Photo by Rachel Hershberger, TravelWisconsin.com

When the brilliant colors of fall arrive, a walk in the woods is in order. But there’s nothing like a little altitude to help you see the forest for the trees; the wide stretches of autumnal fire lying at your feet and spreading to the horizon. And from hills and bluffs to observation towers and cliffs, Wisconsin has no shortage of views. Here are a few of the best.

Door County

Door County is a popular destination in autumn: the state and county parks, the country roads and the miles and miles of shoreline are ideal for color-watching. On the Green Bay side of the peninsula, climb the 75-foot observation tower at the 1,200-acre Potawatomi State Park, which rises above the canopy of the forest. Alternatively, on the Lake Michigan side, get your color fix from the top of Cana Island Lighthouse, photogenic in its own right.

AFTER YOUR HIKE:

A drive through Peninsula State Park is also recommended, or you can hand over the wheel to the folks at Door County Trolley, based out of Egg Harbor, and take one of their scenic tours.

Wyalusing State Park

The mighty Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers meet along the edge of this state park. From the top of the park’s bluffs you can see where the waters mingle amid forested islands beneath the wooded slopes before you. Across the Mississippi are the tree-covered bluffs of Iowa. This is also an important fall migration corridor for many species of birds.

AFTER YOUR HIKE:

History buffs will enjoy a visit to Villa Louis, a 19th-century estate in nearby Prairie du Chien. Watch for special events in fall, such as Breakfast in a Victorian Kitchen.

Devil’s Lake Bluffs

Devil’s Lake State Park is the state park system’s busiest spot, and for good reason. Two towering bluffs overlook a 360-acre lake created from an ancient river that was plugged at both ends by glacial moraines. To reach the top of the 500-foot quartzite East and West Bluffs requires some effort—especially if you climb the step-like talus of the West Bluff. But the well-maintained hiking trails on either side offer a more gradual rise. Along the top of each bluff are several spots of bare rock where the views are unobstructed, though hikers that don’t like heights and families with small children should be aware that none of them have guard rails.

AFTER YOUR HIKE:

If you love fresh apples, this is the season: stop in at Ski-Hi Fruit Farm five minutes west of the park. They also offer pies, fritters, and caramel-covered apples.

Grandad Bluff

The bluffs along the Mississippi River and the Great River Road along the Wisconsin-Minnesota border are picturesque in any season, but in fall, treat yourself to the views. Overlooking La Crosse is the 600-foot-high Grandad Bluff with the views of the river valley running north to south and the matching tree-covered bluffs of Minnesota and Iowa across the way. This may be best viewed earlier in the day when the sun is behind you or overhead and not in your eyes – although the sunset reveals good colors too if you are looking at the valley to the north and south.

AFTER YOUR HIKE:

Try another view: board the La Crosse Queen, a replica of a paddlewheel boat, and see the colors from a cruise along the Mississippi.

Holy Hill Church

The church itself is an attraction even for a drive-by to see it perched atop of a glacial kame amid the hardwood forest. But the views from its 192-foot scenic tower is a must. The climb up 178 stairs takes you above the treetops of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. On a clear day, you can see Milwaukee, roughly 30 miles to the southeast.

AFTER YOUR HIKE:

Check out the pumpkin patch, corn maze and hayrides at Basse’s Taste of Country Farm Market fifteen minutes away just west of Menomonee Falls.

Parnell Tower

This 60-foot observation tower near Plymouth offers a panoramic view of the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. While the tower’s hilltop perch does require a short, mildly strenuous climb up from the parking lot, most of it is railroad-tie steps. Off in the distance you can spot glacial drumlins in the topography, which are half-egg-shaped hills formed by the grinding of a passing glacier.

AFTER YOUR HIKE:

For an extra walk in the woods, continue on the 3.5-mile Parnell Tower Loop Trail. At the end of the day, have dinner at Great Outdoors Supper Club in Kewaskum.

Timm’s Hill

At 1,951.5 feet, this is the highest point in the state. Timm’s Hill County Park lies roughly 23 miles west of Tomahawk and also features Timm’s Hill National Trail, a connector to the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. At the summit is an observation tower that views the park’s abundant hardwoods and grants you a 30-mile look to the horizon.

AFTER YOUR HIKE:

For a great Northwoods cabin (or chalet!) experience, stay at nearby High Point Village, which is right off the trail to the hill.

Author

Kevin Revolinski is a Wisconsin outdoors writer and author of FalconGuides’ “Paddling Wisconsin,” a guidebook to the best paddling throughout the Badger State. See his website at themadtraveler.com.

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