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When the Midwest is ablaze in amber, auburn and crimson, it’s time to pack up your family for a leaf peeping adventure. Whether you want to stick closer to home or travel further afield with a Midwest road trip, these Midwest fall getaways deliver gorgeous turning leaves, relaxing outdoor pursuits and family vacation ideas that are fun for both kids and adults.
Door County, Wisconsin
In northeast Wisconsin, Door County has been called the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.” With more than 300 miles of rugged shoreline, the long, tall peninsula features some of the best fall foliage in the region.
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“The tapestry of colors is like therapy,” says John Berns, a friendly driver for Door County Trolley, whose favorite fall spot is Nicolet Bay Overlook. Sit back and enjoy the coastal scenery and charming villages on a Family Tour, Ghost Tour or even Wine, Spirits and Brew Tour.
Take a ferry to Washington Island for captivating views of the changing colors. Build a cairn or skip stones over the clear, calm water at Schoolhouse Beach, one of the few beaches in the world with smooth limestone rocks. Cave Point County Park is serene to paddle with Peninsula Kayak Company. Hug Lake Michigan’s sparkling shoreline and duck into a limestone sea cave.
Peninsula State Park, with the new, accessible Eagle Tower, provides a lookout across Green Bay. More views come courtesy of Door County’s 11 picturesque lighthouses. Visit Cana Island Lighthouse via bumpy wagon ride or walk through the shallow water for a dose of maritime history and pristine views.
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With autumn in the air, you’ll want to pick apples and sip hard cider at Lautenbach Orchard. Kids will get a kick out of the goats grazing on the roof of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik and bottle feeding baby goats at the Farm. Be sure to check out Egg Harbor’s pumpkin patch or Jack-o-lantern Days in Fish Creek.
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Marquette County, Michigan
In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the deep blue waters of Lake Superior make a stunning contrast to the brilliant fall foliage blanketing the terrain. Marquette County stands out with 77 waterfalls, hiking and biking trails, mountains and breweries, all key elements of a Midwest fall getaway.
A short trek up Sugarloaf Mountain rewards you with 360-degree views of the surrounding forest, lake, parks and nearby Hogsback Mountain. Take it all in on three observation decks that sit about 1,000 feet above sea level. Kayak Escanaba River Basin for its wild, peaceful beauty. Seek out Morgan Falls, a fan-favorite and don’t forget to bring your mountain bike – the dirt bike trail by Morgan Falls is exciting and challenging. For guided explorations, Marquette Recreational Tours is fantastically knowledgeable and can plan out the ideal itinerary for your group.
Presque Isle Park offers scenic splendor, especially at sunset. Check out Marquette’s famous Blackrocks, ancient rock formations that daredevils jump from into cold, clear Lake Superior below. The Iron Ore Heritage Trail is a 47-mile waterfront trail that’s fun to ride, especially if you rent an ebike from West End Ski & Trail. Stop by Lakenenland Sculpture Park, a free junkyard art exhibit you can drive or walk to any time of day. Over 100 quirky creations line the winding, wooded road.
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Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
In fall, Illinois’s most popular state park, Starved Rock, is spectacularly aglow in fiery fall colors. Located about two hours of Chicago, this wild stretch along the Illinois River is known for its 18 sandstone canyons, scenic bluffs and seasonal waterfalls. Your best bet at seeing a waterfall in fall is after a heavy rain. Wander the 13 miles of hiking trails and reward yourself with views of the Starved Rock Dam. Free guided hikes are offered through November (pre-registration is required).
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Then explore nearby Utica. The whole family will enjoy Bruce & Ollie’s, which serves ice cream, coffee, craft beers and sodas, sandwiches and salads and even scratch-made dog treats. You’ll also find plenty of outdoor dining and farmers markets in Utica.
Parke County, Indiana
Indiana’s Parke County is known as the covered bridge capital of the world. With 31 covered bridges scattered throughout the county, there are plenty of fall photo opportunities. And for 10 days in October, the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival serves up fall favorites like apple butter, arts and crafts, wagon rides and buried beef, a culinary tradition involving meat cooked underground in the town of Tangier. Grab your pumpkins, select some gourds and devour some persimmon pudding, an Indiana favorite.
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Hike at Turkey Run State Park, a perennial Indiana park favorite. Cross the giant, swinging suspension bridge to discover miles of rugged trails. Scramble up wooden ladders in deep sandstone ravines, admire Mother Nature in the quiet hemlock groves and allow the autumn breeze to soothe your worries away.
Kayak or canoe down Sugar Creek. Hear the clip-clop of horse hooves on a pony ride or guided horseback excursion with Turkey Run Saddle Barn. Pick a peck of apples at Ditzler Orchard. Pack a picnic for Raccoon Lake and savor an afternoon of fishing and playing horseshoes or basketball.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Cleveland, Ohio
A national park close to two cities (Cleveland and Akron), Cuyahoga Valley National Park brings nature close. Start your explorations early, trekking to the 60-foot high Brandywine Falls. Stand on the Ledges for fall foliage views for miles. Visit via Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad or take a hike through the forest, rolling hills and farmland. Bonus: At the park, kids can earn Junior Ranger badges through fun nature activities.
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Kids who appreciate music history will enjoy the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A tandem zip line experience recently opened at the Cleveland MetroParks Zoo. And the Greater Cleveland Aquarium helps families explore near and far, with galleries focusing on both Ohio lakes and rivers and destinations like Asia and Indonesia.
Paint pumpkins and make corn husk dolls at Lake Metroparks Farmpark Corn & Pumpkin Weekends. For a dash of witchcraft and magic, visit the Buckland Museum with older kids. Owner Steven Intermill tells tales with such a sense of mystery and intrigue that his tours could spook tweens all the way to Halloween. Get in the holiday spirit touring the “Christmas Story” House, where the classic holiday movie was filmed. Your social media will light up with pictures of the famous leg lamp.
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