Where to View Fall Colors in Wauwatosa
By Jenny Wisniewski
Fall could be one of Wisconsin’s best seasons. Standing beneath a tree, breathing in fall’s changing breezes, and gazing up at a kaleidoscope of warm colors makes for a great respite from our busy lives. And you don’t need to travel to the Northwoods, the State Parks or Door County to enjoy it. Jump off the hamster wheel for a few hours right here in Tosa to get your fall fix. Following are seven local destinations for a quick escape into nature.
The Forest Exploration Center
1800 Forest Exploration Drive
If you haven’t had a chance to amble through the Forest Exploration Center, founded in 2009, autumn is the perfect time for your first visit. Its 60 acres of forest feature a mix of oak, maple, ash and basswood trees along with 16 other native species. The golden and russet canopy will likely bring a smile to even the most curmudgeonly among us.
Walk along the Forest Ecology Trail, a one-mile loop and listen to birdsong emanating from 158 species that frequent the forest. You are welcome to bring Fido, but make sure he is leashed.
The Wisconsin DNR Division of Forestry owns the tract of land, one of the largest wooded areas remaining in Milwaukee County.
North of Watertown Plank Road / West of 87th Street
Aptly named by local preservation advocates, these 66 acres of old growth hardwoods provide sanctuary for humans and wildlife alike. Among our furry and feathered friends, deer, coyote, long-eared owls, hawks and Butler’s garter snakes shelter in this quiet oasis, mere steps from the busy Watertown Plank Road and Milwaukee Medical Complex.
Although an active habitat, it is a large enough space for humans to share its peaceful paths while viewing nature’s colorful fall display.
A part of the Milwaukee County Grounds, this parcel formerly served as the site of the Milwaukee County Asylum for the Insane, built In the nineteenth century. You can still see remnants of the hospital’s grounds — a crumbling fieldstone staircase, curbed walkways, and a sunken garden. Sanctuary Woods is a beloved spot for many in the community, and an autumn walk along its paths will likely convince you that it is a treasure worth preserving.
6501 W. Hillside Lane
American Trails, a nonprofit organization that promotes greenways and blueways, calls Jacobus Park Nature Trail “an outstanding example of an undisturbed woodland environment remaining in the highly developed urban setting of metropolitan Milwaukee.”
The .90-mile wooded trail winds up and down hills and traverses wooden bridges. A pond sits on the park’s northern edge and a brook trickles through its property.
A part of the Milwaukee County Park System, Jacobus is a great destination for families with trails that will give you a quick hit of fall colors but aren’t long enough to induce whining from those with shorter legs. A playground also borders its west side. The park sits snugly within the Jacobus Park neighborhood and is adjacent to the Honey Creek Parkway.
The Oak Leaf Trail
The many parkways in Wauwatosa are a great spot for enjoying fall colors if you prefer to bike, roller blade or run. The Oak Leaf Trail’s Menomonee River Line is a 14.75-mile segment that begins at Dretzka Park in Milwaukee, but its biggest chunk is in Tosa.
If you want an abbreviated route within Wauwatosa’s borders, the northeast corner of Currie Park (near the intersection of Capitol Drive and Mayfair Road) is a good starting point. You will then follow the Menomonee River Parkway past Hoyt Park, through downtown Tosa and Hart Park before connecting with the Honey Creek Parkway. Continuing on past Jacobus Park, the route ends at the nearby Doyne Park in Milwaukee.
Most of this jaunt will be along a paved trail, but at a few points you will hop onto city streets or parkways before reconnecting with the trail. Because this route follows parkways and invites you to weave in and out of the interior of several parks, you are sure to see an abundance of fall foliage.
The Milwaukee County Zoo
10001 West Blue Mound Road
Sure, the main attractions at Milwaukee County’s popular zoo are the animals. But the zoo covers 190 acres, much of it filled with sycamores, tulip poplars, green ash and more.
While enjoying the brisk autumn air, be sure to visit the zoo’s newest residents. They include two Tibetan high mountain yaks, two impala, three dwarf mongoose, and a giant Pacific octopus.
It is also a good opportunity to see how the 2022 zoo babies are faring. Newborns include a boat-billed heron, two giraffes, three Japanese macaques, seven North American river otters, two Northern bald ibis, a prehensile-tailed porcupine, a red panda and a harbor seal.
Hawthorn Glen Outdoor Education Center
1130 N. 60th St.
Just outside of Wauwatosa’s eastern border, Hawthorn Glen is a tucked-away urban oasis. Its 25 acres of woodland and prairie house a year-round environmental center and nature museum. Hawthorn Glen was founded in 1937, is operated by Milwaukee Recreation and hosts activities for people of all ages. While visiting, you might find a group of adults practicing Tai Chi or kids enjoying a summer camp or school field trip.
However, many days you will find solitude as you hike along the 1.2-mile loop. It is the perfect spot to embrace fall’s beauty when you only have an hour or two to spare. Sorry dog lovers — Rover is not allowed to join you on this trail.
Hank Aaron Trail
The paved Hank Aaron Trail extends 14 miles beginning in Wauwatosa at W. Underwood Parkway and Bluemound Road. After passing several landmarks including the Petit Ice Arena, State Fair Park and American Family Field, you will enter the Menomonee River Valley. Cross a covered bridge which will take you to the Urban Ecology Center. Next, take your time enjoying the fall foliage at Three Rivers Park, a 24-acre redeveloped space along the Menomonee River.
You can detour from the paved trail onto two miles of dirt paths through the park. If you want to take a break, sit along the river bank and watch the canoeists, kayakers, and fishermen or take a stroll through the 42 community gardens. For those who want to take the trail to its end point, follow the blue Hank Aaron Trail signs all the way to Lake Michigan.
Mark your calendar. According to Travel Wisconsin, Milwaukee County can expect to see peak colors during the third week of October. The Farmers’ Almanac predicts that Wisconsin fall foliage will peak a bit earlier — between October 5 and 14. The Almanac also reports that fall temperatures will be lower than usual nationwide.
Hiking, Biking & More in Southeastern Wisconsin
For a wider lens on outdoor activities in October and beyond, visit awealthofnature.org. The website is filled with practical information and an interactive map on nature trails and waterways throughout Southeastern Wisconsin. It also includes blog posts on topics such as the preservation of wild spaces within our urban landscape. And it is filled with the beautiful photography for which the website’s creator, Eddee Daniel, is well known. Daniel is a professional photographer, writer, former teacher and resident of Wauwatosa. He contributed several photographs for this article.
Be a Leaf Detective
One way to make your fall hike a little more interesting is identifying trees. Autumn provides some helpful clues. Here are a list of local tree species and the colors their leaves turn in the fall:
red, brown or russet
- Sugar maple:
- Red maple: