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Check Out These Fall Drives Ideas for a Weekend of Autumn Splendor

A Quick Trip from Chicago Can Be Just What You Need to Relax and Unwind


Looking for vacation ideas from Chicago where you can get away and relax and unwind from the daily grind of living in a big city? Check out our list of scenic fall drives near Chicago. We will be updating this list frequently so check back often for ideas on where you can travel to within the Midwest for a weekend of autumn bliss.

MICHIGAN - HARBOR COUNTRY/BERRIEN COUNTY (Distance from Chicago: 71 miles to New Buffalo): Once the only way to get from Chicago to Detroit, U.S. Highway 12 through New Buffalo and Three Oaks now is one of the preferred routes in Michigan to see the leaves changing.

In the fall, visitors to Harbor Country -- officially New Buffalo, Union Pier, Three Oaks, Lakeside, Grand Beach, Michiana, Harbert and Sawyer -- and the rest of Berrien County, in the state's extreme southwest, turn inland. The sugary-soft sand beaches on Lake Michigan lead to colorful, gentle hills of maple, oak, beech, birch and ash trees -- with wineries, pumpkin farms and apple orchards too.

For a picture-perfect autumn color scene, visit Warren Woods State Park. Because this area was never developed, it is filled with virgin timber reminiscent of what Revolutionary War-era America might have looked like. (Worth reading: Halloween Events in Chicago and Buy a Halloween Costume at Chicago's Halloween Express

When the time comes to take a break from leaf hunting, have a truffle at the Chocolate Garden in Coloma. These hand-made creations are rolled in coarse chocolate, with flavors from mint and hazelnut to a new red-wine. In Buchanan, the Tabor Hill Winery and Restaurant is worth a stop, especially at the end of the day when dinner is served overlooking the colorful countryside.

In Eau Claire, Tree-Mendus Fruit in Eau Claire has 200 varieties of apples ready for the picking, along with apricots, cherries, nectarines, plums, pears and peaches.

But no fall foliage trip is complete without a pumpkin -- or at least a hayride. A good spot for both: Jollay Orchards in Coloma.

Harbor Country (269-469-5409) is just around the tip of the lake, off U.S. Highway 12 or Interstate Highway 94, where Indiana stops and Michigan begins. For Berrien County and nearby areas, contact the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council (269-925-6301).

ILLINOIS RIVER ROAD (Distance from Chicago: 84 miles to Ottawa, 200 miles to Havana): Fall color comes with history on the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway between Ottawa and Havana.

For much of the route, Illinois Highway 29 on one side and Illinois Highway 26 on the other parallel the river as it passes through wetlands harboring waterfowl and fields of prairie grass beneath the rocky bluffs it long ago created.

It's a sensational place to see the cottonwoods, willows, oaks, maples, ashes and walnuts change colors.

But the valley also has 12,000 years of human history, stretching back to the Paleo-Indians (check it out at the Dickson Mounds National Historic Site, near Lewistown). More recently, voyageurs Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet ascended the river in 1673. (Worth reading: Holidays at Chicago's Shedd Aquairum and Holiday Decorating Ideas)

Three of the best locations for taking fall color photos are in Peoria: 21/2-mile Grandview Drive, the Forest Park Nature Center and Detweiller Park. Other prime photo spots include Starved Rock State Park, near Ottawa, and the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, near Havana.

Orchards and apples are a big part of the fall scene. Try the made-fresh-daily apple cider doughnuts at Tanners Orchard in Speer, west of the river and north of Peoria, and the apple dumplings at Orchard Hill Farm, in Lewiston.

To get to the Illinois River Road area (309-495-5909), take Interstate Highway 80 west to Ottawa. From there, Illinois Highway 71 will take you past Starved Rock and on to Illinois 29 and 26 -- though there are many other roads that are part of the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway.

WISCONSIN - GREEN COUNTY (Distance from Chicago: 130 miles to Monroe): A hidden gem in Wisconsin is Green County, where rolling hills not only showcase pretty farmsteads (this rustic county claims it has more dairy cows than people), but also burst with the fall colors of sugar maple, white ash, red oak and hickory trees.

Some of the best routes for catching the changing colors include Park Road, near Brodhead; Holstein Prairie Road, northwest of Monroe; County Highway A, also northwest of Monroe; and Wisconsin Highway 59, east from Monroe to Albany. For the perfect photo, stop at the Albany Dam on the Sugar River early in the morning, when the sun shining over the water reflects the brilliant fall colors.

For the adventurous, the Bike Green County package includes overnight accommodations, breakfast, personalized biking routes, luggage transfers, snacks and drinks, and emergency road support.

Green County mixes small-town Americana with all things Swiss -- Norman Rockwell and Heidi might both feel at home here -- including the country's only giant Swiss cheese wheel (weighing 125 pounds), made at the Edelweiss Creamery in Monroe.

Other Swiss finds -- all in the seemingly Alpine village of New Glarus -- include the Chalet Landhaus Inn, traditional artisan breads at the New Glarus Bakery, cheese fondue at the New Glarus Hotel, and addictive butter cream fudge at the Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus, which also specializes in cheese made exclusively from the milk of Brown Swiss cows.

But no trip to Green County is complete until you've tried a limburger cheese sandwich; Green County has the only limburger factory in the U.S. Best bet: Baumgartner's, in Monroe, where the pungent cheese is served on light rye with brown mustard and a slice of onion.

Green County( 888-222-9111) is easy to find. From Chicago, take Interstate Highway 90 past Rockford to the state border, then Wisconsin Highway 81 west from Beloit (Worth reading: Thanksgiving Wines and Thanksgiving Recipes)

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