Fall color in the Midwest: The Big Reveal

Ha Ha Tonka State Park near Lake of the Ozarks in Central Missouri. Photo: Courtesy of FunLake.com

Autumn arrives in the Midwest without the fanfare of spring storms. Ditto for summer’s heatwaves or the nostalgia associated with winter holidays. One day the treetops are as green as can be, and then? The Big Reveal of brilliant Technicolor.  Find great colors in any of the Breadbasket states or take a road trip to see what’s going on in other necks of the woods, like Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. 


While other areas in Indiana get more ink for fall color than Fort Wayne, the brilliant canopy towering above its three navigable rivers, wooded trails, and wetlands draw outdoor enthusiasts – and their dogs. A 120-mile network of trails to hike, bike, and paddle guides return visitors and newcomers through parks and preserves within the purview of the second-largest city in the state. Great names, like Pufferbelly Trail or Little River Wetlands, stir the imaginations of those longing for one more day in the great outdoors. The Fort Wayne Outdoor Pass for mobile phones simplifies how and where to do just that. P.S. – The National Arbor Foundation consistently designates dog-friendly Fort Wayne as a Tree City USA. 

Check it out: Fall menus at many Fort Wayne restaurants include S’mores.  Many pastry chefs like to kick it up a notch by using local, award-winning DeBrand Fine Chocolate.  



Through early November, the hardwood forests that line the Lake of the Ozarks in Central Missouri morph from lush green to vibrant red, orange and yellow. Several self-guided driving tours provide options to view Jack Frost’s handiwork at pullovers, especially at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

Park near the “castle ruins” for a walk around the fairy-tail estate, left unfinished from the turn of the last century. Now part of the Missouri State Park system, Ha Ha Tonka consistently ranks as one of the best state parks by readers of the USA.

Check it out: Golfers know a good course when they find one and there are plenty along Central Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks Golf Trail. Plus the fishing’s good! Locals report fall’s quieter waters are favorable for fishing, especially in secluded coves along the 1,150 miles of shoreline. Lake of the Ozarks, Central Missouri: funlake.com

Bear Creek Valley Golf Club - Lake of the Ozarks Golf Trail.
Bear Creek Valley Golf Club – Lake of the Ozarks Golf Trail. Photo: Courtesy of FunLake.com


Pumpkin Glow at Kingwood Center Gardens in Mansfield, Ohio lights up an October weekend for the entire family. Partial credit for the wattage goes to the estimated 1,000-plus carved and lit pumpkins. There are glowing balloons plus other illuminated decorations on the 47-acre estate, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Vibrant displays provide opportunities for selfies along scarecrow row, by seasonal gourds, and a sea of fall’s favorite flower, chrysanthemums.

By day, oak trees in this dreamy part of Ohio dazzle with their own show of leaf-popping color. Same for the scenery found along the 18.4-mile B&O Trail – for cyclists and walkers alike. Check out local outfitters for tour and trek opportunities, maybe even a trail ride. There are nearly 90 miles of bridle trails in Richland County State Parks and Forests.

Check it out: Experience an aerial view of Richmond County’s fall color on a Tree Frog Canopy Zip-line Tour.

Destination Mansfield: visitdestinationmansfield.com.


For the first blush of fall color, venture to the northernmost point of Door County, Wisconsin, and catch the ferry to Washington Island.

As the season unfolds, plan for a drive along Highway 42. It is a favorite for its curves as well as color. One of the most popular ways to experience fall at the Door is on a self-guided circle tour, by car or bicycle. Wind up one side of the peninsula, and then return via the other side.

Newly rebuilt, Eagle Tower at Peninsula State Park opened in May – same location and same incredible views of Green Bay and the surrounding coast. What’s not the same? The rebuilt tower is now accessible! It includes an 850-foot ramp that leads to the top viewing area through the same colorful canopy as those taking the 100 steps.

Accolades roll in about Door County in the fall, from Discover Boating and Trip Advisor to Trips-To-Discover and USA Today’s 10 Best lists.

Check it out: Hit the links at one of Door County’s 10 golf courses. All offer brilliant fall colors as well as challenging play. Courses range from nine to 27 holes. Destination Door County, www.doorcounty.com

The charming town of Ephraim, Wisconsin in Door County where Jack Frost’s handiwork can be seen from the water.
The charming town of Ephraim, Wisconsin in Door County where Jack Frost’s handiwork can be seen from the water. Photo Courtesy of Destination Door County
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