10 Breathtaking Fall Vistas in Southeastern Wisconsin You Won’t Want to Miss (2023)

Autumn’s paintbrush is at work in Milwaukee!

By the third week of October, our city bursts into a canvas of vibrant fall colors, making it the perfect time for families to soak in the beauty. Whether you fancy an observation tower, a panoramic overlook, or a scenic drive, there are plenty of spots to witness the seasonal magic.

Here are some top family-friendly picks in the Milwaukee area:

1. Holy Hill Basilica & National Shrine of Mary 

1525 Carmel Rd, Hubertus, WI 53033

One of Southeastern Wisconsin’s crown jewels, the Holy Hill scenic tower, is a majestic destination that truly is a must-visit. Located just a short 40-minute drive from downtown Milwaukee, it offers an easily accessible escape.

Just a short climb from the parking lot, the Holy Hill scenic tower stands tall at 192 feet, boasting 178 steps to the top.

While energetic older kids might race to the summit, expect to assist toddlers and younger children during the ascent.

At its peak, the view is nothing short of breathtaking. On crisp clear days, the distant silhouette of downtown Milwaukee’s skyline graces the horizon.

The tower welcomes visitors from May through October (subject to weather).

Be aware: The tower remains CLOSED under conditions such as gusty winds, imminent storms, fog, rain, slippery stairs post-storm, frost, or snow.

For a less crowded experience, consider weekday visits or arriving early, especially during the leaf-peaking season.

Pro Tip: Be sure to visit the Holy Hill Skeletons nearby! Local resident Jimmy Zamzow arranges his collection of skeletons every year into an entertaining Halloween display in his front yard along Highway 167, just east of Holy Hill.

2. Kettle Moraine State Forest Lapham Peak Unit

Address: W329 N846 County Highway C, Delafield, WI 53018

Begin your nature journey at the Hausmann Nature Center, then embark on a gentle hike that leads you to the crown jewel: a 45-foot observation tower, standing proudly as the pinnacle of Waukesha County at 1,233 feet above sea level.

From this vantage, the expansive lake country unveils itself, stretching out for miles in a scenic tapestry.

Please note: A vehicle admission sticker is mandatory for entry.

3. Northpoint Lighthouse

Lake Park, 2650 N. Wahl Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53211

Built in 1855, the North Point light station can be found in Lake Park and is one of the oldest standing structures in Milwaukee. This historic site has been open for public tours and visits since being restored in 2007.

Climb the 74-foot lighthouse tower for 360-degree views of Lake Park, Lake Michigan and downtown Milwaukee, or tour the Queen Anne-style, wheelchair-accessible museum to view maritime industry artifacts and exhibits. 

Children must be at least 5 years old and at least 38 inches tall to climb the tower. There are 84 steps and a ladder to reach the lantern room at the top.

There are guided and self-guided tours, plus a Lunch & Tour option available for larger groups Monday-Thursday.

4. Retzer Nature Center

S14W28167 Madison St., Waukesha, WI 53188
(262) 896-8007

For an expansive view of Waukesha, follow the Orange Loop (or take a shortcut) to the Vista marked on this Trail Map.

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.

5. 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.

6. Parnell Tower 

W7876 County Road U, Plymouth, WI 53073

Parnell Tower Kettle Moraine State Forest Sheboygan Wisconsin
Photo Credit: Instagram, @alyssa_joy26

Standing tall as the pinnacle of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, this 60-foot wooden tower gifts visitors with sweeping views of the verdant forest and adjacent farmlands. On crystal clear days, the horizon stretches out to a remarkable 25 miles in every direction from the tower’s summit.

Nestled along the Parnell Tower Trail, a 3.5-mile loop which intersects with the famed Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the tower is a cherished waypoint for hikers and backpackers alike. To embark on your journey, start at the trailhead near the parking area on County Highway U (just a quarter-mile west of County Highway A). Conveniently, a well-equipped picnic spot awaits near the parking for post-hike relaxation.

The tower welcomes visitors from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Remember to secure a state park admission sticker for access. Note: The parking remains closed during the winter months.

7. Kettle Moraine State Forest – Pike Lake Unit

3544 Kettle Moraine Rd., Hartford, WI 53086

Your hike to Powder Hill begins from the trailhead, located just half a mile from the Nature Trail parking lot.

As you reach the summit of Powder Hill, the second highest elevation in southeastern Wisconsin, an observation tower awaits. Climb to its top for a breathtaking panoramic view.

This scenic spot is also graced by a segment of the iconic Ice Age Trail, further enriching your hiking experience.

Please ensure you have a vehicle admission sticker for access.

8. Alice Bertschy Kadish Park

750 E. North Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53212
Kilbourn Reservoir Park History

Situated at the crossroads of three iconic Milwaukee neighborhoods, Alice Bertschy Kadish Park (often referred to as Kilbourn Reservoir Park) stands as a testament to the power of community collaboration.

Established in 2007 through a synergistic public-private partnership, the City of Milwaukee graciously leases the park’s expanse to the devoted COA Youth & Family Centers.

But the park’s allure isn’t just in its history; it’s in the breathtaking vistas it offers. Ascend the stairs from North Avenue, and you’re treated to a sweeping panorama of Milwaukee’s skyline, framed perfectly by lush treetops.

If you’re looking to make the most of their day out, pair your park visit with a stroll down Black Cat Alley. This vibrant stretch of art and culture is a visual delight.

To top off your experience, pop into Milwaukee’s one-of-a-kind cat cafe. It’s the purr-fect way to enjoy the diverse offerings of this dynamic area!

9. Mequon Nature Preserve

Address: 8200 W. County Line Rd., Mequon, WI 53097

Nestled in 510 acres of pristine beech maple forest and tranquil wooded wetlands, the Mequon Nature Preserve is an oasis for nature lovers.

Families are invited to wander through six miles of well-maintained trails, and the best part? It’s absolutely free! Pet lovers rejoice – your furry companions are welcome as long as they remain leashed.

For an elevated view, head to the Observation Tower. Start at the Swan Road entrance, stroll past the serene Pat’s Pond, and you’ll be on your way. A handy trail map can be found on MNP’s website.

The trails beckon year-round, welcoming visitors from sunrise to sunset.

Don’t Miss: Join the “photo point monitoring” initiative at the observation tower’s Chronolog post. Secure your phone in the designated dock and capture the beauty of Christine’s Painted Pond. Then, simply follow the post’s instructions to submit your photo. Watch as your snapshot becomes part of a growing time-lapse, documenting the preserve’s land restoration journey. Look out for a second Chronolog post at Trinity Creek’s bank. Dive in and be part of this nature narrative!

10. Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive

Website | Map

Chase the Green Acorn Signs!

Embrace the beauty of the season with a drive down the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive, a captivating journey showcasing the geological wonders and natural splendor of southeast Wisconsin. Stretching 115 miles across six counties, this scenic route promises diverse landscapes and serene vistas.

The adventure begins near Elkhart Lake in northern Sheboygan County and culminates at the picturesque Whitewater Lake in southeastern Walworth County. Along the way, you’ll find an array of perfect picnic spots and inviting trails for those keen to stretch their legs.

For those seeking unparalleled views of the iconic Holy Hill, set your course along Hwy K. Enjoy the ride!

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