How to Time Your Fall Getaway for Peak Colors | Midwest Living

How to Time Your Fall Getaway for Peak Colors

Time your autumn escape just right with these handy fall color reports from state tourism and natural resources groups.

It doesn't matter if you've chosen the perfect location to see the best fall colors in the Midwest (hint: our 30 Great Midwest Fall Color Getaways is a good place to start). Arrive too early, and the leaves are still summer-green. Arrive too late, and only bare branches remain.

Horticulturalist Richard Jauron of Iowa State University Extension says multiple factors affect the changing color of the leaves, which can make predicting peak fall colors challenging. "The actual things that tell the trees to color and drop their leaves are day length and cooler temperatures," Jauron says. "But the weather does affect things."

Keeweenaw Peninsula
Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula in the autumn. You don't want to miss an incredible view like this one, would you? Photo by Bob Stefko

Because temperatures tend to drop in the north first, Jauron says, the uppermost parts of the Midwest should be showing off fall colors the earliest, likely in late September. But depending on rainfall amounts, people in the center and southern areas of the Midwest might not have to wait too long for that Instagram-worthy scene.

Here's the secret to timing your getaway just right: In several Midwest states, the leaves' progression is carefully observed and updated regularly online (some leaf-peepers even turn in daily reports). To enjoy the best autumn getaway this year, use fall color reports like these:


Check the Illinois Department of Natural Resources page while mapping out your trip to destinations such as Galena, where autumn vibes pair well with cozy downtown shops, or the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, where the rolling terrain of southern Illinois offers great autumn views.

Shawnee Hills Wine Trail 
Fall color in Southern Illinois; Photo by John Noltner


Plan your drive at just the right time with the Iowa DNR's weekly fall color updates. We recommend some of Iowa's best-kept secrets, Decorah —a mountain town without mountains!—in Iowa's northeast corner, or the Historic Hills Scenic Byway.

Despite an elevation below 900 feet, Decorah feels like a mountain town, a nook hiding more than an hour from any interstate. Photo by Ryan Donnell.


Use the Upper Peninsula's Fall Color Reports and Pure Michigan's cool #fallfilter map for the best timing to autumn getaway spots such as the Keweenaw Peninsula or Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids
The Blue Bridge (yes, that's its real name) gets pedestrians across the Grand River. Photo by Johnny Quirin.


Minnesota DNR's Fall Color Finder is a useful planning tool if you're headed to places like the North Shore with DuluthGrand Marais, and a chain of beautiful state parks. 

The St. Louis River Tumbles over rocky terrain in Jay Cooke State Park before flowing to Lake Superior. Photo by Ryan Donnell.

The St. Louis River Tumbles over rocky terrain in Jay Cooke State Park before flowing to Lake Superior. Photo by Ryan Donnell.

North Dakota

This handy guide from the North Dakota Tourism Division will point you in the right direction. Try Medora and nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park or the 63-mile Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota; Photo by Jeff Van Hoosen


Keep an eye on the TourismOhio report, updated weekly, to make sure you choose the right weekend to visit places such as Oxford's Miami University. Another great fall getaway option is the Hocking Hills.

Miami University’s Upham Hall arch


Travel Wisconsin's interactive Fall Color Report is brand new this year. Use it to time your trip to places like Door County

Door County's Sturgeon Bay
Fall color in Sturgeon Bay; Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki 

Know of other great places for fall color reports? Leave your ideas in the comments below!


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