Autumn in Minnesota: Where and When to See the Fall Foliage

Road Amidst Trees Against Sky During Autumn
Dan Thornberg / EyeEm / Getty Images

Minnesota is beautiful in autumn with clear skies, sunshine, and stunning fall foliage. Many plan a visit when the leaves are anticipated to show their fall colors, sometime between mid-September and the end of October.

Best Time for Fall Foliage

The exact time for peak fall foliage depends on factors including weather and location. Shorter daylight and longer overnight hours trigger this seasonal change which leads to the leaves changing color. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has an excellent fall color status map, which covers the entire state, so you can see where the best fall foliage areas are in real time. The map also provides the most recent photographs from Minnesota's state parks if you want a closer look at the foliage and colors.

In the Minneapolis–St. Paul area, the leaves usually begin to change color in mid- to late-September, with peak foliage time usually around the first and second week of October. The colors survive another week or so after that point but begin turning brown rather quickly, and almost never last until Halloween.

In northern parts of the state, in areas such as Duluth, Ely, the North Shore, and Grand Marais, the fall colors arrive even earlier, sometimes as soon as Labor Day. The peak for these cities usually occurs during the end of September or the first week of October, but by mid-October, the leaves begin falling rapidly, and the temperatures follow accordingly.

Fall Foliage Near the Twin Cities

If you are in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area, you don't have to travel far to see the fall colors. Get some fresh air by strolling through The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, kayaking around Lake Minnetonka, or cruising through the Minnesota River Valley, just south of Bloomington.

Or, venture outside the city and take a drive in the countryside. There are many places to visit, especially in the St. Croix Valley and Bluff Country, with gorgeous river views and many autumn colors. Another fun way to take in the fall colors is to visit an apple orchard or a pumpkin patch. Many farms and orchards can be found within an hour's distance of Minneapolis–St. Paul, making it an easy day trip for both locals and visitors alike.

Fall Foliage on the North Shore

One of the best ways to see the foliage is to head north. If you prefer a more quiet, low-key getaway, consider visiting the town of Ely. This charming hamlet, which is close to the Canadian border, is home to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and its north wood forests and glacial lakes.

The harbor village of Grand Marais is also a great choice for a fall visit. It is located alongside the crystal clear waters of Lake Superior as well as near the Sawtooth Mountains, which are stunning when the colors change.

Getting to the Twin Cities and the North Shore

If you are planning on flying into Minnesota and visiting Minneapolis-St. Paul, the closest major airport (MSP) is located right in the Twin Cities.

Travelers heading to the North Shore may want to consider using Duluth International Airport (KDLH). It is convenient not only for Duluth-bound travelers but those heading to Ely, or the surrounding areas as well. Just keep in mind that there are fewer nonstop flights available there compared to the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport.

Another option is to arrive via the Thunder Bay International Airport (YQT) in Ontario, Canada. This airport is a great choice for travelers wanting to spend their time only in the northernmost points of the North Shore, such as Grand Marais, which is just one-and-a-half hours away from Ontario.

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