Are you looking for places to find the best Midwest fall colors? Once summer ends and fall creeps in, the Midwest becomes a breathtaking landscape of bright colors. From the rolling hills of Minnesota’s North Shore to the stunning forests of Michigan, the Midwest provides some of the most fascinating views of fall foliage. Bright yellows, fiery reds, and crisp oranges fill the forests, and whether you want to hike or just drive through them, embarking on a journey to the Midwest will be one to remember!
In this post, I’ll share some of the best places to see fall colors in the Midwest so you too can enjoy these magical destinations.
Best Places for Midwest Fall Colors
Below you’ll find the best places to take in the magical colors of fall time around the Midwest.
Lutsen – Minnesota
Nestled amidst the North Shore of Minnesota, which lines the shore of Lake Superior, is the small town of Lutsen. Home to one of the best ski resorts in the Midwest and Minnesota, Lutsen is popular year-round.
But during the fall months, it brings out an entirely new love for the area from local Minnesotans and visitors from all over.
Head to Lutsen Mountains Ski Resort and take a ride on the Summit Express gondola to get to the top of Moose Mountain. From here, you can enjoy some of the best views of the surrounding Sawtooth Mountains. For thrill-seekers, there’s also an alpine gondola here.
There are also dozens of hikes around the area, including some of the most popular, Oberg Mountain and Bear and Bear Lakes. All of them wind through the forests and showcase the stunning views of the North Shore.
Plus, there are plenty of amazing resorts on the North Shore that make for the perfect homebase for your adventures.
Door County – Wisconsin
One of the very best places to see fall colors in Wisconsin is Door County. This small town is situated on a peninsula of Wisconsin that juts out into Lake Michigan.
Door County is another place in the Midwest that’s popular for hiking, camping, and spending time outdoors. So there’s no shortage of places to get out and enjoy the fall foliage.
Newport State Park is one of the best places to enjoy the colors since there are hiking trails that will lead you through the forests. There are also several lighthouses dotted along Lake Michigan that act as a great foreground for fall colors.
Door County is also known for its apple orchards, so visiting during the fall months is one of the best ways to experience the orchards that fill the ‘Cape Cod of the Midwest.’
Custer State Park – South Dakota
Known for its abundance of wildlife and towering mountains that you can hike through, Custer State Park is a popular getaway spot in the Midwest.
Driving the Needles Highway or Iron Mountain Road are two great scenic drives where you can see all of the mountain views and the fall colors that surround the area.
One of the best parts of Custer State Park is that you can enjoy the wildlife as you drive through and see the fall foliage.
There are dozens of hiking trails, but the most popular is Black Elk Peak, which leads you up to the highest point in South Dakota.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park – Ohio
For some more leaf peeping this fall season in the Midwest, head to Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio.
Peak colors here are around mid-October and there are many ways to take advantage of the colors that surround you within the park.
Cuyahoga Valley is filled with great hikes, including Brandywine Falls and the Cuyahoga Valley Ledges. Both take you through the forest so you can enjoy the stunning colors.
Visiting this national park will keep you close to major cities like Cleveland and Akron, but will still allow you to escape into the magic of fall in the Midwest.
Stillwater – Minnesota
Stillwater is one of Minnesota’s best towns throughout the entire year, but during the fall time, it transforms into something magical. Found on the banks of the St. Croix River, this small town is special.
Once fall comes around, you can enjoy the views of the rolling hills that line the banks of the river as the foliage changes colors. There are several viewpoints to check out, including the Stillwater Overlook.
Even just walking along the waterfront or in Downtown Stillwater will allow you to take in the beautiful colors.
Another great way to enjoy fall in Stillwater is to get on the water with a Stillwater River Boats tour. You’ll get to cruise the St. Croix, enjoy a meal, and learn about the history of Stillwater.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – Michigan
Located on the shoreline of Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is another great place to see the best Midwest fall colors.
One of the best ways to experience the colors here is to take the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. On this nearly 8-mile drive, you’ll pass through a covered bridge, and eventually make it to the amazing Pierce Stocking Scenic Overlook.
This overlook provides a stunning view of Lake Michigan, although there aren’t as many fall colors over the lake. The scenic drive is where to find them!
One of the best hikes to check out is the Empire Bluffs trail, which features a beautiful view of Lake Michigan, and when the leaves change colors, it’s truly incredible!
