Best Fall Color Road Trip Ideas

Why venture out for Fall Colors?

There’s something captivating about the vivacious remnants of once Chlorophyll rich leaves of the summer season and how they succumb to the ground. It draws millions across the country to head out and savor the spectacle. 

When is the peak? 

That’s a million dollar question every year..

Door County (Wisconsin) – October 2nd week. Check out the fall color map.
Chicago suburbs – October mid. Check out the fall color map.
Southern Illinois – October last week. Check out the fall color map.

Special concerns for this year?

For us, considering the C-factor, stay overs are out of the equation, which leaves us with only day trips. Here are some of the suggestions for this year, in increasing order of proximity from Naperville/Aurora –

Mortem Arboretum
10-15 mins from Naperville

Closest option from Naperville. The stakes are low and the colors are bright. And there are these trolls too. 


Check out the latest fall color report for the arboretum here.

Tip: Please be aware that it is mandatory to reserve before visiting arboretum this year.

Waterfall Glen
20-25 mins from Naperville

Highly trafficked hike with great foliage. The loop is around 9 miles and boasts of a small waterfall too (don’t get your expectations high though for the ankle deep water). Parking is a pain if going at weekends. It has 3 parking lots – main entrance, Rocky Glen Parking Lot and the one near Lemon temple. Please note that Rocky Glen Parking Lot is of closest proximity to the waterfall.

Waterfall Glen on Oct 10, 2020

Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve
1 hour from Naperville

The sledding hill provides a perfect vantage point to quench your foliage peeping desire. It also boasts of a big wooden bridge on the Plum Creek Greenway Trail which offers a diverse view of the surroundings. The adjoining Plum Creek Nature Center has bird feeders which attract a plethora of birds for the visitors to gaze. Overall, a preserve worth visiting – Fall colors or not.

You can check this to know more about Goodenow. 

Starved Rock State Park
1.5 hours from Naperville

With 13 miles of trails and close proximity to Naperville, this would be one the best options for a day trip. Looks like the Fall Colors would peak around October 17 weekend this year. Considering the massive crowd Starved Rock draws each year, you gotta watch out.

22378693768_ae76db5fd6_kFall colors at Starved Rock (Courtesy Gabe under Creative Commons)

Matthiessen State Park
1.5 hours from Naperville

This is a lesser know cousin of Starved Rock with slightly muted footfall since the primary attraction is the waterfall during the summer season (see my summer trip here) and not the fall colors. It has around 6 miles of hikes and exhibits great fall foliage. This might be a preferred option, especially if you are going to take on the Oct 17 weekend crowd (peak time for colors this year).

So, set your GPS here and enjoy.

2990760664_6a9dc02210_kFall Colors at Matthiessen (Courtesy Pete under Creative Commons)

Turkey Run State Park, Indiana
3 hours from Naperville

About 3 hours from Naperville, Turkey Run is one of the most sought after State parks and looks glam during the Autumn vista. Be it hikes, historical sites, activities, campgrounds, Fall Colors, bridges, gorges – this one has it all!

4067743933_01f6ef016e_bFall Colors at Turkey Run (Courtesy Josh under Creative Commons)

FWIW: Turkey Run is where I am planning to go this year.

Great River Road (Scenic Drive)
4 hours from Naperville

The Great Rivers Country area, composed of 30+ counties in Illinois West and Central, also boasts of a 30 mile scenic mile from Ashton to Grafton which attracts thousands of Fall Color aficionados every year.

                Great river road. Courtesy:

Along the way, you could also visit Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton which offers a ton of activities for nature lovers and great foliage this time of the year.

Noteworthy Mentions

Holy Hill Basilica at Hubertus, Wisconsin
2 hours from Naperville

Holy Hill basilica is quite a novelty – perched atop a picturesque hill, it offers enough incentive for both the pious ones and the nature lovers. The scenic tower in the main attraction and it draws thousands every year, which might be concerning for some, this year.

PANO_20191020_170622.vr_2 (4)Views from the scenic tower at Holy Hill 

Door County Wisconsin
3.5 hours from Naperville

For every Chicago dweller, Door County is another synonym for Fall Colors. But we will give it a slip this year considering the distance and our reluctance to stay overnight. Here’s a post detailing our Door County road trip.


Door County during our 2012 Fall Colors trip

Michigan – Lower and Upper Peninsula
3-5 hours from Naperville

My favorite in Lower Peninsula is the acclaimed scenic route on M119, also called Tunnel of Trees.

You can read all about it here.

24d_tunnel156Tunnel of trees, courtesy –

M119 can be accessed from just outside Petoskey. You can find the map below – the yellow line highlights tunnel of trees route, red is an extension covering equally exquisite MI State Park.



As for Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rock offers quite a view. The distance from Naperville (6hours +) makes it a bit of a stretch though, if you are going just for the Fall colors.

That’s it. Please fill in the comments on your suggestions?

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