It’s no surprise that one of the benefits of traveling to and around Wisconsin is the prevalence of all four seasons — especially fall and its correlated colors. After traveling all around the state, the route for the best fall drive in Wisconsin has been unveiled.
1. The Starting Line: Rib Mountain
You’ll begin the drive in the town of Rib Mountain, Wisconsin, just south of the city of Wausau. Known for its infamous ski hill and state park, Rib Mountain is the gold mine of fall foliage, literally.
2. Take a Ski Lift to See the Colors from Above
Before departing from Rib Mountain, take the ski lift up the hill to see the colors from a bird’s eye view. You can purchase low‑cost tickets next to the Rib Mountain State Park parking lot. If you have time to spare in your drive, the lift may be worth it.
3. Proceed Northbound on Highway 51
From Rib Mountain, take Highway 51 heading north. Although it seems as if the colors can’t get any better already, you will soon see a beautiful transition from golden leaves to burnt orange leaves and to ripe‑apple red.
4. Continue to Manitowish Waters
The cabin‑town of Manitowish Waters fulfills all of your youthful camp‑life nostalgia.
Without even getting out of your car, you can perfectly picture yourself engulfing in a flannel blanket, indulging in a marshmallowed hot chocolate, and gazing at the morning light peeking through the painted trees — not to mention the endless “oo’s” and “ahh’s” you’ll shamelessly murmur at the vibrant colors on the drive up.
5. Timing Is Everything and Nothing
In total, the best fall drive in Wisconsin listed here takes approximately two hours commute. If you can, make it a day trip, take the Rib Mountain ski lift and leisurely explore hidden parks and forested areas along the way from Rib Mountain to Manitowish Waters.
For peak fall colors, take the route between early and mid‑October. Escape the chaos of our culture’s hurried DNA and challenge yourself to just sit, observe, relax and drive!
Looking for one of Wisconsin’s best, most underrated spring and summer activities? Read everything you need to know about the six top waterfalls in northern Wisconsin.