Mackinac Island – Michigan
This small island is only accessible via ferry or seaplane since there are no cars allowed on it. This makes it a great place to escape the busyness of the cities and enjoy fall time in Michigan.
Mackinac Island has plenty of spots to enjoy the changing leaves, including Mackinac Island State Park. Within the park, which was Michigan’s first, you’ll find over 70 miles of hiking trails that lead you along Lake Huron and through the forest. The Mackinac Island Outer Loop is a long trail that leads you around the entire island and gives you some of the best views of the fall foliage!
Other fun things to do include wandering along Main Street on the island, trying their world-famous fudge, and taking a kayak tour of the water.
Grand Marais – Minnesota
Another great spot for fall colors in Minnesota is Grand Marais. Also located along the North Shore, Grand Marais is just a short distance north of Lutsen.
In Grand Marais, you’ll find some of the best views right from the city of the rolling mountains that fill with colors. As you start to make your way toward Grand Marias, you’ll already be able to spot the stunning colors along Highway 61.
One of the best ways to enjoy these colors is to embark on a hike. The Superior Hiking Trail runs through Grand Marais and there are several sections of the trail to check out during your visit.
There are also many great scenic drives to take such as the Gunflint Trail, which leads you through the dense Superior National Forest.
Pairing together Grand Marais and Lutsen is a great way to enjoy Minnesota’s fall colors. There are 8 state parks on the North Shore that you can add to your itinerary to fill it with adventure.
And right in Grand Marais, there are dozens of shops and local restaurants to eat at after you’re done checking out all of the beautiful fall colors.
Ashtabula Covered Bridge Festival – Ohio
This unique place to see fall colors is found in Ohio. The Ashtabula Covered Bridge Festival takes place every year and allows visitors to spend time driving through almost 20 covered bridges that are found over several rivers.
Along the way, you’ll get to pass the beautiful fall colors and admire all of the hard work that goes into putting together this event. The longest covered bridge in the United States is even found on the route!
The Ashtabula Covered Bridge Festival isn’t just bridges, you’ll also find a parade, games, delicious food, and more to enjoy.
The event takes place on the second weekend of October, so the colors are typically at their peak, making it a perfect time to see the Midwest fall colors.
Willow River State Park – Wisconsin
Just across the border from Minnesota, Willow River State Park in Wisconsin is another great place for enjoying fall foliage.
The main attraction of this park is Willow Falls, which is a large waterfall that cascades down the river in several tiers. It’s beautiful and is popular throughout the year for visitors.
You can hike to the waterfall via a short trail from the parking lot, but then you can also continue further on the many hiking trails to enjoy the fall foliage.
As you hike through the dense forest of Wisconsin, admire the bright shades of red, orange, and yellow that have taken over the trees. The further you get from the waterfall, the fewer crowds you’ll encounter! So head into the woods and escape the people that tend to gather at the falls.
Starved Rock State Park – Illinois
This unique Illinois state park features a variety of different attractions, including many hiking trails that wind through the forests. There are waterfalls that you’ll pass by, caves to hike under, and of course, during the fall months, endless fall colors to take in.
You can choose to embark on a hike or scenic drive on your own or participate in a guided one with the nearby lodges. On these guided hikes and drives, the local guides will teach you the history of the area, and you can just sit back and enjoy.
If you’re interested in other fall activities, the Starved Rock Lodge hosts an Oktoberfest dinner, where you can take part in the festivities of these traditional German festivals.
When is the Best Time to See Fall Colors in the Midwest?
The time that fall foliage is at its peak varies from place to place and from year to year, but typically, it falls around the first or second week of October.
In the Upper Midwest, it tends to happen a bit earlier, around mid-September to early October, while in the Lower Midwest, it can fall into late October or early November.
Before visiting, do some research on the place that you choose to visit so you arrive and are able to actually enjoy the fall colors!
Wrap-Up: Best Midwest Fall Colors
If you’re looking to see some of the best fall colors in the Midwest, there are many different places that you can go to enjoy them!
Whether you want to embark on a hike to see the changing leaves or you’d prefer to take a scenic drive, there are many options!
From the Lake Superior shoreline of Minnesota to the waterfalls and cliffs of Illinois, colorful trees fill the landscapes and make for a magical fall season.
Thanks for guest posting, Kassidy!