One of the favorite fall color drive loops along the Minnesota-Wisconsin Great River Road stretches from Wabasha to Winona on both sides of the river. In the third week of October 2017 we started our trip on the Minnesota side going north. In general we found the colors on the Minnesota side more vibrant and varied. I think the difference may be in the sun exposure affecting the distribution of the species of trees and the progress of color change. The Minnesota side faces north-east, whereas the Wisconsin side faces south-west.
Best week for Peak Color along the River Road
Because the predominate deciduous trees along the river bluffs (oaks, maples, basswood, birch, etc.) change color at different times “Peak Color” can be an impossible dream. If you are earlier in the season you’ll catch more maples, ash and walnut changing, with yellows, oranges and lime green. If you are later in the season you’ll catch more oaks with deep red hues and some yellows from birch trees. But usually when the oaks and birch are most outstanding, the leaves have fallen from the ash, maples, and walnuts. So our recommendation is just go when you know there will be some color and nice weather. Enjoy whatever combination mother nature presents at the time.
Direction of Travel
We noticed in traveling both sides of the river from Southern Wisconsin that the view along the Wisconsin side traveling south was more colorful than the views traveling north along the Wisconsin Great River Road. So our recommended loop for the best color is north to south on the Wisconsin side from Nelson, Wisconsin through Fountain City, Wisconsin and across the river from Winona, MN. For travelers going south to north we recommend the Minnesota side from Winona to Wabasha. Bridges cross the river at both Wabasha and Winona facilitating this loop.
Great River Road Fall Color Pictures
|From Just south of Winona looking across the river at Wisconsin’s Perrot State Park and the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge|
|Reick’s Lake Park is north of Alma, Wisconsin at the mouth of the Buffalo River as it enters the Mississippi. It has several nice RV sites along the shoreline and is on the migration route for Tundra Swans and White Pelicans.|
Wisconsin Great River Road – Winona to Red Wing
with links to visitor websites for Winona, Fountain City, and Alma.
Minnesota Great River Road – Red Wing to Wabasha
with photos and article on Wabasha and National Eagle Center.
See our complete Upper Mississippi River Road Map here