The only thing that makes fall color brighter and more beautiful is when it’s paired with a sea of red cranberries. Wisconsin is the nation’s largest producer of cranberries, which has led to a bounty of festivals, unique destinations and tours all centered around the fruit. This fall, take a trip and experience the cranberry as it’s meant to be experienced – through touring, tasting and traversing Wisconsin’s cranberry history.
Here are some ways to enjoy the tart red berry.
1. TOUR A MARSH
Fall (specifically mid-September though mid-October) is cranberry harvest season, which means that cranberry marshes are open for business. Take a tour of a working cranberry marsh for a first-hand glimpse into this visual harvesting practice, which involves flooding the marsh so the berries float to the top. The following are just a few of the dozens of tours offered throughout the state. Note – make sure you call before you go, as most marshes are not regularly open to the public.
Glacial Lake Cranberries in Wisconsin Rapids is a must visit. The visitor center offers tours of one of the oldest cranberry marshes in central Wisconsin, dating all the way back to 1873. Start at the visitor center for a video and some cranberry history, where you can also check out cranberry memorabilia and collectives. Then hop on the “berry bus” for a quick ride to a working marsh. Hear the sound of the sand hill cranes and see the colorful pools of red berries. You’ll definitely want your camera. Be sure to call ahead, these hour-long tours are popular and fill up fast. Tours start at the end of September and last through the first few weeks of October.
Central Wisconsin isn’t the only place where you can part the red sea (of cranberries). The bright berry is also harvested “Up North.” In Manitowish Waters, cranberry marsh tours are offered through October 4, 2013. Each Friday at 10 a.m., tours start at the Manitowish Waters Visitors Center and include a Q&A with a local cranberry farmer (cranberry samples provided), and end in, you guessed it, a watery marsh. No swimming though, sorry.
2. TASTE YOUR WAY THROUGH CRAN-COUNTRY
Cranberries are best experienced when they are sampled and the Warrens Cranberry Discovery Center and Museum is your home base for this super-food and antioxidant wonder-fruit.
Start your visit with the interactive exhibits that display Wisconsin’s unique cranberry history from early beginnings as a staple of Native American life, to its importance today. End your tour in the taste test kitchen and ice cream parlor where you can test new cranberry creations. A few favorites include (drool alert): cranberry truffle, cranberry cheesecake, cranberry pie, cranberry scones, cranberry ice cream, cranberry cookies… in other words, berry tasty treats.
On October 5, the museum and Wetherby Cranberry Company will offer a “harvest day” and “open house.” Strap on waders and tour the nearby marsh from 9 to 11 a.m. Afterwards, head to the museum for reduced price admission along with gourmet food sampling, cranberry wine tasting and activities for kids.
While you are in the area, you’ll want to visit the newly opened Rubi Reds retail store in Wisconsin Rapids. Rubi Reds is your one-stop-shop for purchasing cranberries. From the traditional and oh-so-delicious sweetened dried cranberries to chocolate-covered, trail mixes and even salsas and syrups, it’s a market of cranberry goodness.
3. VISIT A CRAN-FESTIVAL
Have you ever seen a cranberry brat or tasted cranberry wine? You’ll find all sorts of delicious cranberry concoctions at the state’s cranberry festivals.
Plan your trip around the world’s largest cranberry festival, the Warrens Cranberry Festival. Held September 27-29, 2013, it’s the end-all-be-all for cranberry lovers. More than 100,000 people attend each year for three miles of shopping, arts and crafts, flea markets and a cranberry parade. But the real treat of the festival is the treats themselves. You’ll find just about any food imaginable made from cranberries.
Manitowish Waters’ Colorama Festival is September 21, 2013, and includes cranberry treats, marsh tours, and a cranberry cooking contest. You can even hop aboard a pontoon boat for free fall color pontoon rides nearby.
Stone Lake Cranberry Festival in Stone Lake is October 4 and 5, 2013. The event will include more than 300 arts and craft vendors, marsh tours, a parade and krate derby. The home-town atmosphere makes this a perfect family event with activities for all ages. Don’t miss the annual luncheon on Friday featuring a cranberry themed menu.
And Eagle River’s Cranberry Festival on October 5 and 6, 2013, has something for everyone as well. Each year, more than 40,000 people attend for arts and crafts, cranberry food, live entertainment and much more. The event also features marsh tours, wine tasting and a fun run/walk on Saturday.
4. TAKE A CRAN-TASTIC SCENIC DRIVE
You can experience the beauty of Wisconsin’s fall color and cranberry season right from the comfort of your own car. The following scenic cranberry driving tours take you on a winding journey through cranberry country for some beautiful views.
Route 1 — The “Cranberry Highway” is a 50-mile loop that includes Wisconsin Rapids/Port Edwards/Nekoosa. It’s a self-guided tour along century-old cranberry beds. The main highway through Cranberry country is Highway 54 and to make your loop, Highway 173. Remember, most cranberry marshes are private property, so please stay on the main highways.
Route 2 – “Cranberry Country Driving Tour” takes you in a loop starting and ending in Tomah and includes Warrens. A popular stop is the Cranberry Discovery Center in Warrens (see No. 2). Also, it’s the best place to taste and purchase cranberry products.
Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association and post contributed by Wisconsin Tourism Board.