Minnesota’s Best Fall Color Destinations
State Park, North Shore
National Forest, Ely, MN
Red Wing, MN
As the days begin to shorten and the air begins to cool, hop in the car for a tour of Minnesota’s beautiful fall color. Every corner of the state offers a unique view of our brilliant fall display and plenty to do along the way.
Waterfalls, scenic vistas and lakeside views highlight fall on the North Shore. Head north early in the fall to catch glimpses of spectacular views of the fall leaves. Along the drive, stop for a bite along Old Highway 61, the North Shore’s “Culinary Highway” or explore Highway 61’s hidden destinations. Heading north, visit one of the eight state parks along the North Shore for a beautiful fall display of ash, aspen, birch and maple amid evergreens, and hike the Superior Hiking Trail for scenic views. Spend the weekend at a North Shore lodge, bed and breakfast or unique resort.
The north country will feature fewer fall colors and more evergreens than other areas of the state, but the north still offers a spectacular fall display. Head north to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in the fall, a great time to visit for cooler temperatures and fewer bugs. On the way, stop in Ely, MN for a bite to eat or visit one of the galleries, shops and outfitters in town.
Fall is also a great time to make a reservation at Itasca State Park’s Douglas Lodge and visit the headwaters of the Mississippi.
Even though the days are getting shorter and the air cooler, fall remains an excellent time to visit central Minnesota’s resort town. In the Brainerd Lakes area, plan a fall getaway near the campfire at some of Minnesota’s top resorts, including Grand View Lodge, Breezy Point or Madden’s on Gull Lake.
To the east, check in at a historic bed and breakfast in Stillwater and view the brilliant fall leaves along the St. Croix River. Fall brings the annual fine art and jazz festival, wine tastings and beautiful leaves along the river. In mid-September, Saint Croix Vineyards hosts its annual grape stomp.
Southwest Prairie Country:
For a unique view of fall, visit prairie country in southwest Minnesota. Fall brings the golds, rusts and purples of the prairie grasses and flowers. At Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne, MN views as far as you can see display fall grasses among the red Sioux quartzite. The fall brings deer into the park, along with the Buffalo that inhabit one section year round. A half-hour north, see the brilliant reds of sumac and golden prairie grasses at Pipestone National Monument.
Southeast Bluff Country:
Fall brings spectacular views and harvest to southeast Minnesota, set among the colorful oak, maple and elm. Travel south along the Mississippi River to Hastings, Red Wing, Lake City, Winona and Le Crescent to visit quaint towns, orchards and vineyards. The southeast portion of the state is known for its apple orchards, with more than a dozen dotting the towns along the river. In Red Wing, view the leaves from atop Barn Bluff or the city’s Soldier’s Memorial Park. Farther south, Frontenac State Park offers not only great views of the leaves, but also one of the best spots in the state to see migrating birds. Traveling south, visit the 10 wineries along the Great River Road Wine Trail in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Fall Colors: When to Go
According to the Minnesota DNR, leaves typically peak in the extreme northern portion of the state in mid-to-late September, on the North Shore and northern part of the state in mid-September to early October, central Minnesota and the Twin Cities from late September to early October. The southern portion of the state peaks in late September to mid-October, and the far southeast corner peaks in early to late October. Look for fall color report on the Minnesota DNR website and sign up for regular email alerts to keep updated on the change of colors.
Exact timing and brilliance of fall colors depends on conditions during both the summer and fall. Warm, moist summers, and warm and sunny falls with cool nights that do not fall below freezing, lead to the most brilliant colors, according to the Minnesota DNR.
Yellow and orange colors appear in the early fall, while reds and purples appear late in the fall, due to the compounds breaking down in the leaves. Cloudy, rainy falls can cause the color in the leaves to leech out, and cool, wet summers can lead to early displays of color, while dry seasons can cause leaves to brown quickly or turn tan and bronze.
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