By Brian Fischer   |   December 13, 2020  
5 great ways to enjoy minnesotas fall leaves

Enjoy Minnesota’s Fall Leaves
5 Great Ways to Enjoy Minnesota Fall Leaves

5 Great Ways to Enjoy Minnesota’s Fall Leaves

Hiking in Minnesota State Parks is a Great Way to Enjoy Minnesota's Fall Leaves

Zoom Image Hiking in a Minnesota State Park is a
Great Way to Enjoy Minnesota’s Fall Leaves

Red Wing, MN's Barn Bluff offers many vantage points to view the fall leaves.

Zoom ImageRed Wing, MN‘s Barn Bluff offers
many vantage points to see the leaves

Biking on the Mesabi Trail is another Great Way to Enjoy Minnesota Fall Leaves

Zoom Image The Masabi Trail in Northern Minnesota is a
Great Way to Enjoy the Fall Leaves

Amtrak's Empire Builder offers yet another route to enjoy Minnesota's Fall Leaves

Zoom Image Amtrak’s Empire Builder offers daily
trips between Fargo-Moorhead and Winona

North Shore Scenic Railroad Hugs the shores of Lake Superior

Zoom Image North Shore Scenic Railroad and the Duluth
Boardwalk Hug the shores of Lake Superior

The North Shore Scenic Railroad shuttles guests between Duluth, MN and Two Harbors, MN

Zoom Image North Shore Scenic Railroad heads out
for Two Harbors, MN from Duluth, MN

Cascade River State Park offers hiking trails and Waterfalls

Zoom ImageCascade River State Park offers
Hiking trails and Waterfalls

Scenic byways offer a relaxing way to enjoy the fall leaves in Minnesota.

Zoom Image Scenic Byway’s Offer a Relaxing way
to See the Fall Leaves in Minnestoa

Fall in Minnesota is an ideal time to get outside and enjoy the best of Minnesota’s activities amid views of the fall colors. From biking and hiking to scenic drives, there are opportunities to enjoy the fall colors across the state.

  1. Hiking:

As the air cools and bugs disappear, fall is an ideal time to trek the Superior Hiking Trail, and the fall vistas will not disappoint. One of the most spectacular places to view the fall leaves is at Carlton Peak, a portion of the trail within the Temperance River State Park near Tofte. The climb to the peak is steep from both the north and south, but well worth the trek. The hike from the south is just over three miles, while the hike from the north is just over a mile and a half (parking available at Britton Peak – from Hwy 61, take Cty 2/Sawbill Trail two miles to a parking spot). Once you get to the top of this flat peak, you’ll see endless views of the Lake and colorful yellows, oranges and reds of the northern forests. Pack a day pack with snacks and beverages to enjoy an afternoon on the peak. (Please remember the “Leave No Trace” policy and take all trash with you on your way out.)

Just up the trail, Britton Peak also offers spectacular fall views from a steeper overlook. Other nearby hikes include Leveaux Mountain and the Oberg Mountain loop. The 1.8-mile Oberg loop winds through maple forests and is dotted with overlooks throughout. This section of the trail is well-maintained and has a picnic table for those wanting to stop and enjoy the views. Nearby, the trail connects to the Lutsen Ski Area, which offers gondola rides in the off-season with views of the surrounding hills. Further north, hike to Pincushion Mountain just north of Grand Marais, for views of Lake Superior and the surrounding Devil Track River valley.

Other great fall hikes:
Minnesota has nearly endless opportunities for a great fall hike. For a unique view of the fall, visit Blue Mound State Park and Camden State Park in Southwest Minnesota for a view of the golden fall prairie, with rust-colored grasses, prairie flowers and brilliant red sumac. To the southeast, Frontenac State Park offers not only great views of the fall leaves along the Mississippi River, but the park is also one of the best places in the country to see birds migrating in the fall, due to the area’s diverse foliage. Just north, in Red Wing, hike to the top of Barn Bluff, one of the state’s best rock climbing destinations, to see endless views of the river valley.

  1. Biking:

Minnesota has more miles of bike trails than any other state in the nation, offering an ideal way to enjoy the fall. To the south, the Bluffland State Trail winds through the quaint towns of Harmony, Preston and Lanesboro, along the Root River. The trail, which runs through Amish country, offers beautiful bluff views and access to shops and dining, trout fishing and numerous bed and breakfasts.

Along the Cannon River between Cannon Falls and Red Wing, the Cannon Valley Trail offers river views as it winds between historic towns. Stop in historic downtown Red Wing for an afternoon of shopping and dining along the way.

In central Minnesota, the Paul Bunyan State Trail connects Brainerd/Baxter and Bemidji , and the Lake Wobegon Regional Trail winds through the towns of Sauk Center, Avon and St. Joseph. The trail even has its own covered bridge in Holdingford, painted bright red. 

