Autumn in Minnesota is beautiful, with clear skies, sunshine, and stunning fall foliage. Whether you take a day trip in the countryside or a stroll through the parks of the Minneapolis–St. Paul area, fall can be a glorious time to visit.
Minnesota is known for its many varieties of maple trees, which have fall colors ranging from crimson red to dazzling gold. You'll also encounter the red twig dogwood with its bright red twigs and purple fall leaves. Smoke trees, found in southern Minnesota, have leaves that change from blue-green to yellow or red-orange in the fall.
The exact time for peak fall foliage, though, depends on factors including weather, altitude, and location. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has an excellent fall color status map that covers the entire state, so you can see where the best fall foliage areas are in real-time. In a typical year, the most northern parts of the state reach peak foliage as early as mid-September, with the changes progressing south through mid-October. By the time Halloween rolls around, the trees in Minnesota have usually already shed their leaves.
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, walking around Lake Minnetonka, or driving through the Minnesota River Valley, just south of Bloomington.
In the Minneapolis–St. Paul area, the leaves usually begin to change color in mid- to late-September, with peak foliage time usually occurring 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.
Another fun way to take in the fall colors is to visit an apple orchard or a pumpkin patch at harvest time, especially for families with kids. Many farms and orchards can be found within an hour's distance of Minneapolis–St. Paul, making it an easy day trip. Minnesota Harvest is less than an hour outside of downtown Minneapolis and offers apple picking, a pumpkin patch, a petting zoo, a corn maze, and more.
Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway
Driving along the Minnesota River and the Scenic Byway is a fantastic way to experience fall foliage not far from the Twin Cities. There are scenic and historic stops along the Byway which runs from Browns Valley to Belle Plaine, just south of Minneapolis. You'll encounter six state parks with trails, fall foliage, and history, as well as small towns with museums and historic sites. The scenic route takes about four and a half hours to drive and follows a collection of different highways, so don't rely on your GPS and stick to the official route to maximize your landscape.
As you drive through the Minnesota River Valley, you'll find an eclectic option of things to do including biking in Riverfront Park in Mankato, visiting the August Schell Brewery Museum in Neu Ulm, and enjoying the historic buildings and sites of Montevideo.
While you could spend days exploring the sites and enjoying the fall color along the Scenic Byway, you can also easily explore sections of the route on a day trip from Minneapolis-St. Paul.
St. Croix Valley and Bluff Country
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, stunning cliffs, and autumn color.
This 52-mile stretch from Taylors Falls to the confluence of the St. Croix River with the Mississippi River at Hastings offers much to see. Hastings is a quaint community on the bluffs known for its Victorian architecture, especially along the historic downtown streets. Visit the LeDuc Historic Estate, a Gothic Revival mansion open for tours through the end of October each year, which is especially picturesque with the backdrop of the autumn trees.
Stillwater is another fun place to stop. The largest city on the St. Croix, it's also one of Minnesota’s oldest towns and has historic architecture where you'll find antique shops, galleries, indie book stores, and local small restaurants. It's a place where you can rent a bike and enjoy the scenery, including biking a five-mile loop trail connecting the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the St. Croix River.
One of the most popular ways to see the foliage is to head to the breathtaking North Shore region—which is geographically the west shore of Lake Superior. Towering trees stand over cliffs which drop into the waters of Lake Superior, with the highway hugging the shoreline the entire way for the ultimate scenic route.
The North Shore route begins in Duluth, Minnesota, and snakes its way up all the way to the Canadian border along State Highway 61. It's one of the most scenic road trips in all of Minnesota, and autumn is arguably the most striking time to complete it. The fall colors start appearing sometimes as early as Labor Day in this northern region, with the peak foliage making its debut by late September. Once the temperatures begin to really drop, the leaves fall quickly, so plan accordingly.
The harbor village of Grand Marais is 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. The town is popular with lovers of arts and crafts, and you'll discover traditional crafts of the northern hemisphere at the North House Folk School and can even sign up for a class.
To drive the entire length of Highway 61 within Minnesota, its 150 miles and takes about three hours without stopping. But of course, the stops along the way will be the highlight of your trip.
The entire northern part of Minnesota is rich with forests, lakes, rivers, bluffs, and more natural landscapes that make it an ideal adventure for any nature lover. The entire region is essentially a conglomeration of several different state parks, including the George Washington State Forest, Pine Island State Forest, Kabetogama State Forest, and Lake Superior National Forest. Similar to the nearby North Shore, the trees in Northern Minnesota are the first ones in the state to reach peak color. September is the best time to enjoy temperate weather and vivid fall foliage; if you go any later, you may miss it.
If you prefer a more quiet, low-key getaway, consider visiting the town of Ely, tucked away in the woods of Lake Superior Forest. 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. This is an area where you might even encounter a moose.