The leaves are changing and there’s no better time to witness the breathtaking beauty of the seasons. Brilliant reds, warm oranges, sunny yellows. But is a fleeting moment in time. So pack up the kids, hop in the car and head off in search of Mother Nature’s beauty with a fall foliage road trip. These four destinations are all within an easy drive of Chicago, so they make great spots for a long weekend getaway. Do you kids get bored just looking at out the car window at the pretty colors? Then pick the two spots that offer alternative modes of transportation. Riding a bike or taking a boat or train ride can give the traditional road trip a little more kid-friendly flair.

The fall colors of the Midwest as seen through the dramatic rock formations at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.

The fall colors of the Midwest as seen through the dramatic rock formations at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. Photo courtesty of Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park and Ottawa

Located along the south side of the Illinois River, one mile south of Utica, Starved Rock State Park has 13 miles of hiking trails and 18 canyons to explore.

The 2017 Fall Colors Weekend is Oct. 21. It features two free guided hikes (9am and 1pm) to see the changing colors of the park. The guides will explain why leaves change color, teach you how to tell an oak from an elm tree and share the fascinating story of the history and geology of Starved Rock, all while walking through the blazing colors of fall.

Or head to nearby Ottawa for a mule-drawn canal boat ride. You can drool over the fall colors while the kids watch the mule walking along the path, pulling the boat through the canal.

Drive along the Great River Road to see the firey fall colors of the Midwest.

Drive along the Great River Road to see the firey fall colors of the Midwest. Photo courtesy of Enjoy Illinois.

Galena, Quad Cities and Iowa

 

Nestled alongside the Mississippi River in the northwest corner of Illinois, the gently rolling hills of Jo Daviess County make this one of the prettiest parts of the state.

The Great River Road National Scenic Byway runs along both sides of the river from its headwaters up north all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. But the 125 miles from Galena south to Muscatine, Iowa, on the bluffs above the Mississippi, offer some of the best glimpses of the river and the trees that border it.

Take Route 20 south of Galena to Fulton, pick up Route 84 to the Quad Cities, then take Route 92 into Muscatine. Consider a stop in Davenport or Moline to rent bikes and pedal the paths along the river. For a more laid-back experience, hop onboard the Celebration Belle, a non-gaming riverboat that offers Fall Foliage cruises throughout October.

Click here for 8 free things to do in the Quad Cities with kids.

Baraboo Hills, Wisconsin

Take your train-crazy kids on this fall road trip to the home of the Mid-Continent Railway Museum. The museum runs seven-mile, 55-minute round-trip diesel-powered train rides through the wooded Baraboo Hills. Passengers ride in restored steel coaches built in 1915 and leave from an historic wooden depot built in 1894. The depot is located in North Freedom, Wis., about an hour north of Madison. Autumn Color Weekend is Oct. 6-8, 2017.

The Covered Bridges of Parke County

Midwest fall foliage road trips should include a visit to the covered bridges of Parke County Indiana.

Smith Covered Bridge photo by Nyttend via Wikimedia Commons

Home of the famous Covered Bridge Festival, Parke County, Ind., is about an hour west of Indianapolis, near the Illinois-Indiana state line. The festival runs from Oct. 13-22, 2017.

It honors the 31 covered bridges scattered throughout the heavily wooded county. Visit www. Coveredbridges.com before you go to download driving directions for the county’s five covered bridge routes (color-coded black, brown, red, blue and yellow). Each route takes you in a different direction. The blue route, for example, heads north from Rockville and includes a drive over two of the longest covered bridges—the 176-foot-long Cox Ford Bridge and the 102-foot Wilkens Mill Bridge.

Fall Foliage Further from Chicago

fall foliage in the Midwest

Visitors to the River Trail Nature Center can take in fall’s rich colors along the trails. Photo provided by Forest Preserves of Cook County.

The great thing about the changing colors of fall is if you miss the peak season in the north, you can head south to see it.

Start following the changing colors with a stop in Northern Michigan. Check out these spots to see fall colors in Nashville. Or these places to celebrate fall in Texas. Or head to Georgia and learn what autumn colors mean in the Deep South.

And, before you go, read our tips for making a fall foliage road trip fun for kids.

Where is your favorite fall foliage road trip? Share with us in the comment section below.