As summer's warmth gradually gives way to the cool embrace of fall, Chicago begins its annual transformation into a vibrant canvas of reds, oranges, and golds. (And while some find themselves mourning the end of yet another sizzling summer, I am happily stowing away my sandals in favor of my Sorels.)
Chicago's skyline is a marvel in itself, yes, but the surrounding natural beauty that emerges during the autumn months is equally captivating. However, the sheer beauty of fall is not limited to Chicago's backyard. In fact, the entire midwest stands as an autumnal compass, guiding curious explorers to the most scenic and seasonal destinations. And while Chicago's urban charm is undeniably magnetic, there's something profoundly refreshing about escaping the city's clamor and immersing oneself in the tranquility of the countryside during the autumn months.
Whether you're a leaf-peeping enthusiast seeking the perfect photo op, a nature lover yearning for a serene escape, or simply someone in search of new adventures, these five curated day trips will cater to your wanderlust.
Starved Rock State Park
Just a two-hour drive southwest of Chicago lies Starved Rock State Park, a haven for fall foliage enthusiasts. With its towering sandstone canyons, cascading waterfalls, and lush woodlands, this park becomes a breathtaking spectacle during autumn. Hike along the park's numerous trails, such as the St. Louis Canyon Trail and Wildcat Canyon Trail, to witness nature's transformation up close. The Starved Rock Lodge also offers a cozy spot to warm up and savor a meal surrounded by scenic views.
Escape the city and step back in time in Galena, a historic town nestled amidst rolling hills. In the fall, this charming destination is bathed in rich autumnal hues. Take a leisurely stroll along Main Street, where 19th-century architecture blends seamlessly with the fall foliage. For a more immersive experience, embark on a scenic drive along the Great River Road, which offers panoramic views of the Mississippi River and the surrounding bluffs, all dressed in vibrant fall colors.
Indiana Dunes State Park
Just an hour's drive from Chicago, Indiana Dunes State Park is a nature lover's paradise year-round. However, during fall, it becomes a symphony of color and serenity. Explore the park's numerous trails, including the 3-Dune Challenge Trail and the Cowles Bog Trail, each providing a unique perspective of the changing leaves. Don't forget to spend some time on the pristine shores of Lake Michigan, where the juxtaposition of fall foliage against the crystal-clear waters is simply mesmerizing!
Kettle Moraine State Forest, Wisconsin
Venture north to Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine State Forest, where rolling hills, glacial formations, and dense forests create the perfect backdrop for fall's kaleidoscope of colors. Hike or bike along the Ice Age Trail, which winds through this beautiful landscape, offering glimpses of tranquil lakes and vibrant foliage. (Don't miss the panoramic view from the Parnell Tower, especially during the peak of fall foliage.)
Matthiessen State Park
Nestled not far from Starved Rock State Park, Matthiessen State Park is a hidden gem known for its stunning canyons, waterfalls, and lush woodlands. Explore the Upper and Lower Dells, Cascade Falls, and the Vermilion River by following the well-maintained trails. With the fall foliage serving as the backdrop, your day trip here will feel like a journey through an enchanted forest.
Fall in love
From towering sandstone canyons to historic towns and pristine lakeshores, each destination offers a unique experience and a chance to embrace the changing season. Pack your camera, don your coziest sweater, and set off on these picturesque day trips to witness the Midwest's most breathtaking fall foliage. Don't wait too long; autumn's magic is fleeting, and these day trips are your passport to experiencing it in all its glory.
Catch us back here bi-weekly as we bring you curated and Chicago-based real estate content (with a life coach’s twist). Next up: Can’t wait for spring? Decide if fall is the time to sell with: Sell Your House in September – Let’s Embrace the Autumn Advantage!