Fall foliage camping in the Midwest
Fall is an amazing time in the Midwest, when hardwood forests and deciduous shrubs from Lake Superior to the Shawnee National Forest transform into a mosaic of yellow, orange, red and purple leaves. Colors nature normally permits only in small doses suddenly overwhelm the landscape. It’s also the last great chance toRead more...
Fall is an amazing time in the Midwest, when hardwood forests and deciduous shrubs from Lake Superior to the Shawnee National Forest transform into a mosaic of yellow, orange, red and purple leaves. Colors nature normally permits only in small doses suddenly overwhelm the landscape. It’s also the last great chance to go camping before the dwindling daylight and colder temps drive us to the hygge of our homes during winter.
We think the fall foliage is best experienced from within. Like stepping into a painting, the fall camper gets the total immersion of sleeping below the red and gold leaves, and first glimpse as they fill with light at sunrise. Pumpkin patches, you-pick apple orchards and corn mazes abound during this season. It's harvest time, and farmers markets are loaded with pears, apples, and roasting veggies perfect for campfire foil grilling. We even love the nip in the air — best countered with snuggly wool blankets, thermoses of hot cocoa or cider, and a roaring campfire.
Pro Tip: If cold weather tent camping is not your cup of tea, click the ‘Lodging’ filter on your search to see cozy cabins, yurts, treehouses, tiny homes and more. Or, use the ‘RVs’ filter for sites where you can sleep snug in the shelter of your van or RV.
In general, peak foliage in the Midwest arrives in mid-September and extends through the end of October, with northern regions peaking earlier. This fall foliage prediction map can help you plan your trip. Also, feel free to message a prospective Host about the best time for leaf peeping on their property in advance.
Here are some of our favorite Midwest fall leaf camping destinations, by state:
You won’t need to travel far in the Land of 10,000 Lakes to find the beauty of the fall foliage doubled in the reflection of a glassy body of water. From Minneapolis—St. Paul it’s just an hour to the St. Croix River Valley, where the riverside cliffs are ablaze in deciduous leafs, and William O’Brian State Park offers trails through the colorful woods. But for many Minnesotans, “fall leaves” means one thing - the North Shore, where State and National wilderness preserves sprawl and the dense aspen and birch forests of the Highlands collide with Lake Superior. This is also a great time of year to day-hike or overnight a section of the Superior Hiking Trail.
Most of Wisconsin’s best camping — of which there is plenty — is enhanced by fall colors. Door County, the peninsula north of Milwaukee that juts out between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, is especially beautiful this season. Not only does Door County have dual coastlines, but it contains 5 state parks and 19 county park that offer many perspectives on the fall transformation. From Madison, you can do no better than to camp in or near Devil’s Lake State Park, whose maple trees blaze from red to orange to yellow along the park’s famous quartzite bluffs. Or head west to St. Croix Falls, where the glacial-craved cliffs of Interstate State Park are adorned in fall leaves above the St. Croix River. Wisconsin fall campers should be sure to look up regional cranberry festivals this time of year too.
Indiana’s Hoosier National Forest is one of this region’s best bets for a mid/late October peak. The park — just an hour from Louisville, KY — hosts a diverse blend of tulip poplars, locust, redbud, sumac and maple trees. For a quick fall leaf destination from Indianapolis, shoot for Parke County, and book on or around October’s Covered Bridge Festival depending on your taste for crowds. Perhaps the most unique Indiana fall foliage opportunity — and a great option for Chicagoans — is at Indian Dunes National Park. Here, a surreal mix of golden-orange maples, sand dunes and lakeshore combine on south Lake Michigan.
From forests to lakeshores to sand dunes to growing regions, Michigan is a choose-your-own-adventure of fall foliage camping. The Upper Peninsula is a glorious option for the early peak season — think mid Sept to early Oct — and a quick trip from Grand Rapids. Here, are the Huron-Manistee National Forests and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore alight with ochre, orange and red each fall. From Detroit, camping options in and around the Waterloo Recreation Area is an ideal way to take in the stunning transformation of the park’s 20,000 acre mature hardwood forest. Expect reds, brown and oranges as you explore the hiking trails and lakes. If you’re lucky, you’ll also catch a glimpse of park’s second most famous autumn resident, the sandhill crane.
Here are a few of our favorite fall foliage camps from the Midwest:
The Mulln-Heim Vineyards offers a secluded, rustic campsite in a mixed hardwood forest that lights up each fall. This working, 40 acre farm has u-pick grapes in September and October. Warren Dunes and Potato Creek State Parks are right near by, and there are many orchards, farmsteads and wineries in the area that provide harvest goodies.
This rustic cabin on a permaculture homestead borders the Hoosier National Forest is the perfect home base for fall foliage exploration in this region. Surrounded by deciduous trees, it features a snug loft bed and wood stove for heat. There's a fire pit outside for s’mores and a goat and cows on the farm to admire, making this a fun family destination.
St. Croix Valley Apple Blossom Site is the quintessential fall campsite. It’s three quite campsites each have a fire pit and are surrounded by white pine, maple and fruit trees for a broad-spectrum leaf show. And it's just 5 minutes from the St. Croix River and William O’Brian State Park, giving you a quiet oasis in the heart of this region’s fall attractions.
The leaves at this Northern Minnesota tent start to change color the third week of September, and campers willing to brave the colder temps at this latitude may get two extraordinary displays of colors, as the Aurora Borealis is visible in this area when solar activity conditions are right. There is a renovated barn with electricity and a picnic table for day-use at Wooded Creek, but be prepared for freezing temps at night in October.