Best Fall Activities in Wisconsin, US
A guide to the best fall foliage in Wisconsin and other fun things to do in the dairy state during autumn
Nothing beats fall in the Dairy State, Wisconsin. There are just so many things to love about Wisconsin in fall. According to the Wisconsin Fall Color Report, the second week of October is often a great time for fall foliage in Wisconsin. Indeed the fall leaves in Wisconsin are famous all over the US for their intense colors. This guide shares with you the best fall activities in Wisconsin, US.
Abundant woodlands filled to the brim with bright fall foliage color, various fall events and places like Halloween, Oktoberfest, autumn fun in Wisconsin Dells, Door County, apple picking, cranberry festivals, autumn festivals, pumpkin patch, farmer’s market,…The list goes on and on.
These activities are perfect for all age groups, whether solo, family with kids, romantic couples, life-loving friends, and (nature) photographers and can be enjoyed by various ways such as scenic car drive, hiking, pleasant walk, boat, and train rides.
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1. Fall Foliage in Wisconsin
Next to Vermont and New England region, the US state famous for its fall colors is Wisconsin. Every autumn, the leaves of deciduous trees (oak, maple, elm, birch,…) change their color to a stunning combination of red, orange and yellow due to the anthocyanin, carotene, and xanthophyll pigments.
The best places to see fall foliage in Wisconsin are Seven Bridges, Holy Hill Church, Lake Geneva, Minocqua, Eagle River, Sturgeon Bay, and Door County. As the fall color is highly weather-dependent relying on the length of daylight and change in temperature, the depth of the color and the exact time of occurrence may vary from one year to another.
The best time for the fall foliage in Wisconsin is late-September to mid-October. Scenic drives, breathtaking hikes, and great day trips are some of the ways to enjoy this amazing fall color.
Fall Foliage in Central and Northern Wisconsin
The Northern Wisconsin fall colors start to appear first, during mid-September. The Hayward Lakes region in autumn is a prime location for a fall foliage tour along breathtakingly beautiful scenic routes marked by the leaf-shaped road signs.
Autumn is an excellent time to visit Minocqua, a town near the Eagle River, to catch the fall foliage in this northern region. Among the most popular hiking spots for the fall colors is the Bearskin, which traverses 16 miles of a former railroad corridor.
The peak fall colors in central Wisconsin can be viewed in late September. Head to Black River State Forest for mind-blowing color and photo opportunities galore.
The graceful spires of Holy Hill Church, 192 feet above the hilltop, overlooking a sea of color during fall is something not to be missed (1525 Carmel Road, Hubertus, 37 miles or 45 minutes from downtown Milwaukee).
Fall Foliage in Southern Wisconsin
Further south to Milwaukee, in Southern Wisconsin, a biking or walking tour of the 100-miles along the Oak Leaf Trail in late October will offer glorious fall color hotspots. The fall color drives southern Wisconsin reveals much darker foliage colors, perfect for nature and photography lovers.
The Great River Road on the western half of Wisconsin, the state’s only National Scenic Byway, ranks as one of the best fall drives in Wisconsin during autumn. The small riverfront town, Trempealeau, is worthy to stop by for a night stay at the historic Trempealeau hotel.
When looking for the best places to visit in Wisconsin in the fall, Lake Geneva fall colors are a must too! Indeed, Lake Geneva is considered as one of the places to see the fall colors in Wisconsin. A simple walk or car drive along the 26-mile path around the Geneva lake will reveal the magical beauty of the colorful fall trees reflecting on the water (downtown Lake Geneva, 50 miles or 55 minutes from downtown Milwaukee). It’s thus also the perfect day trip from Milwaukee.
The Seven Bridges Trail, Grant Park, South Milwaukee features 381 acres of woodland, paved walking and bicycling paths, a 2-mile long bridge, as well as lookouts over the sandy shoreline (South Lake Drive and Park Avenue, South Milwaukee, 10 miles or 16 minutes from downtown Milwaukee).
If you are wondering where the best fall colors in Wisconsin are, check out the legendary Wisconsin Fall report. It tells you the best time for the fall colors in northern Wisconsin and the best places to see the fall leaves in Wisconsin.
