4 Best Destinations to Enjoy Fall Colors

Summer is giving way to fall, and Mother Nature is gearing up to put on a very colorful show.

Now is the time to start thinking about an autumn excursion, be it a weekend road trip or a Saturday afternoon. Here are the best local spots and drivable destinations for viewing fall’s colors.


Starved Rock State Park and Lodge 

Few places are more dramatic for fall colors as Starved Rock State Park, which is located along the south bank of the Illinois River, less than 100 miles from Chicago in Utica, Ill. The scenic trails and canyons are even more splendid in the fall, and even if you aren’t a hiker, the sweeping terrace at the Starved Rock Lodge provides panoramic views. In October, the state park staff offers guided fall colors tours on Mondays and Saturdays. If you want to make a weekend of it, the lodge offers a special “Leaf Peepers Package” for two for $180, plus tax. The package is available October 5, 6, 9, 13, 19, 20-23 and 26-30 and it includes a one-night stay plus dinner and breakfast at the main restaurant.

“If you leave work a little early, you’ll still get here in time for a quick hike before dark,” says Kathy Casstevens, marketing director for the Starved Rock Lodge. “Then, enjoy a relaxing massage, a soak in our hot tub and dinner at Elements. The next day can be filled with leisurely hiking to see canyons, amazing bluff views of the Illinois River Valley in autumn and maybe some waterfalls, too.”

Lake Geneva 

In just a little more than an hour, you can experience the best of autumn in the gorgeous resort town of Lake Geneva, Wisc. There are many ways to enjoy the fall colors in the Lake Geneva area on foot or by boat, car, rail, bicycle and even hot air balloon. Adventurous visitors can tackle the 21-mile Geneva Lake shore path with great fall foliage views.

Just minutes from Lake Geneva in Delavan, Wisc., is the Lake Lawn Resort, which hosts a Fall Family Festival October 10-12. The festival features outdoor fun such as scarecrow building, a scarecrow dress-and-dash, pumpkin bowling, bonfire storytelling, flag football, hay rides and nature walks. “The Fall Family Festival encourages families to join together to celebrate Wisconsin’s beautiful fall season,” says Dave Sekeres, general manager at Lake Lawn Resort. “Families are able to spend time outside, enjoying a little friendly competition and soaking in the fall colors that bring such beauty to our grounds year after year.”

Local Color

Of course, there is plenty of foliage close to home, too.

The River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook is offering a fall colors walk on Sunday and Monday, Oct. 12 and 13 at 1:30 p.m. On Sunday, Oct. 19, the nature center is hosting a fall festival, with hay rides, pumpkin painting and more. Call 847-824-8360 for more information about fall events at the River Trail Nature Center.

Starting September 13, the Evanston Ecology Center resumes its “Canoe the Canal” trips on weekends for $10/child and $20/adult. Learn basic canoe strokes and safety procedures and then enjoy a leisurely canoe down the canal to view wildlife and the changing colors. You can register by phone or in person at the Evanston Ecology Center.

“The animals that live along the canal will be preparing for winter during the fall season,” says Matt Poole, Ecology Center program coordinator. “We will be able to see signs of beavers along the canal as they attempt to sure up their dens for the winter. Depending on how cool the fall is, we should also be able to catch glimpses of great blue heron and their small cousins, the green heron.”