Iron County, Wisconsin
Well known for its top-notch fishing and bird hunting (not to mention the plenitude of mom-and-pop roadside bars), Iron County, Wisconsin on the border of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and the south shore of Lake Superior, also happens to be one of the best spots outside the Northeast for experiencing the glorious onset of autumn. Every year around the first week of October, Iron County's hardwood forests erupt in an explosion of color, from the golden yellows of aspen to the burnt oranges of birch and the fire red of maple. It also just so happens that right now is precisely when both fishing and hunting get good as well, making a visit here a perfect storm of autumnal awesomeness.
A great way to spend a long weekend is simply walking along one of the numerous old lumber roads that spiderweb the area and have turned into impromptu trails. Or you can take a boat out and drop a line in the middle of a glassy lake – Iron County is home to more than 300 – and take in the color while in pursuit of one of the area's famed Muskee, which can reach 50 inches long and a hefty 30 pounds. There are also miles and miles of mountain-bike-able off-roads in an interconnecting system of jeep trails. Just be sure to mark your turns, as there are no official maps of all the different roads, and while some are still fairly obvious, others are barely trails, having been reclaimed by the aggressive northern forests.
There are a few different towns spread out throughout the county, but our favorite is Mercer, the self-described "Loon Capital of the World," where a giant Loon oversees the drive into town. Just outside town is the gorgeous Little Bohemia Lodge, best known as a regular hideout for Al Capone and his cronies, and later the site of John Dillinger's famous shootout with the FBI (you can still see bullet holes!). Our favorite place to stay is Beaver Lake Lodge, for its friendly staff who always know the best places to hit, whether you're going cycling, fishing, or walking in the woods.
The one thing that visitors absolutely shouldn't miss is a Friday Night Fish Fry, where battered bluegill and perch serve as an appetizer for the true prize of the north: Walleye. Wash it all down with a local Leinenkugel's beer and strike up a conversation with one of the friendly locals. For an opening line may we suggest, "Go Packers!"