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Most people think of New England when they picture the breathtaking colors of fall, but the Midwest region of the country offers a surprising number of amazing fall foliage getaways too. But the foliage is not the only thing to look forward to — the Midwest has it all, from waterfalls to lakes and plenty of seasonal events. These destinations are especially stunning options.
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Marquette, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is an ideal spot to base yourself for experiencing the region’s 300 miles of unspoiled forests, magnificent waterfalls, and red sandstone churches as well as the changing leaves. The Harlow Lake Recreational Area has 19 miles of hiking trails and a number of biking trails to ensure a picture-postcard lake view. Just 30 percent of the state’s population lives there, which means the remainder is filled with nature’s unspoiled beauty and abundant wildlife. The spectacular finger of land jutting into Lake Superior displays a kaleidoscope of vibrant red, orange and gold hues across Michigan’s northernmost point, with gorgeous hues blanketing the hills and ridges, forming colorful tunnels across winding two-lane roads.
One of the nation’s largest state parks, Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota, boasts impressive granite spires known as the Needles, countless sparkling lakes, and 1,400 bison that wander freely. There are many places to experience vibrant fall colors, including the one-mile walk around Sylvan Lake. Annually on the last Friday of September, visitors can also take part in the Buffalo Roundup, which is open to the public. The sight of the thundering herd is incredible, and there are a number of other activities throughout the weekend as well. The Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival features as many as 150 vendors.
Beautiful Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, just 80 miles northwest of Chicago’s Loop offers crisp days and radiant foliage. Set among dense wilderness with surrounding farmlands, it’s one of the top destinations in the region for an autumn getaway. Enjoy strolling the 21-mile lakeshore path or take a boat tour to get a different perspective of the foliage and the grand lakeside mansions. A number of fall activities can be enjoyed as well, including corn mazes, and apple and pumpkin picking.
One of the Midwest’s top fall foliage destinations, follow Highway 57 down the lakeside and you’ll discover scenery reminiscent of New England, including picturesque lighthouses and white-frame buildings, along with bursts of scarlet, gold, russet, and vermilion. Explore charming maritime villages like Fish Creek, Egg Harbor, Ephraim, and Sturgeon Bay, as well as five of the best state parks for brilliant hues. Stay in one of the many beautiful vacation rentals available, including an A-frame cottage in the woods.
A fall trip to Mackinac Island is a great way to spend a weekend or longer, with summer crowds dwindling, prime lakeside restaurant tables available, and foot traffic-free hiking trails, as well as breathtaking autumn colors. Take a leisurely carriage ride, hike one of Michigan’s prettiest state parks with its network of 71 miles of trails winding through the woods and limestone outcroppings, or ride a bike on the picture-perfect coastline while listening to the sounds of nature and taking in the sights of dramatic geographic curiosities.
Just an hour’s drive from Columbus, Hocking Hills State Park features 10,000 acres of oak, hickory, hemlock, maple, and sassafras that light up the landscape with a stunning array of colors. Dotted throughout the jaw-dropping rock formations carved millennia ago by waterfalls spilling over the crags and cliffs, and glaciers, the scenery is hard to beat. Enjoy hiking trails that wind past the brilliant hues at Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave, and take part in all sorts of other activities too, including climbing and rappelling, zipline rides, and kayaking.
Some of the best views of fall color can be found in the Arkansas Ozarks, with the little mountain town of Eureka Springs considered one of the primary spots. Soak up the views from places like Inspiration Point and Lover’s Leap, and enjoy all sorts of fun in town, with the streets lined with restaurants, gift shops, and galleries. Tiny parks also protect natural springs, hence the town’s name, while spas echo its history as a mecca for healing.
Situated in the northwest region of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore sits along the eastern coastline of Lake Michigan, and also includes the North and South Manitou Islands. It’s been called the “Most Beautiful Place in America,” by Good Morning America, and it offers lush forests, vast sand dunes, and gorgeous beaches. The dunes tower over the lake, with some over 450 feet high, providing awe-inspiring views of the water and the islands from the top, along with a landscape blanketed with color.
North Shore, Minnesota also offers Lake Superior frontage, with a rugged coastline that boasts seven state parks, dense forests, roaring rivers, waterfalls, and dramatic bluffs. Begin in the city of Duluth, and follow North Shore Scenic Drive, which snakes around numerous beaches and cliffs, bordered on one side by the Sawtooth Mountains and its thousands of acres of colorful trees in autumn, and the dazzling waters of the lake on the other. There are lots of places to get out and enjoy a hike, and you may want to treat yourself to a gondola ride over the Poplar River Valley and up Moose Mountain. You can take the gondola back or return on the 3.6-mile trail that will bring you through vibrant maples back to the main chalet.