2. Celebrate Halloween Wisconsin Style
If you believe in spirits, the Wisconsin ghost tours during Halloween are just the right thing for you. The most popular ghost tours are the Lake Geneva ghost walk, the Door County trolley, the Wisconsin Dells ghost boats, and the Hangman tour.
The Lake Geneva walk offers unique colorful characters, haunted mansions, vengeful spirits, and monsters after thoroughly researching supernatural and weird stories. The Door County Trolley specializes in guided themed tours focused on the Haunted Pub Crawl, the Lighthouse Ghost tour, the Murder, and the Mayhem tour.
The Wisconsin Dells’ Ghost Boat offers two scary adventures: a journey into a haunted canyon (during summer) and the Season of the witch (during fall). The Hangman Tour helps you get a little cozier with Milwaukee in a captivating and spooky way.
There are plenty of haunted places in the Badger State, Wisconsin, that are unmatched, unspoiled and patiently waits for you with ghostly anticipation. Places like the Al Capone’s old hideout, the Shaker’s Cigar Bar, and The Pfister Hotel are all thought to be haunted, and you can visit them all with the Milwaukee Ghost Walk. Book here your Milwaukee Ghost Tour
And there is no shortage of spooky festivals among Wisconsin fall attractions. The Freakfest in Madison is the region’s largest annual Halloween party and music festival that occurs on the Saturday closest to Halloween.
Another celebration is Windigo Fest. It’s the most typical party where all things Halloween taking place and it is happening during the first weekend of October in downtown Manitowoc, Wisconsin. It’s one of the best fall activities in Wisconsin.
3. Celebrate Milwaukee Oktoberfest
Another Wisconsin attraction in fall is the legendary Milwaukee Oktoberfest. The Wisconsin community is rich in German heritage, as 42% of the residents are partly or fully German.
So, the famous Bavarian Oktoberfest in Milwaukee is celebrated there in full swing. The event takes place just north of downtown Milwaukee at Glendale, during the first weekend of October.
It offers a little bit of everything for all. This is the time to indulge in authentic German music like brass bands and yodeling, Schuhplattler folk dancing, savory smells of Bratwursts (German pork sausage) on the grill, Rollbraten (stuffed pork roast) and Spanferkel (suckling pig), sweet desserts like Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), tortes and Bee Sting Cake, cold pints of German beer, and much more.
The open-air pavilion at the Bavarian Fest Garten has plenty of seating, souvenirs, and games like Cornhole competition, and a Miss Oktoberfest contest. It’s one of the best fall activities in Wisconsin.
4. Visit Door County in Fall
Door County is a popular vacation and tourist destination in fall. The area is commonly referred to as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest” and it’s one of the most scenic places to enjoy the fall foliage in Wisconsin.
For the Door County fall colors, there are plenty of options. Take the ferry up to Washington Island and roam around the island. Stop at the petting zoo, check out the Norwegian church, and grab a bite to eat at any of the places along County Road West.
Another great option for the fall leaf colors in Wisconsin Door County is to head to the Peninsula State Park, climb up the Eagle Tower and take photographs of the blazing red-gold-orange islands in Green Bay against the crisp blue sky. It’s a gorgeous place when looking for the Wisconsin fall colors.
Some of the most typical things to do in Door County during fall include the Whitefish Dunes State Park, fish boils, and lighthouse cruises. This Door County park offers rugged Lake Michigan shoreline and huge sand dunes.
‘Fish boil’ is an age-old tradition in Door County, a truly local meal. Locally caught whitefish is boiled with potatoes, onions, and salt. Restaurants offering fish boils are spread out from the northern tip of the peninsula all the way to Sturgeon Bay.
Numerous festivals in Door County are lined up during fall, featuring seasonal food, drinks, live music, arts, and crafts. Let’s just name a few:
- Egg Harbor Ale Fest
- Sturgeon Bay Harvest Fest
- Bailey’s Harbor Autumn Fest in September
- Egg Harbor Pumpkin Patch festival
- Washington Island Cider Pressing Party and the autumn lighthouse festival
- Sister Bay Fall Festival in October
Door County is also considered one of the best destinations in Wisconsin for fall colors. Don’t forget to check out the Door County fall color report to find the best places for peak fall colors in Door County.
5. Attend Madison’s Farmer Market
The Dane County Farmers’ Market is America’s largest producer-only farmers’ market. It is held from April to November on Saturday mornings at the ‘Square’ surrounding the Wisconsin State Capitol building in downtown Madison, Wisconsin.
