Fall in the midwest heartland of Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin offers the traveler the pleasures of brilliant autumn colors along with special events like fish boils, corn roasts, ghostly cave trips, and craft festivals.
Michigan's fall colors usually begin in the Upper Peninsula in mid-September, moving slowly southward to peak along the Indiana border by mid-October, depending on the amount of rain. One of the state's most scenic regions is the northwestern Lower Peninsula, stretching from the lovely Leelanau Peninsula northeast to Mackinaw City. A 125-mile tour of unusual scenic beauty starts at Traverse City via M-22 into Old Mission Peninsula, then to Leelanau Peninsula and continuing to Empire, east through Interlochen and north to Traverse City via US 31.
Fall events in Michigan include the scenic Charlevoix Color Cruises around Lake Charlevoix on the october 4-5, 11- 12 weekends on the Beaver Islander steamer, and the Midwest Antiques Forum of workshops and lectures on 19th century Americana October 15-19 at the Henry Ford Museum at Dearborn (there's an Hickin Road east of Torch Lake, where Scott Nelles demonstrates casting bronze objects, and go apple picking at the Tree-Mendous orchards near Eau Claire in southwestern Michigan.
Wisconsin's fall color spectacle offers a wide variety of trips. One of the state's prettiest areas is along the mississippi River, following the Great River Road (Wisconsin 35) between Prairie du Chien and Hager City. Roads around and through the Chequamegon National Forest, Copper Falls State Park, and north of Ashland to Bayfield are also good for fall color. Door County via Michigan 42 and 57 presents panoramic views of Lake Michigan on the south edge of the peninsula and Green Bay on the north, dotted with resort villages and three state parks. In central Wisconsin, Rib Mountain State Park west of Wausau provides a sweeping view.
Among the dozens of fall events in Wisconsin is Door County's Fall Festival October 10-12, in Sister Bay, which includes a fish boil, corn roasts, dancing and fireworks, and the Old World Wisconsin pioneer farm complex at Eagle salutes the fall with a weekend Autumn on the Farm october 18-19.
Costumed actors keep children spellbound during the Haunted Celebration october 24-31 at Cave of the Mounds near Blue Mounds, and nature lovers can watch migrating birds at the Horicon marsh near fond du Lac October 11-12.
Foliage touring in Illinois begins in the north in early October along Illinois 2 south from Rockford along the Rock River to Lowden State Park, or west via US 20 to Galena with its stairstep hills and bluffs above the Mississippi River.
On the state's western border, try the drive from Nauvoo (the pioneer Mormon settlement) south on Illinois 96 to Hamilton and and Quincy. In the south, a scenic fall drive is along US 51 from Carbondale south, near the Shawnee National Forest.
One of the best fall events in the three-state area is the Clayville Folk Life Festival at Pleasant Plains (12 miles due west of Springfield) October 4-5. Centered around the restored 1825 two-story brick stagecoach inn, the festival includes demonstrations of 75 pioneer rural crafts from quilting to musket shooting to cider making.
One of the state's most popular activities is the Spoon River scenic drive on the October 4-5 and 11-12 weekdends, a 60-mile stretch from London Mills south to Lewistown. Food, handicraft articles and crafts demonstrations are offered at 12 locations along the route.