The Dairy State, Wisconsin, is such a prime spot for leaf-peeping that some people travel from other states just to experience the beauty. For locals, keeping an eye on that exquisite moment when the leaves start to turn into shades of gold, pink, and amber is highly anticipated, often leading to a day trip by car or an overnight adventure in search of more foliage.
According to the Wisconsin Fall Color Report, the second week of October is often a great time for fall foliage in Wisconsin, but the colors may peak later or earlier depending on where you go. And you don't have to travel far: Plenty of destinations not far from downtown Milwaukee practically guarantee the fall images you’ll want to capture with your camera.
Seven Bridges Trail, Grant Park, South Milwaukee
Once you get deep into this park—which is the second largest in Milwaukee County—you’ll soon forget you’re just a few miles south of Milwaukee’s skyline-shaping buildings. Along Lake Michigan, its 381 wooded acres include paved walking and bicycling paths as well as lookouts over the sandy shoreline. Hop on the 2-mile-long Seven Bridges Trail for the best leaf-peeping opportunities.
Where: South Lake Drive and Park Avenue, South Milwaukee (10 miles or 16 minutes from downtown Milwaukee)
Considered a pilgrimage for not only Catholics—due to the church’s Holy Mass, shrine, basilica, and other liturgical celebrations—trekking to Holy Hill each autumn is a right of passage for most locals who want to view fall foliage. You will definitely want to hike to the top of the bell tower, which is one of the region’s highest-elevation spots, for a bird’s-eye view of the colorful trees. Open to the public May 1 through October 1, the Scenic Tower stretches 192 feet from above the hilltop, providing the perfect view of the changing colors below.
Where: 1525 Carmel Road, Hubertus (37 miles or 45 minutes from downtown Milwaukee)
A favorite getaway for Chicagoans, this town is named for its lake and is filled to the brim with historical grand estates, including the Black Point Estate, which is the former summer home of beer tycoon Conrad Seipp during the late 1800s. There are also adorable shops and a local winery, Studio Winery, that features live music Saturday afternoons throughout the season in town. A simple walk down part of the 26-mile path around the lake will yield plenty of fall colors, or you can drive through the area and take in the foliage from your car.
Where: Downtown Lake Geneva (50 miles or 55 minutes from downtown Milwaukee)
Sturgeon Bay and Door County
Door County, one of the favorite summer vacation destinations in Wisconsin, is even more gorgeous come autumn when the crowds start to die down and the leaves begin to turn. A beloved dinner tradition—the fish boil—in Door County is still available, particularly at Old Post Office Restaurant in Ephraim, where it's paired with theatrical stories nightly.
From the county’s southern-most city (Sturgeon Bay) on up to the tip of the peninsula, there are quite a few state parks, including Newport State Park in Ellison Bay, Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek, and Potawatomi State Park and Whitefish Dunes State Park in Sturgeon Bay.
Where: Sturgeon Bay (154 miles or two hours and 30 minutes from downtown Milwaukee)
Minocqua and Eagle River
Located in the northern part of the state near the Canadian border, Eagle River is home to many fishing or hunting cabins, and the residents of this small town enjoy everything from sailing in the summer to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter.
Autumn is an excellent time to visit Minocqua, a town of just under 5,000 residents located near Eagle River. With around 600 miles of hiking trails, there are plenty of places to catch the fall foliage in this northern region, though you may want to head up the first week of October as the weather gets colder and leaves change colors sooner here.
Among the most popular hiking spots for fall colors is the Bearskin, which traverses 16 miles of a former railroad corridor.
Where: Minocqua (254 miles or just under four hours from downtown Milwaukee)
Great River Road and Trempealeau
The Great River Road on the western half of Wisconsin, the state's only National Scenic Byway, ranks as one of the best road-trip routes in the entire country, particularly during autumn. The Great River Road is a collection of state and local roads that stretches across 10 states of the U.S. and follows the path of the Mississippi River from Louisiana up to Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The town of Trempealeau—located along the 250-mile route that passes through 33 small riverfront towns in the state—is worthy of a stop along the way. You can even stay there overnight by booking a room at the Trempealeau Hotel, a lodging property on the National Register of Historic Places.
Where: Trempealeau (225 miles or three hours and 30 minutes from downtown Milwaukee)