Backroads Journal

Searching for Fall Color in the Midwest

Crossing over the Mississippi River, on October 14th, at Cape Girardeau, it was apparent the extent of the drought in the Midwest.  Miles and miles of sandbars lined the usually busy shipping corridor.  There was little or no barge traffic moving.  Our hope of finding the brilliant reds and yellows we search for on our autumn trips was fading.  The drive up the river from Memphis, where we had attended a family wedding, was unfulfilling and we had wakened to overcast skies.

A Midwest Living Magazine article about the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail in southern Illinois had caught our eye.  Fall color, rolling backroads and picturesque vineyards suit our travel needs nicely.  Driving through portions of Shawnee National Forest, which is intertwined with the private vineyards and quaint small towns, we were beginning to notice the color change we were searching.

Winding along narrow, two-lane roads overhung by a mixture of greens, yellows and oranges, we followed the rustic Wine Trail signage, stopping at several of the vineyards to sample the wares. 

If it’s a Napa Valley kind of experience you are looking for, you might be disappointed, but we thoroughly enjoyed our day.  From delicious apple wines at the Pomona Winery, a nature hike to the Pomona Natural Bridge, live entertainment over lunch at the Rustle Hill Winery to wine tasting and live entertainment at the surprisingly upscale Blue Sky Vineyard, the day was filled with memorable experiences.  More information can be found at or in the October 2012 issue of Midwest Living.  You can go to Midwest Living on-line to find the article at:

Our major destination and hope for fall color was the small, art colony town of Nashville (not The Nashville, this one is in central Indiana).  Several acquaintances’ recommendations and mentions in Midwest Living convinced us to give the area a try.  We invited my sister and her husband to meet us and then travel together down to the Bourbon country of Kentucky.  Nashville is located on the edge of Brown County State Park, 50 miles south of Indianapolis between Columbus and Bloomington.

Nashville became a gathering spot for artists drawn by the natural beauty of the surrounding hills.  It boasts of over 200 arts, crafts and specialty shops in a quaint town of 800 residents.  We had been warned that on fall weekends there is a waiting line outside of town, just to drive through, so we booked the Artist’s Colony Inn,, for a Monday and Tuesday.  We couldn’t have hit the peak color more perfectly!

Not being much for shopping, we had our fill by noon the next day and decided to check out their Back Roads of Brown County tour to see several artists’ studios.  The route took us past the Bean Blossom Covered Bridge, down several narrow ridge roads and through some of the most colorful, scenic hills we have seen.


The highlight of our day, however, was found in the tiny village of Story.  This quaint village, founded in 1851, is home to the unassuming, quirky Story Inn.  The entire town is one big Bed and Breakfast, able to accommodate up to 38 people.  The Story Inn, itself, has four rooms above the General Store and has been documented to be haunted by the Blue Lady.  Gourmet dinners at the Inn are prepared from fresh ingredients grown on site or purchased from local farmers.  You can find out more information about the Inn at:  It’s one unique place!

Before heading south to the Bourbon Country of Kentucky, we spent a morning driving through some of the most brilliant fall color we have seen since our trip to New England almost 18 years ago.  Brown County State Park is touted as one of the Midwest’s best leaf-peeping destinations for good reason.  The hardwood forest trees that cover these hills reportedly change color all at the same time and to hit the peak color makes for a breathtaking drive.  We were not disappointed!  Despite the drought, or maybe because of it, the visit to central Indiana to see the fall color was a great decision!  We would highly recommend putting the area on your list for future autumn trip ideas.

The next installment of this trip narrative, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, will be posted at a later date.  It is another fun trip destination we also recommend.  I will send a notice out when I have added it to the web site.

There is much to see and experience off the beaten path in areas you wouldn’t consider as “destination travel”.  We approached this trip with a little apprehension as to meeting our expectations, but it completely surpassed them.  It was a wonderful and relaxing way to spend a few of the beautiful fall days we have in the Midwest.

Take a little extra time, no matter the season, to wander some backroads.  Your travels will be more enjoyable and the time spent will be good for your soul.