Which Fall Foliage Road Trip Is Right for You?

Choose between these two leaf-gazing hot spots based on the timing of your trip.

When the leaves turn hues of gold, red and copper this autumn, rev up your engine and hit the road. Wisconsin has some of the most beautiful foliage in the nation, and we’ve highlighted two drives that show off this scenery at its best – one for early in the month, and one for late.

Before finalizing your plans, consult Travel Wisconsin’s Fall Color Report (travelwisconsin.com/fall-color-report) for daily updates on where the leaves have changed, or where they soon will.

Head North

Destination: Peninsula State Park, Fish Creek (9462 Shore Rd.)
Distance from Downtown Milwaukee: 180 miles (3-hour drive)
Peak Foliage: Second week of October

You could easily spend a whole day in this park’s 3,776 acres. If you’re looking for a leaf-peeping stop along the way, check out the wooded Bookworm Gardens (1415 Campus Dr.) in Sheboygan. Each of the 70 whimsical gardens is inspired by a work of children’s literature.

Before entering Peninsula, fuel up with all-day breakfast or lunch at Julie’s Park Café. The buttermilk pancakes topped with Door County cherries are an excellent choice. Hike among maple and beech trees on the 1.8-mile Hemlock Trail or 2-mile Sentinel Loop. If you’re looking for a more challenging but rewarding hike, try the 2-mile Eagle Trail, with its 150-foot cliffs and forested terraces. Climb to the top of the 1868 Eagle Bluff Lighthouse perched above Green Bay, and if you want to stay later, take in a Northern Sky Theater show at the park Amphitheater or its indoor stage (through mid-November). Still not ready to leave? Campsites are so coveted that summer spots often fill up before winter’s even over. Thankfully, autumn is not quite as competitive.

Photo courtesy of Destination Door County



Head South

Destination: Snake Road, Lake Geneva
Distance from Downtown Milwaukee: 56 miles (1-hour drive)
Peak Foliage: Fourth week of October

Like the name implies, Snake Road is a curvy, meandering route. It stretches for 2.7 miles along the northwestern shores of the city’s namesake lake. After exiting I-43 at Highway 50, make a quick stop at Boxed & Burlap (2935 Highway 67, Delavan) for some refreshing lavender lemonade or a honeybee latte. This shiplap-walled coffee house doubles as a wedding venue (it’s that stunning).

Heading onto the tree-lined Snake Road, you’ll see lively bursts of yellow and orange leaves along the entire way – the stretch is one of Wisconsin’s designated Rustic Roads for its scenic and historical merit. Architecture and history buffs will enjoy passing the gated estates that once housed families who fled the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. These opulent homes signified Lake Geneva’s debut as a playground for the wealthy.

The nearby 271-acre Big Foot Beach State Park (1550 S. Lake Shore Dr.), named after Potawatomi Chief Big Foot, boasts abundant foliage with 6.5 miles of forested hiking trails. The Green Trail is longest at 2.9 miles but, like all the park’s trails, is on easy terrain. And, like at Peninsula State Park, you can extend your visit to an overnight stay thanks to 100 campsites tucked into the woods.

Photo courtesy of Jake Schnake, Blue Chair Stories


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s October issue.

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A seasoned writer, and a former editor at Milwaukee Home & Fine Living, Kristine Hansen launched her wine-writing career in 2003, covering wine tourism, wine and food pairings, wine trends and quirky winemakers. Her wine-related articles have published in Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier Journal, Uncorked (an iPad-only magazine), FoodRepublic.com, CNN.com and Whole Living (a Martha Stewart publication). She's trekked through vineyards and chatted up winemakers in many regions, including Chile, Portugal, California (Napa, Sonoma and Central Coast), Canada, Oregon and France (Bordeaux and Burgundy). While picking out her favorite wine is kind of like asking which child you like best, she will admit to being a fan of Oregon Pinot Noir and even on a sub-zero winter day won't turn down a glass of zippy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.