If you ask a Minnesotan why they love living in this state, one of the answers is bound to be ‘the change in seasons’. The switch from a hot, sticky summer into the cool, crisp fall is certainly my favorite. This year, according to the Minnesota DNR, Minnesota is expecting a near perfect colorful fall leaf season. The trees and foliage have had plenty of rainfall and a plethora of summer sunshine providing the perfect recipe for leaves to reveal brilliant hues. Now is the time in September when leaves begin their transformation and with a state park within 30 minutes of nearly every town and city in Minnesota, you can fully enjoy the shift into fall.
While there are endless parks and drives to drink in the colorful display, I’ve narrowed it down to a couple special places in each area of the state where you can either embark on a mini road trip or enjoy the colors right in your backyard.
Peak Colors from Late September to mid-October
Interstate State Park
You can see the leaves change while hiking the many trails in Interstate State Park. Hiking the River Trail provides exceptional views of the foliage following alongside the beautiful St. Croix River. There are several overlooks that provide sweeping views of the St. Croix Valley and the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. While the colors are just beginning to change, you’ll see patches of yellow and orange and notice the deep reds of the sumac and Virginia creeper. Be sure to hike the Sandstone Bluffs Trail rewarding you with a breathtaking view at the end of the trail. You can also take a guided tour of the Sandstone Bluffs that explores the billion years of geology present.
Wild River State Park
You can enjoy the scenic beauty walking the trails alongside the river or rent a canoe or kayak for a different view of the colors. Visit their various observation decks for fantastic views of the St. Croix River Valley and of the extensive prairies where you’ll be treated to colorful pockets of shrubs and grasses with colors ranging from salmon and orange to deep maroon. The trees are just beginning to change showing splashes of red, orange, and yellow.
St. Paul Streets and Minneapolis Parkways
You can find beautiful fall colors right in the heart of the cities. Paddle on Minnehaha Creek or take a drive around the loop of the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes from Lake Calhoun to Lake of the Isles to Lake Harriet. You can certainly take in the beautiful views at a slower pace with a walk or bike ride. The Lake Street and Ford Parkway bridges also provide exceptional views of the leaves and wooded hillsides along the Mississippi River. Or just take a stroll down tree-lined Summit Avenue for a look at the fall colors amidst the stately mansions.
Best Colors from mid-September to Early October
Grand Portage State Park
The North Shore is absolutely stunning in the fall. Home to Minnesota’s tallest waterfall, Grand Portage State Park offers miles of hiking trails that provide a wonderful display of changing colors. You’ll find bright fall colors on ground shrubs and an array of wildflowers. The trees are just beginning to change showing bits of yellow and if you travel inland on Old Highway 61 you’ll come across beautiful reds and oranges in the Sugar Maple trees.
Cascade River State Park
Now is the time to hike Cascade River State Park. With the recent rains the Falls are roaring through the gorge providing a gorgeous backdrop for you to see the stunning colors on the huge cedar trees, spruce, and birch trees. This time of year you can also get a glimpse of wildlife. The ospreys and eagles have returned along with large schools of pink salmon you can see in the stream beds below the Falls.
Itasca State Park
Any trail you hike or road you drive you’ll be surrounded by vibrant color. Drive along East Entrance Road, Wilderness Drive, or Main Park Drive to see accents of golds and reds. Sugar Maples are turning yellow-orange and red maples are showing their bright reds. Hiking the trails you’ll also see the brilliant deep reds and purples of dogwood and sumac. Be sure to keep an eye out for white-tailed deer, bucks, tree frogs, beavers, loons, and swans.
Colors Peak from Early to mid-October
Great River Bluffs State Park
It’s still early for peak color in southern Minnesota but the leaves are slowly beginning to change on the bluffs alongside the Mississippi River. Though unlike the rest of the state, the prairie is still in bloom where you can spot Golden Rod, Compass plant, and brown eyed Susan. You can hike the bluffs for breathtaking views of the Mississippi River Valley from five scenic overlooks. You might also spot eagles, hawks, wild turkeys, and coyotes.
Upper Sioux Agency State Park
With over 1200 acres of open prairie, wooded slopes, and bluffs, Upper Sioux Agency State Park is a perfect place for watching the season transform into fall. Hike the Valley View trail for the best view of the colorful prairies and trek up to The Overlook to see the beautiful vista of the Minnesota River Valley. If you want to step off the trails the Minnesota River Scenic Byway is a spectacular fall color drive. You’ll also catch the pelican and geese migration as well as a plethora of Monarch and Painted Lady butterflies feeding on blazing star and prairie flowers.
Sibley State Park
The climb up to Mt. Tom lookout provides an incredible bird’s-eye view of the changing colors in the tree tops and the surrounding landscape. The Mt. Tom Trail also sports beautiful scenery of fall colors in Oak Savanna and Maple trees. You’ll see splashes of red and gold in the open meadows as well as yellow in the brown-eyed Susan and deep maroon of Big Bluestem wildflowers. Be sure to relax at the Cedar Hill Picnic Area and Beach to enjoy the fall season overlooking Lake Andrew.