Fall Road Trips Midwest Region: Best Routes and Destinations

Disclosure notice

Looking for a fall road trip options in the Midwest?

As the leaves start turning and the air gets crisp, there's no better way to experience autumn's vibrant hues and cozy charm than by hitting the scenic roads for a fall road trip in the Midwest. 

Growing up in Michigan, I've always enjoyed the fall season. I even got married in the fall! I love that Michigan gets to experience all four seasons – sometimes even all in the same day – LOL!

Landscapes in the Midwest explode into a canvas of fiery reds, warm goldens, and deep oranges. This creates a picture-perfect backdrop for adventurers and tranquility seekers. 

With state parks brimming with miles of trails, historic lighthouses guarding the Great Lakes, and small towns filled with unique boutiques, a Midwest road trip this fall promises unforgettable experiences and stunning photo ops.

This close-up photograph beautifully captures the detailed texture and vibrant color transition of autumn leaves. A single maple leaf in the foreground stands out with its deep purple hue and prominent red veins, contrasting against the fading green and emerging yellow of the surrounding foliage. The soft, blurred background enhances the leaf's intricate details and rich colors, making it a focal point in this serene depiction of fall.

Best Midwest Destinations for Fall Road Trips

When it comes to picturesque fall road trips in the Midwest, several destinations stand out. There are so many places known for their stunning colors and charming attractions.

From the enchanting Door County in Wisconsin to the serene landscapes of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and along the scenic multi-state route of the Great River Road, these destinations offer a perfect blend of nature, culture, and outdoor activities for fall travelers.

Illinois

To check the fall colors in Illinois tap here.

The Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway

The Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway, offers a breathtaking journey where the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois Rivers converge.

This picturesque byway stretches through a region often referred to as the “Alton area.” As you travel along this route, you're greeted by spectacular views of towering bluffs, expansive wetlands, and the mighty rivers flowing together.

Fall is an exceptional time to explore this byway. The route is surrounded by hardwood forests that explode in a kaleidoscope of autumn colors. These colors enhance the natural beauty of the river landscapes.

The byway is also dotted with charming small towns, historic sites, and unique attractions. Check out the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Hartford and the Pere Marquette State Park near Grafton, which both offer scenic overlooks and excellent opportunities for eagle watching.

road between autumn forest
Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

Indiana

Click here to track fall colors!

Indiana Dunes National Park

Just a short drive from Chicago, Indiana Dunes National Park offers nature lovers a chance to enjoy the autumn color along Lake Michigan's sandy shores. The park features lots of opportunities for outdoor adventures!

Indiana Dunes offers miles of hiking trails, scenic overlooks, and opportunities for bird watching, making it a favorite road trip destination during the fall road trip season. The Dunes make a great day trip from the Windy City.

Autumn scene at Indiana Dunes with a small pond covered in lily pads amidst forested wetlands. Bare and leafy trees in shades of gold and green frame the view, with overcast skies.

Iowa

To track peak fall color projections in Iowa click here.

Des Moines to Council Bluffs

Travel from Des Moines to Council Bluffs along Iowa's scenic byways, where the landscape bursts into a quilt of harvest colors.

The Loess Hills, along the west side of the state, are particularly striking in the fall. They offer panoramic views that are a photographer's dream.

Fall festivities, including harvest markets and county fairs, are abundant in September and October.

Fall Colors on the Loess Hills
Fall Colors on the Loess Hills” by Gwen's River City Images is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Michigan

To track peak fall color projections in Michigan click here.

Upper Peninsula

For a truly immersive fall experience, head to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In the UP you will be surrounded by nature's masterpiece of fiery fall colors.

Explore the cascading Tahquamenon Falls or cruise along the stunning shoreline of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for unparalleled views of the vibrant foliage against the backdrop of Lake Superior.

Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, and wildlife watching in the dense forests. The fall season in the Upper Peninsula is magical, offering a tranquil escape for those seeking solitude in nature.

Munising is a great place to stay and is driveable to many great destinations that were mentioned above.

Northern Michigan: Traverse City to Mackinaw City

Embark on a stunning fall drive from Traverse City to Mackinaw City, showcasing Northern Michigan's autumn splendor along Lake Michigan's shores.

Start in Traverse City, surrounded by vineyards in vibrant fall colors, and proceed through the picturesque towns of Charlevoix and Petoskey. Each of these towns offer scenic views and historic charm.

The route features panoramic lakeside vistas framed by golden leaves and concludes in Mackinaw City, where the dense forests of the Upper Peninsula add a dramatic backdrop.

