By Jeanenne Tornatore
Now is the time to hit road if you want to catch fall colors at their best in the beautiful Midwest. Late-September through mid-October marks the prime window to take a weekend tour of some of the best byways and bike trails in states like Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana for enjoying the hues of the season.
Illinois: The Great River Road National Scenic Byway
Spanning 550 miles along Illinois’ Western border, the Great River Road National Scenic Byway offers breathtaking views of the banks and bluffs surrounding the mighty Mississippi River. Passing through towns like Moline, Quincy, Alton and Cairo, the Great River Road is perfect for a weekend trip or an extended journey to explore, play, shop or simply unwind. The Illinois Great River Road was included in National Geographic’s “500 Drives of a Lifetime”, and from Chicago, it is just a 3-hour drive to start your tour in quaint and historic Galena, Illinois. The Illinois Fall Color Report offers weekly color change updates and more great fall travel ideas at http://www.enjoyillinois.com/.
Wisconsin: Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive
The Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive is a 115-mile ramble through oak, maple and aspen fall colors in the 50,000 acres of the southern and northern units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. This scenic fall drive traverses six Wisconsin counties and meanders through forests where there are many places to picnic, hike, camp, bike, swim and fish during your fall foliage road trip. Just an hour drive from Milwaukee and a two-hour drive from downtown Chicago, leaf-peeping in this region can be done in a day or is perfect for a quick overnight getaway. Check out the Wisconsin Fall Color Map for peak color dates and more drive ideas in this beautiful state at http://www.travelwisconsin.com/.
Michigan: M-119 “Tunnel of Trees”
Catching the fall colors along Michigan’s M-119 in the Petoskey area is one of the most scenic drives in the country for fall foliage. The M-119 begins in Petoskey, with the Tunnel of Trees starting north of Harbor Springs, where it becomes a narrow road that runs 20 miles along a spectacular bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Along the way, you’ll find unique shops, great food and drink and spectacular scenery. While you’re in the area, consider other unique ways to view the foliage at nearby Boyne Mountain Resort including chair lift tours, zip-line tours and fall color horseback trail rides. Use Pure Michigan’s Fall & Seek Finder to project the best time to go, then vote for your favorite Michigan routes.
Missouri: Katy Trail
If you’re more interested in seeing the fall colors from your bike than your car, the Katy Trail is a must-plan trip. 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 225 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, with opportunities to stop at charming wineries and B&Bs along the way. Go to www.visitmo.com for a regional guide to taking in the vibrant colors of the Show Me State.
Indiana: Parke County covered bridges
Just 55 miles west of Indianapolis in the Wabash River Valley is where you’ll find the nation’s highest concentration of covered bridges, with thirty-one punctuating Parke County’s fall landscape. Stop by the visitor’s center in Rockville, pick up maps and set out on a self-guided trip through time. While you’re there, enjoy Indiana’s largest festival – The Parke County Covered Bridge Festival – which runs Oct. 13 – 22. This countywide event is headquartered in Rockville, where many of the featured activities are held. Check out this Indiana Fall Fun Guide for more information on fall color routes and celebrations throughout the state.