Three awesome autumn escape routes in Wisconsin

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Are you ready for The Great September to November Mother Nature Fireworks Show? You can do these three Kodachrome-colored drives in a day, but why rush? Stay longer.

The Cranberry Highway
Wisconsin Rapids
(800) 554-4484
When we think of autumn colors, most often the bight leaves first come to mind. However, once you see Wisconsin's number one fruit crop, you won't forget it. Among the most spectacular autumn scenes is a cranberry marsh during harvest season. The marsh is flooded and harvesters move from berm to berm raking crimson berries from the vines. The bright fruit float to the surface where they're gently gathered, put into trucks and taken to processing plants. Wisconsin typically harvests the largest portion of the United States' cranberry crop and the epi-center of activity is in the Wisconsin Rapids area. About ten years ago, local promoters laid-out a 49-mile self-guided scenic tour route for automobiles and motorcycles. It's called The Cranberry Highway, and it's loaded with spectacular scenes, wildlife and - yes - bright foliage, too. Along the way an optional 17-mile Wildlife Viewing Loop ducks into the Sandhill Widlife Area. This is a great place to observe and photograph deer, loons, eagles, Canada Geese, marsh animals and even a captive buffalo herd. All along the Cranberry Highway, you'll find marsh harvest sites, parks, historic sites, country diners, markets, shops and restaurants celebrating the cranberry. Driving times will vary depending on the number of stops you make. Several growers and the Pittsfield FFA offer excellent guided tours. Advance reservations are usually required.

The Dairyland Riviera
The Backdoor to the Door
Manitowoc, Two Rivers Travel Information
(800) 627-4896
Door County Information
(800) 527-3529
Scurrying from Chicago or Milwaukee to Door County, most northbound travelers hit the concrete slab known as I-43. Yes, it's a relatively easy, cruise-control kind of route to the classic autumn Nirvana, Door County. But the folks at who plan bye-ways adventures for convertible cruises in summer have another suggestion. They recommend what they call the Dairyland Riviera. This route features miles of Lake Michigan shore, farmland, forests and charming harbor towns. Leave I-43 to follow Hwy. #42 Business Route into Manitowoc. Visit the Wisconsin Maritime Museum and the USS Cobia WWII Submarine. Stop at the Rahr-West Art Museum then follow Hwy. #42 north on Memorial Drive along Lake Michigan shore into Two Rivers where the Ice Cream Sundae was first created (1881). Catch breakfast or lunch with a great view of the river at the M&M Diner. At 22nd Street take Highway O - Wisconsin Rustic Road #16 - to Point Beach State Forest. The white sand beach stretches for six miles and is perfect for brisk autumn strolls. A short jog up the dunes takes you to the Rawley Point lighthouse. Follow Hwy. O north to V back to Hwy. #42 north and see outstanding autumn views of Lake Michigan. Stop in the picturesque port towns of Kewaunee and Algoma to explore shops and galleries. Keep your camera handy for lighthouses and harbor scenes. Cruise along the lake from Algoma by taking County Hwy. S then U north to eventually meet Highway #57 and #42 at Sturgeon Bay. The city has excellent dining, lodging, entertainment and shopping. Of course, Door County is a leaf peeper's paradise, so head in any direction. Extend the adventure by catching the Carferry to Washington Island for a day trip.

Colorful Kettle Country
Sheboygan County Area Travel Information
Sheboygan Travel Information
(800) 457-9497
If you want to craft a brilliant autumn itinerary that truly has it all, look no further than Sheboygan County. The recent glacier (about 10,000 years ago) carved this beautiful, lumpy range of hills, deep pothole valleys, drumlins, eskers and kames. It left behind big hunks of ice that melted to form sparking lakes like Elkhart, Crystal and Big Cedar. Native Americans considered the land sacred. Pioneers built roads winding through the hills and forests, connected the communities and earned a reputation for hospitality and good living. Visit Sheboygan to cruise drive Broughton Drive and see the Lake Michigan Deland Beach that hosts the annual Midwest Surfing Championships every Labor Day Weekend. Don't miss the (free) John Michael Kohler Art Center known for cutting-edge contemporary art and the most artsy restrooms in the world. Golfers will want to see (and, yes, play) award-winning Pete Dye designed championship courses at Blackwolf Run (Kohler) and Whistling Straits (near-by at Haven) as well as The Bull designed by Jack Nicklaus (Sheboygan Falls). These links are doubly special decked out in autumn hues. In Kohler see the (free) Kohler Design Center, a one-of-a-kind showcase that features elegant rooms imagined by top designers using Kohler products. Shop at Wisconsin's answer to Rodeo Drive, the Shops at Woodlake. Craverie Chocolatier, Olive ‘N Ash, Baker Odds and Ends, and Wisconsin Trader are among the irresistible. Head for Elkhart Lake, a charming, vibrant Victorian Resort town with a passion for auto racing. Find great dining at The Paddock Club, Lake Street Café and Lolas at the Osthoff Resort. Pick up a free map at the chamber of commerce office showing the original route of the historic street races (1950-52) and catch a race at the acclaimed four-mile Road America Circuit. For a full-color experience, follow Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive on Highway J from Elkhart Lake to Highway A through Glenbeulah, Greenbush and into the hills to Highway U. Head west on U looping back to Hwy T east to Greenbush. In Greenbush, explore a 1850s stagecoach inn, The Wade House, a State Historic attraction.

Gary Knowles is a Madison-based travel writer, photographer and consultant to travel industry. He serves as the travel advisor on Wisconsin Public Radio's Joy Cardin Show.