Well, the leaves they are a-changin’! Fall foliage usually peaks around the third week of October in southeastern Wisconsin, so there’s no better time to find the best view of the vibrant colors with the entire family.
Find an observation tower, overlook or scenic drive to take in the fall colors in all their splendor. Here are some of our favorites in the Milwaukee area:
1. Editor’s Pick: Holy Hill Basilica & National Shrine of Mary
1525 Carmel Rd, Hubertus, WI 53033
The scenic tower at Holy Hill is just up the stairs from the parking lot. The tower stretches 192 feet at its base, and has 178 stairs. High-energy kids will not have a problem climbing the tower, but toddlers and very young children will likely need to be carried much of the way.
The views at the top are unparalleled. On a clear day, you can even see the skyline of downtown Milwaukee.
Open May through October (weather permitting), with the following hours:
- Sunday: 1:30-4:30 p.m.*
- Monday-Saturday: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.*
*Open until 5:30 p.m. during the month of October.
The Scenic Tower will be CLOSED when the following conditions are present: gusty winds, threatening weather, fog, rain, electrical storms, wet stairs following a storm, frost or snow.
2. Alice Bertschy Kadish Park
750 E. North Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53212
Kilbourn Reservoir Park History
Established in 2007 at the intersection of three Milwaukee neighborhoods, Alice Bertschy Kadish Park (aka Kilbourn Reservoir Park) is the result of a public-private partnership. The City of Milwaukee leases the entire park area to the nonprofit COA Youth & Family Centers, which obtained an endowment that provides for upkeep and maintenance.
Surrounding views abound from the top of this filled-in reservoir. Climb the stairs from North Avenue for an incredible panorama of the city skyline and surrounding trees!
3. Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive
Follow the green acorn signs! It’s the best time of the year to ride along the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. Enjoy the natural beauty and geological variety of southeast Wisconsin along this 115-mile drive that covers six Wisconsin counties.
The northern end begins near Elkhart Lake in northern Sheboygan County, and the southern end begins at Whitewater Lake in southeastern Walworth County. There are numerous places to picnic and hike along the way.
Do you want beautiful views of Holy Hill? Drive along Hwy K.
4. Mequon Nature Preserve
8200 W. County Line Rd., Mequon, WI 53097
Mequon Nature Preserve sits on 510 acres of beech maple forest and wooded wetlands. There are six miles of trails for families to enjoy, and it’s completely free to visit! You can also bring pets as long as they are on a leash.
To access the Observation Tower, enter off of Swan Road and walk past Pat’s Pond. The trail map is located on MNP’s website.
Trails are open year-round, from sunrise to sunset.
Try This: Find the Chronolog post at the top of the observation tower to participate in “photo point monitoring.” Mount your phone in the dock and snap a picture of Christine’s Painted Pond, then follow the instructions on the post to send it. Your photo will be included in a time-lapse to keep track of land restoration progress. A second Chronolog post can be found on the bank at Trinity Creek.
5. Retzer Nature Center
S14W28167 Madison St., Waukesha, WI 53188
While you’re there, don’t miss the new Discovery Trail, which includes a variety of “Exploration Stations” for outdoor education, sensory-based play experiences, and STEM activities for families and school groups. Other additions include a gateway feature, a stone seat wall gathering space, a habitat free-play area, boulder scramble, and native plant observation areas.
Another fall favorite is Scarecrow Lane, a half-mile loop marked with creative scarecrows made by nature center visitors.
6. Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
1111 E. Brown Deer Rd., Bayside, WI 53217
When it’s not rainy or snowy, you can walk a short quarter-mile from the main building and parking lot, then climb the 60-foot observation tower for a spectacular view of the surrounding area (including Lake Michigan).
Enhance your viewing experience by renting a family-friendly Nature Pack, which includes a Wonderful Winter Scavenger Hunt, an Animal Tracks and Traces Quick Guide, a magnifying glass, and a Nature Notebook to write observations or draw what you experienced.
While you’re there, don’t miss Mystery Lake, a turtle and frog paradise tucked away in the forest!
Special activities, included with your membership or admission, take place most weekends.
Trails are open daily, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. You’ll need to pay a small fee to enter the Nature Center.
7. Parnell Tower
W7876 County Road U, Plymouth, WI 53073
The highest point of elevation in the Kettle Moraine State Forest, this 60-foot wooden observation tower offers a panoramic view of the forest and surrounding farmland. On a clear day, you can see for about 25 miles in any direction from the top of the tower.
The tower is a favorite stop for hikers and backpackers along the Parnell Tower Trail, a 3.5-mile loop that overlaps with the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. The trailhead can be found near the parking lot on County Highway U (one-quarter mile west of County Highway A), and the tower is not far from there. There’s also a picnic area near the parking lot.
The tower is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., and a state park admission sticker is required. The parking lot is closed during winter.
8. Kettle Moraine State Forest – Lapham Peak Unit
W329 N846 County Highway C, Delafield, WI 53018
Start your trip at the Hausmann Nature Center, where you’ll find a children’s interactive area, great views of the forest, and nature exhibits.
From there, it’s a relatively easy hike to the 45-foot observation tower that sits atop the highest point in Waukesha County (1,233 feet above sea level). You’ll see lake country for miles.
Vehicle admission sticker required.
9. Kettle Moraine State Forest – Pike Lake Unit
3544 Kettle Moraine Rd., Hartford, WI 53086
The trailhead of the hike to Powder Hill is about a half-mile away from the Nature Trail parking lot. Powder Hill is the second highest point in southeastern Wisconsin, and you can climb the observation tower for a panoramic view.
The Pike Lake Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest also includes a segment of the Ice Age Trail.
Vehicle admission sticker required.
There’s More: For the best hiking trails to hit in autumn, click here>>
Did you like this article?
Check out “101 Best Things to do in Milwaukee With Kids“.