The ideal time for this scenic adventure is from late September to mid-October, capturing the peak of fall foliage.

Tip: When passing Traverse City, be sure to venture into the Leelanau Peninsula! Drive to the tip and visit the Mission Point Lighthouse.

Close-up view of colorful autumn leaves scattered on a forest floor. Vivid shades of yellow, orange, and red mix with the earthy browns of decaying leaves.

Michigan's Gold Coast

This scenic drive along Lake Michigan's eastern shore in Southwest Michigan is a fall spectacle. Begin in New Buffalo and trace the coastline north through charming beach towns like St. Joseph and South Haven.

The route is framed by fiery red and gold foliage, with vineyards offering autumn tastings and festivals. South Haven's lighthouse against a backdrop of autumn skies creates a picturesque scene, ideal in early October.

Tunnel of Trees

Located along M-119 in Northern Michigan, this scenic route is famous for its narrow road flanked by dense forests with vibrant fall colors, making it a visually stunning drive.

The best time to drive through the Tunnel of Trees is typically the first two weekends in October.

There are many other great fall road trips in Michigan – this is just a few!

Fall trees that canopy over paved roadway.
Tree Tunnel over Northern Michigan Road” by malonekm is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Minnesota

Stay in the loop about fall colors in Minnesota by tapping here.

North Shore

Traverse the North Shore Scenic Drive from Duluth to Grand Marais, a route that hugs the dramatic Lake Superior coastline.

As you journey northward, the landscape unfolds into a breathtaking display of vibrant colors. The dense forests of aspen, birch, and maple dramatically contrast against the deep blues of the largest of the Great Lakes. 

Stop by Gooseberry Falls State Park, known for its cascading waterfalls and scenic hiking trails. Also visit the historic Split Rock Lighthouse, perched high on a cliff offering panoramic views of the vibrant shoreline.

The charming harbor town of Grand Marais, with its quaint shops, art galleries, and cozy eateries, is a perfect endpoint.

The ideal time for this is from late September through October; this route is a favorite for experiencing Northern Minnesota's spectacular fall foliage.

If you need a place to stay, I highly recommend the Cliff Dweller Hotel on Lake Superior (near Tofte)!

Autumn scene by a lake with a rocky shoreline covered in vibrant fall foliage. Bright yellow and orange leaves contrast against the evergreens and the rustic, brownish rocks.
Fall on the North Shore” by priyaswtc is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway

As autumn arrives, the Minnesota River Valley is transformed into vibrant fall colors of fiery reds, oranges, and yellows. From Minneapolis, follow the river to Mankato, enjoying quaint towns and cultural sites.

The fall colors are complemented by the harvest season, enhancing visits to local vineyards and farms. Peak color typically occurs in late September to early October.

Missouri

Explore this site for the fall color forecast in Missouri.

Heart of the Heartland

Explore Central Missouri's heartland starting from Columbia, heading south to the Lake of the Ozarks. This area transforms into a stunning display of fall colors reflecting off the lake's calm waters.

Enjoy brisk walks through Ha Ha Tonka State Park and end your journey in Jefferson City, where the Missouri State Capitol sits against a panorama of fall foliage. The best time for this trip is from late October to early November.

Early morning light bathes a rolling autumn landscape, highlighting vivid red and orange foliage in the foreground and golden trees dotting the gentle hills. The serene setting is enveloped in a soft haze, creating a peaceful and picturesque scene.
R0153785” by Heath Cajandig is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Nebraska

Tap here to find out when the fall colors will be at peak in Nebraska.

Nebraska's Platte River Road

Follow the historic path along the Platte River in Central Nebraska, starting from Kearney. Kearney is known for its Archway Monument, which spans Interstate 80 and tells the story of the Great Western migration.

The surrounding areas light up with the season's colors, particularly along the riverbanks. Finish in Lincoln, the state capital, where the Sunken Gardens are a must-see in fall. They showcase vibrant floral displays and autumnal plantings.

This route is ideal from mid to late October.

Ohio

Find out when the fall colors will hit in Ohio by tapping here.

Ohio's Amish Country and Beyond

In Northeast Ohio, drive into the serene landscapes of Ohio's Amish Country, where the rolling hills light up with autumn colors.

Start in the historic town of Wooster, moving through Millersburg, where horse-drawn buggies dot the roadways.

The journey through Holmes County's lush countryside is best in mid-October, perfect for viewing the vibrant leaves and visiting local farmers' markets.

an old stone arch bridge nestled within a forest setting, surrounded by trees displaying early autumn colors. Fallen leaves are scattered around, and the bridge, partly covered in shadow, spans a small stream or dry riverbed, contributing to the serene woodland atmosphere.

Hocking Hills Scenic Byway

Travel the Hocking Hills Scenic Byway for a journey through some of the state's most spectacular natural landscapes.

This route winds through the rugged terrain of the Hocking Hills region, known for its stunning rock formations, deep gorges, and cascading waterfalls.

The byway provides access to renowned state parks like Hocking Hills State Park, where highlights include Ash Cave, Old Man's Cave, and Cedar Falls. There are plenty of places to explore at Hocking Hills.

Autumn is a particularly magical time on the Hocking Hills Scenic Byway, as the dense forests transform into a vibrant display of reds, oranges, and yellows. Mid-October is typically the best time for peak fall colors.

Wisconsin

Track the fall colors in Wisconsin.

Door County Coastal Byway

Nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan, Door County is a hidden gem known for its vibrant fall foliage and quaint coastal villages.

Head to Peninsula State Park, where hiking trails lead to breathtaking views from the observation tower of the changing leaves.

Take advantage of the local festivals celebrating the harvest season, offering delicious apple cider, homemade pies, and a delightful pumpkin patch.

The best time to visit Door County for fall colors is typically from mid-September to mid-October when the leaves are ablaze with red, orange, and gold hues.

Picturesque rural autumn scene featuring a field of mature corn in the foreground, with a classic red barn and a silo nestled among colorful trees in shades of red, orange, and yellow. Fluffy white clouds dot the blue sky above, enhancing the vibrant landscape.
Fall Colors in Door County” by elviskennedy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Multi-State

Great River Road

Embark on a scenic journey along the Great River Road, which follows the majestic Mississippi River for about 3,000 miles across ten states.

The National Scenic Byway starts from Minnesota's headwaters; it winds southwards to the Gulf of Mexico.  

Discover historic towns like Galena, where cobblestone streets and charming boutiques transport you back in time.

Along the way, stop at must-see attractions that capture the essence of fall, from vibrant pumpkin patches to apple orchards bursting with ripe fruit.

Route 66, Illinois to Missouri 

Journey along the historic Route 66 from downtown Chicago to St. Louis, where the spirit of America's storied highway is enhanced by the golden hues of fall.

The landscape transforms into a vibrant tapestry of amber and gold in Illinois, especially around Springfield.

In St. Louis, the Gateway Arch offers a majestic backdrop against the autumn sky, making it an excellent time for an overnight stay to explore the city. The journey is best in early to mid-October when fall colors peak.

If you need a place to stay, consider the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven in Springfield, Missouri! It's a retro flashback that celebrates Route 66's history. The guest rooms are small but have a great vibe!

A vintage turquoise car parked under a neon sign reading 'Springfield' with the subtitle 'Route 66 Birthplace' illuminated in white, set against a night backdrop.

Indianapolis to Columbus

This route showcases the beauty of Indiana's countryside, especially during the fall when the foliage turns the rolling hills into a canvas of color.

Brown County State Park is a highlight in Nashville, Indiana, renowned for its brilliant autumn scenery and artistic community. The best time to visit is from late September to mid-October when the colors are most vibrant.

Kansas City to Omaha along the Missouri River

Follow the winding path of the Missouri River, flanked by trees in fiery autumn hues. Historical towns like Weston and St. Joseph offer festive fall activities, from pumpkin patches to haunted tours.

The cooler weather and scenic views make it ideal for exploring outdoor heritage sites. Peak fall colors are best enjoyed from mid-October to early November.

Banner promoting '75+ Themed Road Trip Ideas' with a clickable link, depicted on an olive green background with white and yellow text and directional arrow graphics, suggesting a resource for travelers to plan their next adventure with unique themes.

Gateway to the West Loop

Start in St. Louis, Missouri, and cross the Mississippi River into the rolling hills of Southern Illinois.

Visit the Shawnee National Forest, particularly the Garden of the Gods, which offers breathtaking views of the forested landscape in vibrant autumn colors.

Circle back to St. Louis, stopping in historic Alton for a glimpse of the riverfront framed by golden leaves, with the best views available in mid to late October.

Breathtaking sunset view over a rugged landscape at Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest. The sun casts a radiant glow across the sky, illuminating layered rock formations and dense autumn foliage in warm hues of orange and purple, with distant hills on the horizon.
Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest.” by Asif A. Ali is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Historic National Road

The Historic National Road, America’s oldest highway that stretches from Illinois to Maryland. This historic route offers a unique blend of America’s past and the stunning natural beauty of the Midwest and Eastern states.