From November to December, it is held indoors at the Monona Terrace, and from January to April, it is held at the Madison Senior Center. So, technically we cannot call it a Wisconsin fall attraction, but it is a must-see during your visit.
Fox News said that it is the Farmers’ Market that makes Madison a top foodie paradise. Apart from fresh vegetables, fruits, cheese, meat, nuts, and plants, you can also grab some specialties like hot sauces, jams, honey, beeswax, raw wool, artisan soaps, maple syrup, and applewood chips.
More than two hundred vendors in one spot can be a bit overwhelming, but this is local produce at its best. It is advisable to go as early as possible because the shops close as soon as they run out of their produce.
The vendors are quite knowledgeable and passionate about their products, so feel free to ask questions. As a keepsake memory, you can also buy bags, T-shirts, and posters in original hand-painted designs since 1977.
The Madison’s Farmer Market is thus one of the best places to visit in Wisconsin in the fall and a cool weekend trip in Wisconsin.
6. Enjoy Nature and Go Shopping in Wisconsin Dells
Wisconsin Dells is an hour northwest of Madison on the I-94/90. The beautiful fall foliage, geological attributes, local festivals, log cabins, the State Park, boat rides, and steam trains make Wisconsin Dells special during autumn.
These sandstone formations in the area, left when an apocalyptic rush of water created a 15-mile gorge at the end of the last ice age, are especially striking in the warm light of fall. And so are the forests.
The calm placid Mirror Lake lies in a gorge created by the Dell Creek, which flows north through Lake Delton and into the Wisconsin River. The Devil’s Lake State Park is an excellent place to hike the 500 feet cliff above the lake to view the beautiful fall scenery.
The Birchcliff Resort offers a relaxing getaway in a natural setting with traditional log cabins and a wood fire. Wisconsin Dells fall attractions also include a 3-mile narrow-gauge excursion in a steam locomotive run by Riverside & Great Northern Railway.
The Wisconsin Dells fall colors intermingled with the rock formation is absolutely breathtaking when viewed from the Wisconsin River by Dells Boat Tour. For over 50 years, Wo-Zha-Wa Fall Festival has been attracting visitors to the area during the autumn harvest. And all framed by the gorgeous Wisconsin fall foliage!
Wisconsin Dells is studded with shopping malls (antique and craft mall, outlets, cheese market,… ), where you can find unique collectibles, trendy apparels, antiques, gifts, cheese, liquor, fudge, candy, furniture, sporting goods, and local souvenirs. It’s one of the best fall activities in Wisconsin.
7. The Farmer Pumpkin Patch
Fall activities in Wisconsin must definitely include the farmer pumpkin patches.
The Treinen Farm in Lodi has been the area’s favorite fall destination for corn mazing, pumpkin picking, horse-drawn hayrides, and exploring the Wisconsin countryside for over 25 years. This unique farm has a gift shop, a banquet facility, a petting zoo (baby chicks, bunnies, pygmy goats, piglets, calves, and foals), a locally grown produce market and a 14-acre pumpkin patch to explore in autumn. Don’t miss their donuts, kettle corn, popcorn, jellies, and caramel apples.
But the specialty of Treinen farm is that each year, they select a maze theme and create an entire experience around it. It is one form of a unique outdoor art installation where the maze field is precisely cut and designed in patterns depicting a theme.
This year, the theme was Rainbows, Kittens, and Killer Baby Unicorns. It is fun to piece together the map-puzzle to find your way out and for winning prizes for finding the secret locations.
How to get to Treinen Farm:
From Madison, take Highway 12 almost to Sauk City, then turn right onto Highway 188, just pass the Wollersheim Winery, then turn right to go east on Highway 60 for 5 miles and you will arrive in Treinen Farm. It’s a great Wisconsin Vacation Idea!
There are numerous pumpkin farms all around Wisconsin and most offer similar fall activities. Some of the best Pumpkin Farms you can visit during autumn in Wisconsin are:
I recommend visiting during the time of the peak fall colors Wisconsin.
8. Visit Warren’s Cranberry Festival
It is the world’s largest cranberry festival, a family fun event during fall where you can explore over 3 miles of shopping area including 850 arts and crafts booths, 350 flea market and antique booths, and 100 farm market booths.
