The Midwest sometimes gets the (false) reputation of being a flat, relatively boring area agricultural and suburban sprawl in the center of the US with little variation in terms of landscape and natural beauty. In reality, however, the Midwestern United States is actually chock full of breathtaking natural scenery with varying seasons, a multitude of landscapes, and distinctive changing seasons from year to year. Want to see natural beauty in the US? You just need to know where to look for it. This is especially true in the fall or autumn since there is a myriad of locations in the region that have unforgettably beautiful foliage from year to year.
Often considered one of the most beautiful counties in the country (and not just the Midwest), Door County is an unbelievable destination for seeing some of the most beautiful and colorful fall foliage in the United States. Come late September to Mid-October to see colors at their peak. You can hike, swim, walk, and even launch a boat indoor county amidst the leaves. If you want to see beautiful autumnal scenery but aren’t so into hiking, consider a drive on the Official National Scenic Byway. It starts in Sturgeon Bay and stretches 57 miles down the Green Bay shoreline up through Northport and Gills Rock, then circles back around so you can end up in Sturgeon Bay.
McCloud Nature Park, IN is Hendricks County, and it’s considered to be perhaps the most beautiful natural site in central Indiana. Come to the park when foliage is at its most colorful, and you can hike trails in the woods, fish, canoe, kayak, or even wade into park waters. The central attraction in the park is a restored iron truss bridge—you can’t complete an autumnal visit here without taking a look at the famous bridge flanked by brilliant fall colors.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Michigan encompasses over 50,000 acres—and nearly any place within the park is a great place for a Midwest fall color getaway. Located in Paradise, Michigan, the park is full of waterfalls that are part of the park’s central features: the Tahquamenon River. The park actually has some of the largest waterfalls in the country east of the Mississippi. For the most stunning view in the area, consider heading to Upper Falls. It has a drop of more than 50 feet and is 200 feet across. This stunning natural attraction is unforgettably awe-inspiring when it’s surrounded by blazing fall foliage.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a US National Park just outside of Cleveland and Akron. The park is a beautiful destination year-round, but for Midwest fall color getaway options, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is undoubtedly one of the best. The landscape within the park is varied: forests, rolling hills, and flat open farmlands. No matter which part of the park you glimpse, it will be alit with color in the fall. The walking trails in this park are a favorite with families (including dogs and kids), so choose this one if you’re bringing the whole family.
Houghton County is on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This scenic area is bordered both on the east and west by Lake Superior, which means there is no dearth of coastal beauty there. One of the best places in the whole Midwest to see foliage in the fall is the Covered Road that runs through the county. The covered road is dubbed just that because trees create a canopy over the winding throughway. Drive your car on it in the autumn and you’ll be enclosed in a bright red, orange, and yellow tunnel—a fully immersive autumnaL experience.
Another spot in Michigan for the best fall color in all of the Midwest is Copper Harbor. Located in Keweenaw County, visit Copper Harbor to get great views of Lake Superior (the peninsula juts out into it from the small area called “Grant Township.”). Copper Harbor has an unmistakable coastal vibe, and it sometimes feels like a beach town. In the fall, when set against awe-inspiring changing leaves, it’s a remarkable, unmistakable natural attraction—one that is beautiful for anywhere in the United States and not just the Midwest.
Ohio is shockingly full of natural beauty, and one of the best spots is Hocking Hills. Sometimes called Southeastern Ohio’s “Scenic Wonderland,” there are 9 State Parks and State Forests here, so in the fall, you can take your pick of which foliage you want to see. Rent one of the quaint cabins and cottages in the parks if you want to know what it feels like to go to sleep under some of the most beautiful, colorful trees in the region.
Another hotspot for waterfalls in the Midwest is Starved Rock State Park. Most of the waterfalls in the park are set amidst the forest, so visit here in fall to see stunning trees ablaze with vibrant leaves dotting the shore of crystal clear waterfalls and streams. Starved Rock State Park feels worlds away from the real world, so come here for a fall escape.
Head to Blue Mounds State Park in Wisconsin to see the highest point in the state of Wisconsin and all of the vistas surrounding that point. The only thing that ever makes these views more beautiful is the color changes of the fall. In the autumn, you can see bright, bold colors for hundreds and hundreds of miles—proving that even though the Midwestern landscape CAN be flat, it can also be a life-changing experience.
Minnesota is an amazing state, and before it turns into its own version of the tundra in the winter, it has autumnal weather and unforgettable fall foliage sites. For some of the best fall color getaways in the Midwest? Head to Jay Cooke State Park, just outside of small towns Oliver, Esko, Carlton, and Wrenshall (not too far from Duluth). This park protects the lower reaches of the St. Louis River, and it’s hard to beat the beauty of autumnal leaves running alongside the powerful, craggy river and riverbed.