We watch. We wait. And finally, they begin to turn.
For a whisper of a few weeks, Wisconsin's summer marks its departure in a blaze of reds, oranges, yellows and browns.
The brilliant autumnal display is quick and elusive — colors can peak anytime from late September through mid-October — making the pursuit of peak even more thrilling.
While fall drives are great, your car isn't the only way to chase the changing leaves.
Here are 15 different ways to savor the season's beautiful colors in Wisconsin.
1. Get up close with the autumnal canopy on a zipline.
Lake Geneva Canopy Tours, N3219 County Road H, Lake Geneva; (262) 248-9271
The full, two-hour canopy tour includes speedy rides on eight ziplines as well as walks across five sky bridges and a spiral staircase that winds around an ash tree.
2. Climb the scenic tower on Holy Hill for views of Waukesha and Washington counties.
Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill, 1525 Carmel Road
The tower is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. The 178 steps to reach the top are steep, narrow and often crowded on weekends, so visit during the week if you don't want to wait. Even with a wait, the views of the rolling Kettle Moraine from the top are worth it.
3. Hike the Monches segment of the Ice Age Trail.
Southern trailhead on E. Kilbourne Road, just west of County Highway E (Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive) north of Hartland
You can't go wrong with a fall hike along Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail.
"It's a great way to see Wisconsin," said Oconomowoc's Pat Witkowski, who hiked all 1,200 miles of the trail from 2004 to 2005, and today leads trail maintenance in Waukesha County.
Witkowski's favorite segment in the area is the Brady's Rocks segment near Eagle, but "the Monches segment is probably one of the prettiest fall hikes. It's open hardwoods, so the fall colors are just beautiful on the hillside."
Don't forget to wear bright colors when hiking during hunting season, she added.
4. Kayak through the wetlands of Horicon Marsh.
Horicon Marsh Boat Tours, 311B Mill St., Horicon; (920) 485-4663
Get an up-close look at 200,000 migrating Canada geese during their fall migration, which begins in mid-September and continues through mid-October, in perfect harmony with the changing leaves. Launch from the Blue Heron Landing in Horicon and follow the 6.5-mile Horicon Marsh Canoe Trail north along the Rock River and into the marsh.
5. Explore the scenic Kettle Moraine State Forest by horseback.
Dream a Horse trail rides; meet at Highway S Eagle Parking Lot; (262) 592-3044
Choose from a one-hour or three-hour trail ride along the Eagle Trail in the Kettle Moraine State Forest's Southern Unit. The forest is gorgeous any time of year, but the hardwoods and pine plantations come alive in fall. The three-hour ride includes a stop to eat at Suhmer's Saloon in Eagle.
6. Cruise around picturesque Geneva Lake on a narrated boat tour.
Lake Geneva Cruise Lines, Riviera Docks, 812 Wrigley Drive; (800) 558-5911
Choose from a variety of tours and learn about the great estates tucked behind the oaks and perfectly manicured lawns along the shore.
The Black Point Estate Tour includes a guided tour inside Black Point, built in 1888 by Chicago beer baron Conrad Seipp. The Queen Anne mansion, which recently became a part of the Wisconsin Historical Society, includes a wrap-around porch, beautiful seasonal gardens and an extensive collection of Victorian furnishings.
7. Bike the Oak Leaf Trail through Milwaukee County.
South Shore Park, 2900 South Shore Drive, Milwaukee; (414) 482-4270
Milwaukee's premier urban bike trail is no secret, but a fall ride under blazing oak canopies never gets old. For a nice, completely off-road segment, start at South Shore Park in Bay View and bike south along Lake Michigan to Grant Park in South Milwaukee (12 miles round trip).
8. Chug along the Baraboo River valley in a restored vintage train car.
Mid-Continent Railway Museum, E8948 Diamond Hill Road, North Freedom; (800) 930-1385
Trains, which include restored 1915 steel passenger cars, depart at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. and a special dinner train at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 9-11 from the Mid-Continent Railway Museum depot in North Freedom. Passengers can choose to sit in coach, the caboose, or, for one lucky passenger, the locomotive, for a one-hour round-trip ride.
9. Soar 2,000 feet above the changing leaves in Walworth County on a hang glider.
Gutzmer's Twin Oaks Airport, Whitewater; (608) 469-5949
No experience? No problem. The Whitewater Hang Gliding Club offers tandem rides with experienced instructors. A small tow plane pulls the glider up to 2,000 feet, where thermals help in your slow descent back to earth.
10. Cruise the Mighty Miss aboard a paddlewheel boat.
La Crosse Queen Cruises, 405 Veterans Memorial Drive, La Crosse; 608-784-2893
Diesel engines and hydraulic motors turn the two sternwheels that propel the La Crosse Queen, one of the few authentic paddlewheel boats still in operation in the United States. Look for eagles, osprey, egrets and other wildlife around the bluffs and changing foliage along the shore as the boat paddles along its one-and-a-half-hour sightseeing trip on the Mississippi River.
11. Float high above Green County in a hot air balloon.
Wisconsin's Majestic Balloons, Ripon; 920-748-3464
Climb into the eight-passenger gondola basket for a relaxing hourlong ride over the Wisconsin countryside. Dress warmly and be prepared to be flexible in scheduling; even seemingly calm days can produce strong winds higher in the sky that make rides unsafe.
12. Go off road on a Segway tour in Door County.
Seaquist Segway, 11482 Wisconsin 42, Sister Bay; (920) 421-4111
Zoom down trails, fields, orchards and parks amidst the changing leaves on a guided Segway tour. The tour begins with an introduction to operating the two-wheeled vehicles and lasts from one to two hours.
Steve Seaquist, who has been guiding Segway tours for six years and opened his own company three years ago, recommended two off-road tours for the fall: the Rough and Tough Forest tour or the Segway & S'mores tour. "That is getting out into hardwood forest, so we get a nice mix of colors out there," Seaquist said.
"By going out on the Segway, it allows us to cover extra distance in a very unique, fun way," he said. "It's slow enough that you see things that you wouldn't otherwise see when you're in a car, but you actually get somewhere."
13. Canoe the Kickapoo, the world's most crooked river.
Drifty's Canoe Rental, 100 Water St., Ontario; (608) 337-4288
The 125-mile Kickapoo River covers only 65 miles as the crow flies, creating a winding waterway for fall exploration in the state's Driftless Region. Trees, moss and lichen cling to the sandstone cliffs that barricade the slow-moving river as it meanders through Wildcat Mountain State Park and the Kickapoo Valley Reserve in Vernon County. Plan a day trip through the popular northern stretch from Ontario to Bridge 7 (4 hours) or camp at rustic sites in the reserve on a weekend trip.
14. Climb the cliffs at Devil's Lake.
S5975 Park Road, Baraboo; (608) 356-8301
From the south shore, follow the Balanced Rock Trail to the top of the East Bluff for fantastic views of the lake and the surrounding Baraboo Hills. The hike — which is predominantly a rock stairway — is strenuous and the trail busy on weekends, so be patient and take your time.
15. Ride a duck through the sandstone cliffs and rock formations of the Dells.
Original Wisconsin Ducks, 1890 Wisconsin Dells Parkway; (608) 254.8751
Travel over the river and through the woods in a classic green-and-white Wisconsin Duck. The one-hour narrated tour is one of the best ways to see the unique rock formations along the Wisconsin River, and the changing oaks magnify the beauty in autumn.
Updated: Sept. 15, 2015
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