overlooks at Hocking Hills State Park (55 miles southeast of Columbus). Expect company on the trails, especially on the weekends, when crowds snake past the fall colors of Ash Cave and Old Man's Cave. But on weekdays, you might have the park more to yourself. Nearby Hocking State Forest and Conkle's Hollow State Nature Preserve also offer spectacular fall foliage. See our trip guide to the Hocking Hills.

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Great River Road

Great River Road, Wisconsin, view from Maiden Rock Bluff near Stockholm
John Noltner

The nation's mightiest river offers some of the Midwest's most dramatic fall scenery. Majestic wilderness, reborn river towns and carefully preserved history await along the Great River Road, which passes through Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota on its 2,000-mile journey from the Gulf Coast to northern Minnesota. Choose a stretch to visit, sit back and enjoy the ride. Read about the Wisconsin stretch of the Great River Road.

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Kansas: Glacial Hills Scenic Byway four-state overlook

Kansas: Glacial Hills Scenic Byway four-state overlook
Glacial Hills Scenic Byway. Harland J Schuster

See Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa from a viewing platform in tiny White Cloud (population: 154), 85 miles northwest of Kansas City, Missouri. The town, on the bluffs of the Missouri River, lies at the northern end of the 63-mile Glacial Hills Scenic Byway.

The byway runs through rolling, wooded countryside and connects the towns of Leavenworth, Atchison and Troy with White Cloud. Be sure to stop at Jackson Park in Atchison for another scenic overview of the river.

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Indiana: Brown County

Indiana: Brown County State Park
Brown County State Park. John Noltner

Artists were drawn to Brown County a century ago for its rolling hills and natural beauty. Today, an artists' colony still thrives, especially in and near county seat Nashville—a great destination for cool boutiques, artsy finds and cooking with a Southern touch. Visitors come to enjoy both the arts and the scenery, which is especially appealing in fall. Brown County State Park, Indiana's largest state park, spreads over hills southeast of Nashville, offering activities such as horseback-riding, hiking and mountain bike trails. See our trip guide to Brown County.

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Iowa: Historic Hills Scenic Byway

Iowa: Historic Hills Scenic Byway
Historic Hills Scenic Byway. Jason Lindsey

On southeast Iowa's 85-mile Historic Hills Scenic Byway, where the Des Moines River makes its stretch run to the Mississippi, there's no place for urgency. Most weekends find the area fairly quiet, although the annual Scenic Drive Festival (October 13-15, 2023) swells towns such as Bentonsport, Keosauqua and Bonaparte with crafters, pancake feeds, pedal tractor races and old-time medicine shows.

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Minneapolis: Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway

Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway Minneapolis
Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway.

Come fall, instinct draws many Minnesotans to the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway. The 55-mile loop follows the Mississippi River southeast from downtown before snaking back to the green spaces on the city's west side.

The country's only official urban scenic byway offers a continuous, magnetic beauty. Huge parks, such as 759-acre Theodore Wirth, give visitors a total fall immersion. The byway's lakes have personalities as different as siblings'—showy Bde Maka Ska, quiet Brownie, family-oriented Harriet. Minnehaha Park features a 53-foot waterfall. Read about Minneapolis' trails, dining scene and theater community.

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Nebraska: Nebraska City

Lied Lodge in Nebraska
Lied Lodge. Courtesy of Arbor Day Farm

More than 250 varieties of trees and shrubs—many planted by the founder of Arbor Day and his family—flourish in a 72-acre arboretum in Nebraska City. The grounds of Arbor Lodge State Historical Park and Arboretum include at least 10 state-champion trees, the largest examples of their species in Nebraska. Read more about things to do in Nebraska City.

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Michigan: Porcupine Mountains State Park

Lake of the Clouds, Michigan Upper Peninsula
Lake of the Clouds. Per Breiehagen

The Porkies (150 miles west of Marquette) embody Michigan's remote Upper Peninsula, with 59,000 wild acres, 90 miles of trails and, if you get away from the campsites, not too many visitors. If you only go once, be sure to stop and drop your jaw at the Lake of the Clouds vistas, ringed in fall by a necklace of color. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park also claims dozens of waterfalls, including a spectacular series easily accessible along the half-mile boardwalk of the Presque Isle River Scenic Area. Read about our fall trip to the Upper Peninsula, including the Porkies.

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Kansas: Botanica

Kansas: Botanica
Botanica. Courtesy of Becky Hopkins/Botanica, The Wichita Gardens

More than two dozen themed gardens spread over 9 acres at Botanica, showcasing 3,600 species of plants. Sculptures, fountains, waterfalls and streams dot the grounds; in fall, 5,000 mums add fresh blooms throughout the garden, and trees such as the Shantung Maple turn brilliant colors. Among the areas to explore: Woodland Walk, Garden on the Rocks, Margie Button Fountain Garden and the Sally Stone Sensory Gardens. Read about Wichita's burgeoning dining scene and riverfront museum district.

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Missouri: Katy Trail

Katy Trail
Katy Trail.

The nation's longest rails-to-trails bike path starts northwest of St. Louis in St. Charles and loosely follows the Missouri River west for about 240 miles, through small towns, farmland, prairie and wine country. Known for towering cliffs and tree-lined ridges, the Katy Trail provides a passage through some of Missouri's loveliest fall foliage. Read about our trip on the Katy Trail.

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North Dakota: Pembina Gorge

Pembina River North Dakota
Pembina River. Alicia Underlee Nelson

Pembina Gorge's patchwork of state-protected lands marks a cultural crossroads (and looks lovely dressed in fall finery). Hikers and bird-watchers clamber down cliffs to the Pembina River, which begins in Manitoba, Canada. Its banks erupt in a riot of rust, persimmon and sienna, the treetops brushed with gold. The valley cradles North Dakota's largest uninterrupted stretch of oak woods, a blend of boreal and deciduous forest and lush wetland thickets. Read our story about fall in the Pembina Gorge.

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Iowa: Loess Hills

Iowa: Loess Hills National Scenic Byway
Loess Hills National Scenic Byway. Courtesy of Iowa Tourism Office

The Loess Hills, which the wind sculpted from silt deposits as glaciers retreated eons ago, dominate a narrow section of western Iowa in the Big Sioux and Missouri River valleys. Enjoy the area's fall foliage from all or part of the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway, a 220-mile route that links prairies, forests, overlooks and parks, like Hitchcock Nature Center, stretching to the Missouri.

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