Out for our evening walk, our dog Riley seems intent on exploring the smells of fall: decaying leaves and animal scents along the trail. I’m focused on the show. A patch of first color hangs above the canopy, lit up like a sunset. A fluorescent glaze coats the trees, the first hint of fall’s arrival. The show has begun.
Fall’s appeal stems from my earliest memories of hunting; following my father’s footsteps into the woods with anticipation hanging from every branch. Of course, his chance of seeing a deer were somewhat diminished by the noise-maker child he had in tow. We still heard the sounds of deer snorts in the distance, which added to the mystery of the show.
A Driftless Wisconsin fall is full of mystery. You can explore this mystery from the heights and depths of the Driftless Wisconsin landscape. If you are looking for an overview of the plot, try one of the overlooks at our state parks. Wildcat Mountain State Park near Ontario offers a stunning vista of the Kickapoo River Valley, which sprawls westward from its perch above the river. Or cross the Wisconsin River from Prairie du Chien and climb the hill leading to Wyalusing State Park and see the color-framed confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers.
If you’re looking to get into the story a little deeper, then take State Highway 27 through Cashton, Westby, Viroqua, and Seneca, which travels the ridge between the Kickapoo and Mississippi like a catwalk above the stage. Then jump into either valley along one of the many County highways that meander down to the river through coulees bathed in fall color.
The Mississippi Valley offers great panoramas of sheer river bluffs and a big valley dressed up in its Sunday best. And yes, with a big river to boot. The Kickapoo Valley presents a more subtle presentation, with smaller hills and remote back roads that give you the sense of discovering paradise lost.
And if you’re looking for an in-depth study of fall color, take a walk. Fall colors of every hue, from bright yellows to deep reds, will immerse you in a kaleidoscope of changing scenes. Look down occasionally, so as not to trip over a tree root, but also to witness the culmination of the show; a curtain-dropping display of spent leaves at your feet.
So there you have it, a gallery of landscapes from every seat in the theater. Now it’s time to see it for yourself. Hurry though, the show has already begun.