Guide to Seeing Fall Colors in Minnesota
Fall colors are at or near peak in much of Minnesota. Jake Juliot from Explore Minnesota joined me on WJON to talk about when and where you can see fall colors in the state.
Hit the road for an unforgettable drive through a rainbow of colorful fall foliage in Minnesota this autumn. The list includes some well-known favorites, and some lesser-known gems where you don't have to share the view with a crowd.
NORTH SHORE OF LAKE SUPERIOR
This route along America's largest Great Lake is known for its great fall color and lake views, making it very popular with leaf peepers. Yellow aspen and birch hug the shoreline, while scarlet maples line inland forest roads. Make sure you have a reservation for a place to stay, and try planning midweek trips to avoid the busiest travel periods. This has been designated as an "All American Drive," one of only 15 routes in the country so noted for their outstanding scenery. For an inland view, take Hwy. 1 through the colors of the Superior National Forest to Ely. Route: HWY. 61, Duluth to Grand Portage Peak Color: Mid-Sept. to early Oct.
IRON RANGE LOOP
There's a beautiful mix of color on this circle drive, and plenty of other highlights as well: Birding at the Sax-Zim Bog, two major golf courses at Giants Ridge (The Legend and The Quarry), ATVing at the Iron Range Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame at Eveleth. At Virginia, there's an overlook of the area's deepest open pit mine and the popular Mesabi Bike Trail. Route: HWY. 169 from Virginia to Tower, HWY. 135 through Biwabik back to Virginia Peak Color: Mid-Sept. to early Oct.
EDGE OF THE WILDERNESS
This super scenic byway winds over hills through the colorful mix of pine and hardwoods of Chippewa National Forest. Return via Co. Rd. 7 and make a side trip to beautiful Scenic State Park. Or take one of the back roads through the forest, with stops at lakes and hiking trails along the way. Route: HWY. 38, Grand Rapids to Bigfork Peak Color: Mid-Sept. to early Oct.
Itasca State Park, the source of the mighty Mississippi River, is the star attraction on this route. Lake Bemidji State Park, with its birch and pine, is another highlight. There's a paved bike trail in Itasca, and mountain bike trails in Bemidji State Park. You'll also find scenic biking along the nearby Heartland State Trail. Route: HWY. 71 between Park Rapids and Bemidji, plus numerous other roads around these towns Peak Color: Mid-Sept. to early Oct.
OTTER TAIL COUNTY
The rolling countryside between Fergus Falls and Perham is a blend of wooded hills, lakes and farmland. Highlights include Glendalough State Park, the historic Phelps Mill, and the view from Inspiration Peak State Wayside(opens in new window) off Co. Rd. 38. Route: HWYS. 108 and 78, and numerous county roads Peak Color: Late Sept. to early Oct.
BRAINERD LAKES & MILLE LACS
Gull, Pelican and Cross Lakes and the Whitefish Chain of Lakes sparkle amid woods of maple, oak, birch and aspen. Mille Lacs Kathio State Park is an expanse of colorful forest at the edge of Mille Lacs. Fishing, boating, golfing and biking the Paul Bunyan State Trail are favorite activities in this lake country. Route: HWY. 371 and 6, and the county roads between them, plus HWY. 169 Peak Color: Late Sept. to early Oct.
ST. CROIX RIVER VALLEY
The scenic St. Croix River winds through wooded hillsides and sheer cliffs. Wild River and William O'Brien state parks feature great river views. The charming towns of Stillwater, Taylors Falls and Afton have numerous antique and gift shops. Boat excursions on the river are a great way to see the fall color. This drive is very popular in the fall; consider a midweek visit to avoid weekend traffic. Route: HWY. 95 from Taylors Falls to Afton Peak Color: Late Sept. to mid-Oct.
TWIN CITIES TOURING
Few major cities can boast such beautiful drives, all of which are even prettier in the fall. Circle Lake of the Isles and Bde Maka Ska, Harriet and Nokomis Lakes, and visit Minnehaha Falls. They're all along the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway. The Lake Street Bridge and Ford Parkway Bridge have great views of the Mississippi bordered by colorful, wooded hillsides. St. Paul's tree-lined Summit Avenue is bordered by stately homes. Route: Parkways around Minneapolis lakes, along Minnehaha Creek, Mississippi and Summit Avenue Peak Color: Late Sept. to mid-Oct.
MISSISSIPPI RIVER VALLEY
Charming river towns and wooded bluffs border the Mississippi River on this colorful route, characterized by steep hillsides dressed in brilliant autumn hues of red, russet and gold. Several scenic overlooks, including those at Frontenac and Great River Bluffs state parks, are must-stops. You'll also find several roadside apple stands for a tasty afternoon snack. This is a popular fall drive, so book your stay ahead of time. Route: HWY. 61 between Red Wing and La Crescent Peak Color: Mid-Oct.
MINNESOTA RIVER DRIVE
Follow the bend in the river, and the ribbon of yellow and gold hardwoods that borders the Minnesota River. Along the way, you'll find riverside parks in Le Sueur, St. Peter, Mankato and New Ulm, as well as bluff-top overlooks in New Ulm. Route: Co. Rd. 6 and HWY. 93 from Belle Plaine to Le Sueur, then HWY. 169 to Mankato, then HWY. 68 to New Ulm Peak Color: Late Sept. to mid-Oct.
If you'd like to listen to my conversation with Jake Juliot it is available below.