Fall color hikes abound in Central Wisconsin


by Rob Bignell


There’s no better way to experience autumn colors in the Wautoma area than a hike.

The brilliant yellows, oranges and red of maples to the scarlet and russets of oaks...the crisp, fresh autumn air and the last warm rays of sunlight before winter arrives...the crunch of fallen leaves and acorns beneath your boots...stopping to enjoy a warm mug of apple cider or a caramel apple pulled from your backpack – it all calls for an afternoon on the trail.

Fortunately, there are plenty of great autumn trails around Waushara County to hike. Some are right out your back door, while some are a day trip that you can do in an afternoon.

Bird Creek Park (Wautoma):

A short walk yields a variety of autumn colors at Bird Creek Park in Wautoma. Among the park’s offerings are the yellow to burnt orange of beech, the amber to scarlet of maple, accented with the green of hemlock needles. A 0.15-mile round trip trail runs from the park’s east side to the high school, crossing Bird Creek along the way.

From the junction of Wis. Hwy. 22 (South Cambridge Street) and Wis. Hwy. 21 (West Division Street), take the former west. Turn right/north onto 16th Avenue then right/east into the park. The trail is northeast of the playground parking area.

Ice Age National Scenic Trail – Mecan River segment (Coloma):

A pretty walk along a quiet river awaits hikers on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail – Mecan River segment. The 3.4-mile round trip footpath heads beside part of the Mecan River, lined by beech, maple and hemlock, a colorful sight in autumn. The trail also crosses an oak savanna.

From Coloma, take Wis. Hwy. 21 east then turn left/north onto 6th Avenue. Go right/east onto Chicago Road then right/south onto 6th Lane; a parking lot is on the left/east. Head south on the IAT and turn back at County Road GG.

Observatory Hill State Natural Area (Montello):

Day hikers can stand on extremely ancient rock 300 feet above the surrounding terrain at Observatory Hill State Natural Area. The 1.2-mile round trip Observatory Hill Trail crosses an oak savanna, where in autumn the burr oaks turn yellow-brown. The hill’s slopes are lit up with the orange-red leaves of red oak, the russet of white oak, the chartreuse of basswood, and the rich yellow of shagbark hickory.

At the summit, the 1.76 billion-year-old volcanic rock offers a grand view.

From Montello, take County Road F south. Turn straight-left/south on 14th Road then left/south on 13th Road and lastly straight-left/east on Gillette Avenue. The parking lot is on the road’s left/north side.

Hartman Creek State Park (Waupaca):

Yellow birch, orange and red maples, and tan and brown oaks line Deer Path Trail, a 1-mile hike through Hartman Creek State Park. The trail circles spring-fed Allen Lake. On sunny days, the autumn leaves reflect off the crystal clear lake waters. From Waupaca, take Wis. Hwy. 54 west. Turn left/south onto Hartman Creek Road. Once in the park, take the first right/west to a parking lot for Allen Lake.

Winnebago Trail (Green Lake):

Beautiful fall colors abound on a former Native American trail that runs on an slightly elevated shoreline over scenic Green lake. The 0.9-mile Winnebago Trail rambles through a southern oak forest and remnant prairie on land that used to be part of the Green Lake Conference Center. The seven acres of protected land borders 1500-plus feet of the lake’s northern shore.

From Green Lake, take Wis. Hwy. 23 west. Turn left/south on Lawson Drive, which eventually becomes Hillside Road. The trailhead is near the historic Lawson water tower and ends at the stone arch beneath Hillside Road.

Roche-A-Cri State Park (Adams-Friendship):

Day hikers can head to to the top of a 300-foot-high half-billion-year-old rock formation at Roche-A-Cri State Park. The 0.12-mile round trip stairway goes up the side of the prominent Roche-A-Cri formation. While short in length, the first-half is all uphill. It’s a beautiful hike in autumn when scarlet, amber and orange leaves line the forest canopy and float upon the stairs.

From Adams-Friendship, take Wis. Hwy. 13 north. Turn left/west at the park entrance. Follow the park road to the opposite side of the formation, where there is a lot. A short trail leads to informative kiosks about the formation and the stairs.

  • Rob Bignell
    Rob Bignell