To the north, the Mesabi Trail connects Grand Rapids to Ely, as it winds past rust-colored open pit mines and into the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Still under development, the Gitchi-Gami State Trail will connect Duluth to Grand Marais, MN, offering views of the lake and forests as it winds through towns along sections of Highway 61. Currently, the longest completed section is between Gooseberry Falls and Beaver Bay.

Note that many state trails are still under development. Check route maps and websites prior to departure for the most updated trail information.

  1. Train:

Take in the scenery between Duluth and Two Harbors on the North Shore Scenic Railroad. The railroad offers a special fall colors tour annually, as well as a special steam train tour in August and September, elegant dinner trains on some Friday evenings, a fall beer tasting tour, and a pumpkin tour later in the fall. Reservations are required for all special tours, such as the beer-tasting and dinner tours. Tours are six hours long, with a two-hour layover in Two Harbors. Board the train in downtown Duluth.

Railroading Heritage of Midwest America (“Friends of the 261”), a non-profit organization, offers special excursions on historic refurbished train cars. The Great River Road Color Train stops in St. Paul, LaCrescent and Winona.

Amtrack’s Empire Builder rote offers daily trips between Fargo-Moorhead and Winona, with stops in Detroit Lakes, St. Cloud, St. Paul and Red Wing, MN. The route heads as far west as Seattle and Portland, and east to Chicago. Plan a trip by train to historic Red Wing, and stop at the station just a block from the St. James Hotel for a romantic weekend getaway.

  1. State Parks Visit:

As the air cools and bugs disappear, fall is a great time to visit our state’s parks for hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, camping and numerous other activities. A cool fall night makes a great time for a campfire.

A growing number parks offer cabin rentals and other lodging, and many of the lodging options include fireplaces and fire pits. Among the best options include Douglas Lodge and cabins at Itasca State Park, and camper cabins at Whitewater State Park, Afton State Park, Bear Head State Park, Tettegouche State Park and others. For a unique stay, Upper Sioux Agency State Park offers tipi rentals.

Fall is a great time to visit the state park waterfalls. On the North Shore, nearly every park features unique and beautiful falls cascading toward the Lake. Gooseberry Falls is among the most popular, with highly accessible walkways to the Upper, Middle and Lower Falls, but don’t forget to hike a bit further to less-well-known Fifth Falls, set amid a golden forest of aspen and birch, along with evergreen. Other great places to see waterfalls in the fall include High Falls and Two-Step Falls of the Baptism River at Tettegouche State Park, the Cross River Falls near Schroeder, Hidden Falls in Temperance River State Park, Devils Kettle on the Brule River in Judge Magney State Park, and the 120-foot High Falls on the Pigeon River at Grand Portage State Park, the state’s tallest waterfall. The North Shore’s parks include a mix of cedar, birch, aspen, ash and maple. Red oak is seen mainly in Tettegouche.

  1. Car:

Minnesota’s scenic byways offer another opportunity to enjoy the fall colors, with plenty of places to stop along the way.

The 17-mile Apple Blossom Scenic Drive along Highway 29 to La Crescent offers beautiful fall views of the rolling hills and river valley as you pass along orchards and pumpkin patches. La Crescent claims to be the Apple Capital of Minnesota, dating back to its first orchard in 1850; while you’re there, visit mn apple orchards including Leidel’s Apples, Old Hickory Orchards, Hoch Orchard & Gardens, Kathan’s Ridgeview Orchard in La Crescent, and Van Lin Orchards. The town hosts its annual Apple Festival the third weekend in September.

La Crescent also connects to the Great River Road Scenic Byway, a national byway touching 10 states along the Mississippi River. One of the most beautiful segments stretches from La Crescent to Hastings, running through towns including Winona, Lake City and Red Wing. In Lake City, visit orchards including Pepin Heights, Platte Orchard, Oak Ridge Orchards and Bushel & Peck. Along the way, enjoy views of the fall leaves along the river bluffs. The byway continues north along the river, all the way to the headwaters in Itasca State Park.

The St. Croix Scenic Byway also offers scenic bluff views. From Point Douglas, south of Afton, to St. Croix State Park, see picturesque views while stopping in historic towns. In Afton, stop for a quick bite at Afton Bean Coffee Café, Catfish Saloon and Café or Sail Away Café & Bar, which features patio seating. For an elegant dinner or evening stay, check in at The Historic Afton House Inn. In Stillwater, visit the historic downtown for numerous restaurants, wine shops, antiques, art and historic beds and breakfasts. In the fall, tour galleries during Art on Main, Stillwater’s fine arts gallery tour. Further north you’ll find several of the state’s best parks for fall leaves, including Interstate, William O’Brien, Wild River and St. Croix.

Sources Cited:

“North Shore Trees and Shrubs List.” Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“Grower Members.” Minnesota Apple Growers Association.

“Grower Members.” Minnesota Apple Growers Association.

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