Get us in your inbox

Search
Galena Trail fall foliage
Photograph: Craig Brandt Photo

Where to see fall foliage near Chicago

Not enough trees in the city for you? You can find beautiful autumn colors within driving distance of Chicago.

Zach Long
Allison Yates
Edited by
Zach Long
Written by
Allison Yates
Advertising

There are plenty of leafy parks and preserves where you can spot fall foliage in Chicago when the weather becomes crisp. But when you’re eager for a weekend escape, you’ll find expansive national forests, steep trails and scenic drives that immerse you in the season’s changing colors. Whether you want to speed through sunset-hued trees by bike, hear the crunch of fallen leaves while hiking near Chicago, zipline through the forest or view a rolling valley of red from the warmth of your car, here are the best places to experience fall foliage near Chicago—all less than a four-hour drive away.

Where to see fall foliage near Chicago

Door County, WI
Photograph: Shutterstock

Door County, WI

Driving time from Chicago: Three hours and 45 minutes

As the brisk autumn air descends on this summer hotspot, head to Potawatomi State Park, which offers 1,200 acres of hills and cliffs overlooking the bay on the southern end of the country. Walk along the Tower Trail, a 3.6-mile unpaved loop that takes you through dense forest and up to Old Ski Hill Overlook, which has been transformed into a lookout point. Stop for a snack and take in the gorgeous views of the tops of colorful trees and the bay. If you’re not up for a walk, this lookout point is also accessible by car.

Galena, IL
Photograph: Craig Brandt Photo

Galena, IL

Driving time from Chicago: Two hours and 45 minutes

Step away from the quaint shops and restaurants of this Northwestern Illinois town and explore the Galena River Trail, an eight-mile paved and crushed-rock path that was converted from a former railway. The trail follows the Galena River as it twists through colorful oak, maple and ash trees. There are several segments of the trail of varying difficulty levels, so if you’re looking for a more casual walk we suggest picking it up from Downtown Galena at Depot Park, walking for half a mile and then turning back.

Advertising
DuPage County, IL
Photograph: Courtesy Fox Valley Park District

DuPage County, IL

Driving time from Chicago: 30 minutes

You don’t have to venture far from the city to marvel at seemingly endless miles of changing leaves. The 61-mile Illinois Prairie Path that winds through Cook, DuPage and Kane counties west of Chicago makes up the nation’s first rail-to-trail conversion and is beautiful any time of year, but especially in the fall. Opt for the section between Wheaton and Aurora to pass through the foliage of the St. James Forest Preserve and Warrenville Grove Forest Preserve.

Manistee National Forest, MI
Photograph: @Karfar

Manistee National Forest, MI

Driving time from Chicago: Three hours and 30 minutes

The Huron-Manistee National Forests comprise nearly one million acres of forested land in Northern Michigan. With a mix of well-worn and off-the-beaten-path outdoor adventures throughout the extensive forests, there are also countless trails and scenic drives that are ideal for soaking in the bright colors of the season. For the advanced and adventurous, we recommend the Manistee River Loop, with nearly 20 miles of trail and around 1800 feet of elevation gain. As you make your way through the foliage and out to a clearing to peak above the trees, you’ll see rolling hills of vibrant leaves and views of the Manistee River. If you’d rather be on two wheels, this trail is also popular with mountain bikers.

Advertising
Peoria, IL
Photograph: Courtesy Discover Peoria

Peoria, IL

Driving time from Chicago: Two hours and 30 minutes

Theodore Roosevelt famously called the Grand View Drive, a 2.5-mile road in Peoria, “the world’s most beautiful drive.” That’s debatable, but there’s no question that this scenic drive overlooking the Illinois River—meandering through stately historic homes and lush foliage—is awe inducing, especially when the sun hits the rustling red leaves. Driving is the most popular way to experience Grand View, but you can also stretch your legs on the 1.75-mile sidewalk along the road.

Western Springs, IL
Photograph: Courtesy Go Ape USA

Western Springs, IL

Driving time from Chicago: 30 minutes

Glide over the trees on a Go Ape ziplining adventure at Bemis Woods Forest Preserve in Western Springs, just a short drive from Chicago. There are various ziplining adventures that offer differing levels of difficulty and duration (up to three hours), but any excursion will offer up-close views of seasonal colors. Challenge yourself to cross wobbly bridges or fall into net banks, all while admiring your surroundings. If being strapped to a harness and sailing above ground freaks you out, there’s always the option to take part in some axe throwing as you enjoy a crisp fall day.

Advertising
Lake Geneva, WI
Photograph: Courtesy Visit Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva, WI

Driving time from Chicago: One hour and 30 minutes

Run, walk or cycle by historic buildings and beautifully-landscaped waterfront homes as you saunter past, amber-turned trees lining the 21-mile Lake Geneva Shore Path that encircles the entirety of Lake Geneva. Appropriate for all ages, you can easily walk or bike portions of the trail if you’re not up for the complete loop. For a short and beautiful trek, start at the Lake Geneva Public Library and walk your preferred distance. After you’re done walking, head to the library’s floor-to-ceiling glass reading room that overlooks the lake. You can curl up with a book and admire the sights from indoors.

West Lafayette, IN
Photograph: Courtesy West Lafayette

West Lafayette, IN

Driving time from Chicago: Two hours

Running 13 miles along the Wabash River and Burnett Creek through parks and forests, the Wabash Heritage Trail is West Lafayette’s premiere place to see fall colors just outside of the Boilermaker madness. Starting in downtown West Lafayette and ending in Fort Ouiatenon—a former fur trading post that dates back to 1717—the trail becomes narrower and more secluded the farther north you go. It’s best for hiking and trail running, though bikes are permitted on a five-mile paved stretch through town. Since this is a linear trail, be sure to only go as far as you’re willing to walk back.

Advertising
Waterfall Glen, IL
Photograph: Courtesy Illinois Office of Tourism

Waterfall Glen, IL

Driving time from Chicago: 45 minutes

The 9.5-mile loop trail at Waterfall Glen is perfect for immersing yourself in fall colors without venturing far from facilities like restrooms and picnic areas. Popular among trail runners and cyclists, there are some steep hills (ideal for overlooking layers of the forest and the small man-made waterfall that the area was named for), short rustic trails off the main path and some pre-Chicago Park District history along the route.

Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest, WI
Photograph: Courtesy Travel Wisconsin

Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest, WI

Driving time from Chicago: One hour and 30 minutes

After a 6.8-mile hike along the Holy Hill segment of Kettle Moraine’s Ice Age Trail and a 178-stair climb up to the top of Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary’s scenic tower, you’ll know the effort was worth it. From the top of the tower, you can catch your breath and take in panoramic views of golden-leaved trees covering the landscape. On a sunny day the light gives warm hues to the vibrant colors—you don’t have to be religious to be moved by this scenery.

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising