Discover 9 Little-Known Fall Drives
Iowa: Historic Hills Scenic Byway
Next time you're wondering where all your time goes, spend a weekend in southeast Iowa. On the 85-mile Historic Hills Scenic Byway, there's no place for urgency. Brilliant color fills valleys and rings farm fields along gravel and asphalt roads connecting the "Villages of Van Buren County."
This drive rewards travelers willing to trade numerous lodgings and restaurants for small pleasures: The curl of the Des Moines River's misty blanket at sunrise. The angle of a potter's fingers on clay. Most fall weekends find the county fairly quiet, but the annual Scenic Drive Festival swells towns like Bentonsport, Keosauqua and Bonaparte with crafters, pancake feeds, pedal tractor races and old-time medicine shows.
Wisconsin: Forested peninsula
The journey along State-13 in northern Wisconsin offers a sprinkling of small towns, Lake Superior views and brilliant fall foliage. Start in Washburn, where the route runs past Coco Artisan Breads and Fine Pastries (try the Washburn bread -- pumpernickel with cranberries and walnuts). Continue to Bayfield (left), where apple orchards along the ridge above town offer dozens of you-pick varieties, and on to the public beach in Cornucopia. The road winds over the Bois Brule River and swings into Superior; return to Washburn on US-2 for a 170-mile round-trip.
Missouri: Ozark beauty
Towering pine trees create a lush canopy over State-19 in south-central Missouri. The first 140 miles of the route heading north from the Arkansas line meander through the Mark Twain National Forest (left) and Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The steep hills and curvy road encourage drivers to slow down and admire the narrow bridges over the gleaming Jacks Fork and Current rivers.
Michigan: Great Lakes vistas
The route following Lake Huron's shoreline in northeast Michigan features lighthouses, small-town charm and little traffic. Beginning in Mackinaw City, the 158-mile drive on US-23 south to East Tawas goes through Cheboygan's lakefront marinas and past Rogers City's boardwalk and broad, sandy beaches. A highlight of the journey is 40 Mile Point Lighthouse (left), 7 miles north of Rogers City. A short walk down the beach leads to the skeleton of a wood ship that wrecked here in 1905.
South Dakota: Native American history
Running along South Dakota's southern border from roughly the Fort Randall Dam west to the southern Black Hills, US-18 (known as the Oyate Trail) blends South Dakota's past and present. On the east edge of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a short detour north leads to Wounded Knee, site of an 1890 massacre of 300 Lakota. View pine-topped outcroppings and horses grazing in meadows while traveling 115 miles west through the reservation. Hot Springs rewards visitors with spas and Evans Plunge, a gravel-bottom indoor swimming pool with 87-degree water.
Pictured: Fall color spreads across the countryside near Fort Randall Dam.
lllinois' Southern Hills
State-127 from Murphysboro to Jonesboro in southern Illinois covers less than 25 miles, but it can take all day to explore Shawnee National Forest, wineries and orchards. In fall, oak, maple and ash trees show off brilliant ruby and yellow foliage. Stop in Alto Pass, halfway through the drive, at the Root Beer Saloon (left), a kitschy, taxidermy-filled cafe serving many varieties of the drink in frosty mugs.
Kansas: Frontier Military Scenic Byway
Trace Civil War history (and admire migrating birds) as US-69 winds south from Kansas City along the Kansas-Missouri border, through historic sites and small towns for nearly 170 miles to Oklahoma. Wetlands and forests fill the Marais Des Cygnes Wildlife area. The town of Fort Scott, founded more than 150 years ago and home to the Fort Scott National Historic Site, holds October ghost tours.
Ohio: Zane's Trace
In central Ohio, the state's first pioneer trail offers scenery and shopping. Start in Zanesville by crossing the confluence of the Licking and Muskingum rivers at the world's only bridge shaped like a capital Y. Travel southwest on US-22, through rolling hills. View the covered bridges near Lancaster before turning north on State-37. The 64-mile drive ends at Granville (left), a Victorian village with a tree-lined promenade, antiques shops and charming dining.
Minnesota: Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway
This 287-mile route, which parallels US-169 on its east end, starts in a broad valley near Belle Plaine, then heads south before veering west at Mankato. Apple stands and a soda fountain await in Henderson, while New Ulm has handsome Germanic brick architecture tucked amid the hills. Morgan Creek Vineyards (left), just east of town, opens for tours and tastings on the weekends.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® September/October 2009.)