The beautiful fall scenery in the backdrop, the delicious smell in the air and the friendly local people, everything makes the shopping experience incredible at the Cranberry Festival. Many people start their Christmas marketing here.
The Marsh Tour is very informative (8 am to 3 pm on Fridays and Saturdays), and you get to know a lot about how the cranberries grow and the equipment used to harvest them.
Cranberries have little air-pockets inside them and that allow them to float on the surface of the water. That is why the bogs are flooded the night before harvesting and a water reel is used to dislodge the cranberries from the vine.
Fresh cranberries, local cranberry wine, and other cranberry products are available for purchase at the marsh. The Sunday Parade with marching bands, drill teams, and unique floats are not to be missed either.
And do not forget to check out the interesting contests during the festival like the ‘Berry Bunch’ costume contest, the biggest berry contest, the button design contest, the cranberry chiffon pie-eating contest, the marsh medallion hunt, the photography contest, the quilt, and the needlework contest. You’ll have a blast!
9. Apple Picking in Wisconsin
Fall activities in Wisconsin mean turning leaves, first chilly nights and apple trees spangled with fruits.
Wisconsin has different apple cultivars varying in tastes, textures, and subtle flavors. Apple picking is a fun activity in the fall, especially with family and kids.
The apple firms all over Wisconsin allow visitors to take home huge amounts of apples for low prices (as low as 12 $/peck) and purchase all kinds of homemade goods involving apples like pies, ciders, donuts, …
The best apple picking spots in Wisconsin are:
- Apple Holler (5006 S Sylvania Ave, Sturtevant, WI 53177)
- Apple Barn Orchard and Winery (W6384 Sugar Creek Rd, Elkhorn, WI 53121)
- Ecker’s Apple Farm (W27062 WI-54, Trempealeau, WI 54661)
Apple Holler has a family-oriented country-style atmosphere and both apples and peaches can be picked here, with more than 25 different kinds of apples being available during the fall.
In Apple Barn, the youngsters can pluck their own apples and learn more about apple growing while adults can indulge in delicious winery products like strawberry wine, apple wine, peach wine, …
The Ecker’s Farm offers 20 different kinds of apples to be picked, including Ginger Gold, Riverbelle, Snow Sweet, Paula Red, State Fair, Gala, and Ari Gold, apple-based tasty treats straight from the oven, and an annual Honeycrisp Hootenanny event.
The Wisconsin Apple Growers Association represents 170 commercial apple growers from across the state. They also feature all apple festivals in Wisconsin.
Fresh cider, rapidly and naturally fermented into hard cider, was a natural way of preserving apples in olden days. President John Adams popularized the health benefits of cider as it became the drink of choice for early Americans.
Is there any better way to enjoy the best fall colors in Wisconsin than by apple picking with your family?
10. Visit Gay Mills Apple Fest
Gay Mills is an old little town hidden away in a valley at the bottom of a big hill. A trip to the Gay Mills Apple Fest (Highway 171, Gays Mills, WI, 54631) is a must-do thing at Wisconsin in fall.
This festival is held on the last full weekend in September. It is an annual celebration of the apple harvest. There are plenty of things to enjoy in this festival like a pancake and sausage breakfast, runs/walks, a books sale, a lion’s flea market, the museum of the Kickapoo, numerous food stands, carnivals, music, parades, and tournaments.
The fest is considered one of the most popular Wisconsin attractions in fall.
As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Wisconsin during the fall. Whether you are looking for a prime spot for leaf-peeping amongst the woods or sandstone cliffs, whether you are determined to explore ghosts, whether you feel a German connection, or whether you just want to indulge into the flavors and tastes. And all this framed by the most gorgeous fall foliage in Wisconsin!
Before You Go: Top Tips for your Trip
- You’ll snap tons of photos and I love to take my GoPro in order to shoot even in extreme situations.
- Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and hiking sandals when traveling to warm countries.
- Sunscreen is key! I always take with me my eco-friendly sunscreen by Thinksport. Buy here your eco-friendly sunscreen + free shipping.
- I always carry a light rain jacket, just in case.
- Travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected against all odds with World Nomads.
To make the most of your trip, I recommend Lonely Planet Eastern USA (get -10% off with code “PAULINA10”)