October 03, 2011

One of America’s ‘best fall color drives’

Traveling through Wisconsin during the first few weeks of October is like passing through a watercolor painting.

All the regions are fantastic, but Travel and Leisure recently ranked the “Driftless Region” of southwestern Wisconsin among “America’s Best Fall Color Drives.”

This past weekend, my husband and I had the pleasure of passing along the edge and then through the heart of the region. Trekking to this part of the state has always been one of our favorite pastimes.

On this particular weekend, we traveled Interstate Hwy. 90 to “family weekend” at our daughter’s college; then took a couple of side trips on state highways and county roads through the Driftless Region on the way home.

The leaf colors are changing so fast now, it’s hard to pin down which region is “near peak” or “peak.” But the color in and around the Driftless Region is definitely worth a road trip.

The U.S. Geological Survey describes this region as a “highly eroded, unglaciated” landscape. Much of the area was never covered by glaciers, or contains deposits from the edges of the glaciers. The landforms, plants, and even some animals (bats) are unique to the area.

 Here are a few sources that describe the Driftless Region in detail:

I-90 from Madison to the Minnesota border passes along the edge and in and out of the Driftless Region. The sections of the interstate in the glaciated regions are just as beautiful. Along the way, Maples, Hickories, Hemlock, Birch, Ash, and Sumac blaze as if on fire. At peak, the Oaks join in with their burgundies, bronzes, golds, and deep browns.

Traveling I-90 is easy—with clean, well-tended rest areas and tourist stops along the way. But if you want to see more rustic locales, take a side trip on any of the state or county highways for photo ops, picnic spots, apple orchards, and produce stands.

The sun is setting earlier in the day, so the oblique light highlights plants in shades of color that are hard to adequately capture with a camera, a painter’s brush, or a blogger’s words.

But I have another chance next weekend—we’ll be heading back that way again to see our daughter in her first role in a college play production.

(Thanks to Hanni at Sweet Bean Gardening for hosting the Hope Grows meme. What will I look forward to next month? Maybe a surprise?)


  1. Beautiful. I just love the leaves of fall. They are just starting here. I loved your driving tour, I need to get a break from work and take one. I would be very relaxing.

  2. Your leaves are beautiful. Ours are about two weeks behind.I particularly like the lemon yellow ones.

  3. Just beautiful, Beth. And especially lovely to see autumn colour when it's spring here.

  4. Beth I drive I-90 through NY on my way to and from work...it is lovely here but I think your colors are even more dazzling...

  5. Beautiful! The leaves turning brilliant colors signals the coming of fall in such a glorious way. Our temps are too hot, and we don't usually get that glorious color here. Thanks for letting me enjoy it virtually.

  6. Beautiful colours...especially lovely against the blue sky!

  7. yes they are right, the best drive is through that. Autumn is my favorite season even if we dont have that, and i haven't seen autumn either in person. So can you imagine the feeling that i am so very deprived! My few travels to cold climes always coincide with spring.

  8. Such beautiful fall color! I have been saying for years that as soon as my husband retires, I want to take a trip to New England in the fall. But this is gorgeous scenery that would be doable for us on a weekend now--thanks for an excellent suggestion!

  9. Wow - fall colors already! Thanks for the tour. I particularly like the name "Driftless."

  10. What a beautiful drive!! That is one of the great things about the more northern parts of the country - here in the warmer south the leaves are not quite as bold.

  11. Lovely! I did not know how beautiful fall is in Wisconsin. The only time I have been in Wisconsin was in May which is also beautiful. These views give me a peek into what our trees may look like in a few weeks.

  12. I need to go on a leaf peeper drive as they call them in Maine. Your photos have inspired me.

  13. How beautiful!!! I love how gorgeous all the colors are, especially when a tree has more than one color of leaves. :o)The leaves haven't turned here yet. Why is the region called Driftless?

  14. @Donna: Nothing like driving through the fall colors to renew the spirit!

    @Nellie: The golden ones are really striking this year. But they're all amazing--especially when you see them in a panorama.

    @Lyn: I'm so glad we're comparing notes across the hemispheres.

    @Donna: They seem more vibrant this year--I don't know why. Just enough rain/cool temps/sun?

  15. @Holley: It's taking my breath away every morning on my drive to work. I don't remember the colors being so bright last year.

    @Bridget: Yeah, I think we hit the right day and the temps were cool and crisp. Unlike this week with summer weather!

    @Andrea: You'll have to plan a trip north sometime in autumn. The colors seem unreal!

    @Rose: Yes, you're pretty close. Very doable in a weekend--and well worth it!

  16. @Sheila: Yeah, they really turned almost overnight, and now everything's on fire. I imagine we'll hit peak in the next few days.

    @Indie: I'll have to remember that when it's miserable here in the heart of winter. Brrr...

    @Greggo: Thanks! Yeah, they really were that bright.

    @Sage: I hadn't thought about it much, but I guess May, June, and October are about the prettiest months here.

  17. @Carolyn: Leaf peeper drive...great name for it!

    @TS: Yeah, I think the multicolored ones are my favorites, too! "Driftless" basically means the area was never covered by glaciers, while most of the rest of the state (and the northeast U.S.) was.

  18. Awesome color. Looks like we too will have a memorable/photogenic fall. We are both blessed!

  19. Magical. I love autumn trees, so vivid and exuberant.