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Discover the 5 Best Fall Foliage Destinations in the Midwest

The Midwest is one of the top spots in the country for fall foliage. And the bright colors are certainly the perfect backdrop for the harvest season.

There’s no wrong place in the region to see the leaves change. However, some have a reputation for being better than others.

Today, we’re sharing the five best places in the Midwest for autumn foliage. Like a kid and a massive leaf pile…

Let’s dive in!

Take a walk around these beautiful leaf-peeping destinations

Colorful Fall Foliage in the Midwest

The 12 states known as the Midwest give New England a run for its money for fall foliage. The states are Nebraska, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

If you’re planning a trip, the peak season for the changing leaves varies by state. Mid-to-late October is generally the perfect time to view them. 

But remember that Mother Nature plays a significant role in the process and timing.

An intense drought during the summer typically results in the colors appearing later. In addition, leaves can drop from the trees early when temperatures rise during autumn. This can bring about a shorter and less intense season.

Many of the small Midwest towns fully embrace the theme. Communities take pride in hosting festivals, and the cooler days make for excellent outdoor time.

Some popular activities include hiking, apple picking, and sitting around a bonfire. Pumpkin patches and corn mazes become packed with customers. They’re perfect opportunities to enjoy apple cider, warm soup, or just about any treat you can imagine with pumpkin spice.

Best Places in the Midwest to View Fall Foliage

You can enjoy picturesque views of the changing seasons practically anywhere in the Midwest. However, the best spots offer more than just colorful leaves. Here are some places to consider for the complete Midwest fall foliage experience.

Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan

The tip of the Leelanau Peninsula is just over an hour north of Traverse City, Michigan. It’s in the northwest corner of the state’s “mitten” section. When it comes to autumn leaves, Leelanau Peninsula doesn’t hold back.

The 116-mile M-22 Color Tour is one of the easiest ways to experience the colors here. It starts in Manistee and skirts along the shores of Lake Michigan before ending in Traverse City. 

Locals and visitors love this drive so much that readers voted it USA Today’s best scenic drive.

In addition, the area has tons of farmhouses, wineries, and the famous Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive along the lakeshore is a shorter scenic drive (7.4 miles).

This is your chance if you’ve never gotten lost in a corn maze. Jacob’s Farm along M-72 features a 10-acre corn maze that challenges guests. Trust us, it’s more challenging than you think.

If you’ll be on the West Coast this autumn, check out Best Scenic Drives for Fall Foliage in the Northwest.

Door County, Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s Door County is tough to beat regarding Midwest fall foliage. The county is a picture-perfect peninsula sandwiched between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. Their more than 300 miles of shoreline come alive with color each autumn. The many coastal towns are great spots to shop and experience the season with your tastebuds.

One must-see spot in Door County is Fish Creek. It’s known as the gateway to Peninsula State Park. You can hop on the 10-mile bike path and ride through the changing leaves. Those who want to enjoy the views from the comfort of their car will want to experience the Door County Coastal Byway.

This byway starts north of Sturgeon Bay, where Highway 42 and 57 meet. Throughout the 66-mile adventure, you’ll travel through charming communities and spot multiple lighthouses. 

Once you reach Northpoint, take in the grandest views of Lake Michigan in the entire state. Returning, take the opposite side of the peninsula to enjoy a new perspective.

Starved Rock State Park, Illinois 

Starved Rock State Park is in Oglesby, Illinois, an hour and a half southwest of downtown Chicago. The 2,630 acres are full of canyons, waterfalls, and epic views. It’s a fantastic place to visit any time of year, but the fall foliage is some of the finest in the Midwest.

Here you can enjoy 13 miles of hiking trails. Whether you’re looking for an easy (Saint Louis Canyon) or more challenging (La Salle Canyon) hike, the bright colors of autumn will surround you. 

Unfortunately, with such stunning views, these paths can get busy. Some come prepared expecting crowds.

The park offers guided outings by land and water. Climb aboard a tour on one of their trolleys or river cruise boats. An expert guide will show you around and educate you so you can further appreciate its beauty. 

Heading to the East Coast instead? Here are 5 Great Scenic Drives for Fall Leaf Peeping in the Northeast.

Amazing autumn scenery in the Midwest, forests with lake, fall foliage, Aerial view.
The Midwest is filled with deciduous forests that become immersed in color every fall

Parke County, Indiana

A covered bridge surrounded by stunning leaves is the perfect picture of autumn in the Midwest. Luckily, Indiana’s Parke County is home to 31 of these iconic bridges. They love them so much that the county transforms into the Covered Bridge Festival each fall.

This unique festival attracts more than two million visitors to the county each year. People from all over the Midwest gather in the tiny towns of Parke County. For many in the area, it marks the unofficial start of the holiday season.

This county sits in west-central Indiana, approximately 45 minutes from Terre Haute and an hour and a half from Indianapolis. 

In addition to the Covered Bridge Festival, you’ll find pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and haunted houses.

To immerse yourself in the Midwest’s fall leaves, head to Turkey Run State Park. This 2,300-acre outdoor playground features 14 miles of paths. However, don’t let their lack of creativity with names deceive you. The hiking is incredible here. Trail 3 is popular but very rugged. Hikers must cautiously navigate slippery surfaces and multiple ladders.

Whether you plan or just explore, this will help you dig into the bridges: Indiana’s Covered Bridges.

Branson, Missouri

Branson, Missouri, is a popular tourist spot throughout the year. Additionally, during a four to six-week period each autumn, things get slightly crazier. The trees paint the Ozark Mountain Country orange, gold, and crimson.

Some of the grandest views are along a 22-mile stretch of Highway 165 its scenic overlook allows you to take your time and enjoy the view. The bright colors paint the landscape as far as your eyes can see.

Be sure to visit Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area. The 1,500-acre nature park has multiple easy hikes (Dewey Bald Lower Lookout Trail) and moderate ones (Homestead Trail).

The nearby theme park, Silver Dollar City, hosts an annual festival from mid-September to the end of October each year. You can see thousands of glowing pumpkins and enjoy a non-frightening experience that’s fun for the whole family.

Head to the Midwest for Excellent Fall Foliage

If you want to witness fall foliage, the Midwest should be on your list. It may not be the South, but the many small communities know how to show hospitality. You can find activities just about every weekend from mid-September through mid-November. So whether you’re planning a trip for a single weekend or the entire season, there’s plenty to see and do.

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