Fall in the Midwest is a great time to go biking! Cooler days and brighter colors make for some fantastic trail riding. Here are our top picks for the best Midwest bike rides for fall colors!
Fall colors are highly dependent on the temperature, amount of sunlight, and other factors. To check what’s changing or at peak color, we recommend checking local resources. For example, in Minnesota, we suggest you check out the DNR’s “When and Why Leaves Change Color” page or their “Fall Color Finder” for the most up-to-date information. For Wisconsin color, take a look at Wisconsin’s Fall Color Map. For a general national foliage map, check out the Fall Foliage Prediction Map.
Minnesota Area Trails
Willard Munger Trail – Passing through forest, field, and marsh and banked by granite outcroppings towards the north end, the 70 miles from Hinkley to Duluth are peaceful and picturesque. Passing through several small towns, the trail is a converted rail line and mostly flat. Be advised that part of the trail near Duluth is currently closed for construction, though it is expected to reopen in late September.
Lake Wobegon Trail – Fifty miles of paved trail densely St. Joseph and Osakis. Passing through towns every 5 or 10 miles, this trail is ridiculously flat and great for kids and casual riders. From Osakis, the Central Lakes Trail continues another 50 miles to Fergus Falls if you really want to get some miles in.
Gateway State Trail – Eighteen miles of mixed urban and wooded trail takes you from St. Paul to Stillwater. Hillier than many of the converted rail lines on this list, this route gives you plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy the scenery on your way to a picturesque lunch or some antiquing in Stillwater.
Cannon Valley Trail – Stretching roughly 20 miles from Cannon Falls to Red Wing and passing close to Welch, this converted rail line is a relatively flat, easy ride, and mostly shaded. The trail follows the gorgeous Cannon River and is mainly forested with some agriculture and pasture land thrown in.
9-Mile Creek Trail: The 9-Mile Creek Trail might be the best-hidden gem in the Twin Cities southwestern suburbs and an excellent place to see fall colors. It starts in Bloomington then meanders mostly through Edina, briefly crosses into Minnetonka, and ends in Hopkins. The trail goes through heavily wooded parks and crosses two highways via bike bridges – a good reminder of why you are happy to be on a bike. The highlights of the trail are the multiple raised boardwalks that go through expansive swampy creek beds for some beautiful 360 views of nature. The colors in the fall are amazing! See the Three Rivers Park website for more details.
Wisconsin Area Trails
Ozaukee Interurban Trail: The Ozaukee Interurban Trail is a 30-mile paved trail that spans the entire length of Ozaukee County. This trail follows old railroad beds through communities just North of Milwaukee and is fully paved. It’s mostly flat and offers excellent views of fall colors. You’ll travel through towns like Cedarburg, Grafton, and Port Washington which have great shopping and dining options.
Old Abe State Trail – From The Burnet Island State Park just north of Cornell to the Lake Wissota State Park, this trail runs 20 miles along the Chippewa River through both forest and farm fields. The area is full of history and wildlife.
Oak Leaf Trail – 120 miles of well-marked riding through Milwaukee County with gorgeous blue lake views, dozens of parks, historic buildings, and a chance to see the city at its finest. Whether you seek an epic century around Milwaukee, a 100k out-and-back coffee shop ride, an urban shred session, or a family ride to the park with the kids, this trail has it all. It’s tough to find anything more beautiful than riding along Lake Michigan on a cloudless fall day with the colorful leaves starting to cover the ground of many parks. There’s something new and exciting around every corner, just pick a direction and go.
Red Cedar Trail – This crushed gravel trail runs 14.5 miles along the winding Chippewa River from Menomonie through the Dunnville State Wildlife area to the Chippewa River State Trail. This trail meanders through a mix of marsh, prairie, forest, and farm fields and is bordered at times by sandstone bluffs.
Three Eagle Trail – A crushed gravel trail running north 8.5 miles from Three Lakes to Eagle River, the Three Eagle Trail passes through the heavily forested land once owned and managed by the Wausau Paper Company. Though mostly surrounded by soaring pine, the trail also passes over a large marsh and birch copses add splashes of color.
Elroy-Sparta Trail – The oldest rails to trails project in the country, the Elroy-Sparta Trail runs 32 miles through fields, forests, and three tunnels bored through at least 1,680 feet of rock. This is the trail that gave Sparta the title “Bicycling Capital of America.”
South Dakota Area Trails
The George S. Mickelson Trail – Running 109 miles in the heart of the beautiful Black Hills, its gentle slopes and easy access allow people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the bounty of the Black Hills. Much of the trail passes through National Forest Land where riders can enjoy the changing leaves of fall for miles upon miles.
Sioux Falls River Greenway – Nearly 30 miles of paved, multi-use pathways that link many of the city’s parks and green spaces. The trail system is enclosed by Interstate 90 in the north, 57th Street in the south, Westward Ho Park in the west (with another short segment by Skunk Creek Legacy), and Rotary Park in the east. Much of the trail runs adjacent to Big Sioux River, which encircles the city. A perfect urban ride that gives you plenty of scenic beauty for the senses.
Kansas City Area Trails
Watkins Mill Trail – A 3.75-mile paved trail around Williams Creek Lake, the Watkins Mill Trail is perfect for beginners or anyone who likes doing laps. About 40 minutes northeast of Kansas City, this trail is primarily forested, and deer, turkeys, and songbirds are common.
Katy Trail – Running 240 miles from Clinton an hour and a half southeast of Kansas City to just outside of St. Louis, the Katy trail claims to be “the longest developed rail trail in the country”. With 26 trailheads and some of the most gorgeous scenery in the state, you can go as far as you want.
Indian Creek Trail: The Indian Creek Trail is a 22-mile-long bike and hike paved trail. It starts in south Overland Park and goes northeast, extending into Missouri. The trail is mainly through wooded areas and away from streets, so it feels like you’ve gotten away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are many creek crossings for opportunities to see some local wildlife.
Illinois Area Trails
North Branch Trail System: The North Branch Trail winds along the North Branch of the Chicago River and the Skokie Lagoons, providing access to various picnic groves and also the Chicago Botanic Garden. The north end of the trail connects to the Green Bay Trail. Keep your eyes open for wildlife, especially deer.
Iowa Area Trails
Walnut Creek and Bill Riley Trail: If you bike in Des Moines, you probably know this trail system well, and for good reason. It’s a beautiful trail that follows Walnut Creek and then meets up with the Racoon River. On a sunny day in late October, you should expect a brilliant display of fall colors on this trail system that connects Des Moines with West Des Moines and beyond.
Have a favorite trail for seeing fall colors? Let us know below.