As you travel, you'll witness the transformation of landscapes from the rolling prairies of Illinois, turning golden in fall, through Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and into Maryland.

Each segment of the road is dotted with historic sites, charming towns, and significant landmarks that echo the days of early American pioneers and travelers.

Enjoy the Main Streets, explore the numerous historical buildings, and explore the rich cultural heritage at various museums and visitor centers along the route.

Roadside sign for the Ohio River Scenic Byway, marking the entrance to the Illinois National Scenic Byway. The sign features illustrations of a cityscape and a bridge, set against a backdrop of trees and a clear blue sky on a sunny day.
Ohio River Scenic Byway” by jimmywayne is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ohio River Scenic Byway

Explore the Ohio River Scenic Byway, a picturesque route that winds through Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio alongside the Ohio River.

This drive offers captivating views of rolling hills, lush forests, and the expansive river, particularly stunning in autumn when the foliage turns fiery red, bright orange, and golden yellow.

The byway is dotted with historic sites and charming river towns, each offering a unique slice of the region's rich heritage and culture.

Whether you wander through the colorful forests of Door County, marvel at the natural wonders of the Upper Peninsula, or meander along the Great River Road, these Midwest destinations are guaranteed to enchant you with their fall colors.

Stunning view of a lush autumn landscape overlooking Lake Michigan. The foreground features a vibrant array of fall foliage in rich shades of orange, yellow, and green, leading to a calm blue lake under a partly cloudy sky, with a forested promontory extending into the water.
ELLISON BAY, DOOR COUNTY, WISCONSIN**” by gobucks2 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tips for Planning a Memorable Fall Road Trip

Choosing the Perfect Route

Selecting the right route is essential for a successful fall road trip. Consider scenic drives, local attractions, and the trip duration.

Opt for routes that offer breathtaking views of the fall foliage, charming small towns to explore, and opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking or apple picking.

Be mindful of the drive length to ensure you have enough time to savor each stop.

Packing Essentials for Fall Road Trips

The right essentials can make or break your experience. Be prepared for unpredictable fall weather by bringing layers that can easily be added or removed as temperatures fluctuate.

Pack outdoor gear such as sturdy hiking boots, a backpack for exploring, and a camera to capture the vibrant autumn colors. Don't forget to pack snacks to energize you during long drives and savor local fall flavors along the way.

Remember, flexibility is key when planning a fall road trip. Be open to spontaneous detours and unexpected discoveries that can turn a good trip into a great one.

Misty autumn morning at Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan, showcasing a wide waterfall cascading into a frothy pool below. Surrounding the waterfall are trees dressed in vivid fall colors, with branches overhanging the falls, creating a serene and picturesque natural scene.
Tahquamenon Falls (**Explored**)” by LadyDragonflyCC – >;< is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Final Thoughts: Fall Road Trips in the Midwest

Exploring the Midwest during autumn is an experience like no other. The region bursts into a canvas of spectacular colors, from deep reds to vibrant yellows, making every mile of your road trip a breathtaking view.

It's the perfect time to grab your camera, gather some friends or family, and hit the open road to witness nature's seasonal show.

Whether you're winding through quaint towns, stopping at local harvest festivals, or enjoying the crisp outdoor air on a scenic hike, the Midwest offers a unique blend of beauty, culture, and adventure.

Don't miss out on the chance to create unforgettable memories—plan your fall road trip today and see why this time of the year is truly special in the Midwest.

Pin this for later:

Choose the image(s) that resonate with you to pin to your travel board on Pinterest!

Promotional image for a blog post titled 'Fall Road Trips Midwest: Routes to Explore' featuring a stunning cliffside view with vibrant autumn foliage. The multi-colored trees in shades of orange, red, and yellow contrast with the dark, rugged cliff faces along a serene body of water.
Promotional collage for 'Ultimate Fall Road Trips Midwest Version' featuring three stunning autumn landscapes: a cascading waterfall surrounded by colorful foliage, a rugged cliff with a waterfall, and a serene river flanked by vibrant autumn trees. The images are arranged vertically with bold text headers and the website 'anacreinthecity.com' noted at the bottom, inviting exploration of scenic fall routes in the Midwest.
Promotional image titled '21 Midwest Fall Road Trip Ideas' featuring a serene road winding through a dense autumn forest. Bright yellow and orange leaves contrast vividly with the dark trunks of the trees, enhancing the inviting pathway.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts