Alluring Autumn — Fall getaways, close to home

October 2012 View more

Greet the arrival of autumn on your terms this year. Within the range of day trips, to full weekend getaways, are exquisite destinations for romance, all-ages family time, invigorating exercise and private contemplation. The setting? Beautiful hues await in urbane confines to rural oases—whatever suits your sense of comfort and vacation style.

The prime time for fall color will depend upon the direction you drive. Colors tend to peak from mid September in northern Minnesota, to early November in southern Illinois, but odd weather patterns—frost to drought—often tamper with whatever is typical.

Top destinations close to home

Some state tourism offices suggest specific driving routes when wandering in the fall. Other colorful autumn destinations add lessons of history, nature, self-discovery and art. Here are a dozen ideas to consider when seeking an autumn vacation that offers more than a pretty walk—or drive—in the park.The estimated drive time from Naperville is included in parenthesis.

1. Eagle, Wisconsin

NMAG1012_LargeFeature_1Old World Wisconsin — Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society

Roam the 600 acres of Old World Wisconsin for a glimpse of what farm life was like in the 1880s. During Autumn on the Farms weekends, Sept. 1 to Oct. 14, living history interpreters show how families prepared for winter, field harvests to food preservation. This 60-building state historical site is on the outskirts of Kettle Moraine State Forest’s Southern Unit, which is a gem of a destination on its own—especially in autumn., 262-594-6301, (2 hours)


2. Gilman, Illinois

Invest in yourself by booking two to seven days at The Heartland Spa and Fitness Resort, a rural destination spa where programming matches individual needs, from stress management to weight loss. On this stylishly converted dairy farm is a pond big enough for a paddleboat, walking trails, a meditation garden and plenty of elbow room to ponder the next chapter of life. Guests arrive solo or share a room with a relative, friend or lover. Count Oprah Winfrey among the previous guests., 800-545-4853 , (2 hours)


3. Grafton, Illinois

NMAG1012_LargeFeature_3Pere Marquette Lodge — Photo courtesy Pere Marquette State Park

Hug the Mississippi River south for a while, then follow the bluffs that flank the Illinois River at Pere Marquette State Park, where the sturdy lodge and its 700-ton stone fireplace have greeted wanderers since 1940. Match lodge dining, both rugged and romantic, with a cabin overnight and 9,500 acres of lush grounds for roaming., 608-786-2331 , (5 hours)


4. Indianapolis, Indiana

In the Capitol City’s downtown, anything worth seeing is within a walk. That includes White River State Park, which is Indiana’s only urban state park. Navigate the 250 acres of zoo, gardens, museums and outdoor sculptures by segway, gondola, bike or foot. Indy works for all ages, especially when figuring in time at the world’s largest children’s museum and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Fall fests celebrate ethnic diversity: Slovenians (Sept. 2), Chinese (Sept. 8), Irish (Sept. 14-16) and Germans (Oct. 13)., 800-323-4639, (4 hours)


5. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

NMAG1012_LargeFeature_5Lake Geneva — Photo courtesy Lake Geneva Cruise Line

Savor fall colors at a leisurely pace, while walking along the Geneva Lake shoreline on a Sunday, Sept. 9 to Oct. 28. Begin the morning with an eight-mile hike past mansions and gardens, then board a sightseeing boat in Williams Bay for a lake tour and complete the outing with a champagne brunch. Less vigorous touring options also are available. On Sept. 28 to 30, shoreline views include vessels brought in for the antique and classic boat show., 262-248-6206 , (1.5 hours)


6. Lanesboro, Minnesota

Minnesota’s bed and breakfast capital, population 750, is surrounded by steep hills and limestone bluffs. Excellent trout fishing helps make the community a top U.S. sports town, according to Sports Afield magazine. Amazingly, there are nearly 30 places to spend the night, not including campgrounds.  Hop a bike and follow parts of the 60-mile Root River Trail on Sept. 8, 15 or 22 for “Taste of the Trail,” the opportunity to sample regional products and recipes., 800-944-2670, (6 hours)


7. Makanda, Illinois

NMAG1012_LargeFeature_7Giant City State Park Lodge — Photo courtesy of Mary Bergin

Within the lush and large Shawnee National Forest is the cathedral-like Giant City State Park Lodge, built in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps with local sandstone and white oak. The dining room is known for its all-you-can-eat chicken dinners, and adjacent cottages are probably more contemporary and less expensive than you’d expect. In the forest, which extends for miles, are unusual outcroppings and at least 75 types of trees. Explore by car, foot or horse and expect leisurely walking paths to challenging mounts for rock climbers. Most spiritually uplifting stop: the 111-foot-tall Bald Knob Cross of Peace, off Highway 127 near Cobden., 618-457-4921 , (6 hours)


8. Nashville, Indiana

NMAG1012_LargeFeature_8Brown County — Photo courtesy of Brown County Visitors Bureau

No other part of Indiana contains a higher density of forests than Brown County, and the lush, natural beauty cloaks a vibrant community of 800 that many artisans and artists call their home. All shops and galleries (there are nearly four dozen) are locally owned. Add family-friendly music and theater, plus down-home cooking, and rent a mountain bike, canoe or horse to explore rural surroundings. Longtime fans include Bill Monroe, whose bluegrass music museum and hall of fame host the Sept. 19 to 22 Uncle Pen Days Festival, named after a mentor-fiddler. The music fest is among the world’s oldest to specialize in bluegrass., 800-753-3255, (5 hours)


9. Spring Green, Wisconsin

Nature earns a starring role at American Players Theatre, where the prelude to works by Shakespeare, Edna Ferber and other playwrights is a woodsy, uphill walk to an 1,100-seat outdoor amphitheater. Make it a full-throttle theater immersion with tickets to contemporary productions at the smaller, indoor Touchstone Theatre, and tour Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural school and former summer estate. The area’s visual artists open their studios for the Oct. 19 to 21 Fall Art Tour., 800-588-2042, (3.5 hours)


10. Stillwater, Minnesota

The birthplace of Minnesota, is the proud home to five bookstores, some of which stock rare, out-of-print, specialty books. Visit Oct. 6 or 7 for a mix of music and shopping at the Fall Colors Fine Art and Jazz Festival. The best way to soak in the season is a leisurely cruise on the St. Croix River for great views of changing hues, or a hike in Wisconsin’s oldest state park, Interstate, just across the river., 651-430-8800, (7 hours)


11. Traverse City, Michigan

 At least 30 vineyards and wine shops dot the lovely hills and shoreline of two nearby peninsulas—Leelanau and Old Mission—but the area also boasts a huge bounty of cherry products. Best place to shop for the latter: funky Cherry Republic, which is on the wine tour map. So is Chateau Chantal, a B&B on a wine estate that is operated by a former priest and nun., 800-872-8377 (6 hours)


12. Winterset, Iowa

NMAG1012_LargeFeature_12Madison County — Photo courtesy of Iowa Economic Development Authority

“The Bridges of Madison County” hit bookstores 20 years ago, and the subsequent  movie paired Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood in a drama about long-smoldering love in rural Iowa. Six of the county’s original 19 covered bridges remain. An Oct. 13 through 14 festival celebrates this heritage. Drive to the bridges and other movie sites, explore the area’s many quilt shops and tour native son John Wayne’s birthplace., 800-298-6119 (6 hours)


 Tracking the fall color

Use these hotlines and websites to monitor the pace and peak of fall color this year:

Illinois, 800-226-6632,

Indiana, 800-289-6646,

Iowa, 515-233-4110,

Michigan, 888-784-7328,

Minnesota, 800-657-3700,

Wisconsin, 800-432-8747,