The Best Places to See Fall Colors in Minnesota

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

Autumn in Minnesota is beautiful—enjoy the clear skies, sunshine, and stunning fall foliage. Whether you take a daytrip 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 red to gold. You'll also encounter the Red Twig Dogwood with its red twigs and red and purple fall leaves. Smoketree, found in southern Minnesota, has leaves that change from blue-green to yellow or red-orange in the fall.

Many visitors plan a trip during the best time for fall colors, sometime between mid-September and the end of October. The exact time for peak fall foliage, though, depends on factors including weather, altitude, and location. Shorter daylight and longer overnight hours trigger the seasonal change that 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.

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, 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 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. Many farms and orchards can be found within an hour's distance of Minneapolis–St. Paul, making it an easy daytrip.

To fly into Minnesota and visit the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the closest major airport (MSP) is located right in the Twin Cities and serves most major cities in the United States.

Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway

Driving along the Minnesota River and the 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 on Highway 169. You'll encounter six state parks with trails, fall foliage, and history, as well as small towns with museums and historic sites.

As you drive through the Minnesota River Valley, you'll find Things to Do including biking in Riverfront Park in Mankato, visiting the August Schell Brewery Museum in Neu Ulm, and the enjoying the historic buildings and sites of Montevideo.

While you can spend days exploring the sites and enjoying the fall color along the Byway, you can easily travel 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 St. Croix confluence 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 May 22 through the end of October.

Stillwater is a fun place to stop. The largest city on the St. Croix, it's also one of Minnesota’s oldest towns and also has picturesque 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 5-mile loop trail connecting the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the St. Croix River.

North Shore

One of the most popular 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. This is an area where you might encounter a moose.

In northern parts of the state, in areas such as Duluth, Ely, the North Shore, and Grand Marais, the fall colors arrive even earlier than in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, 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.

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. 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 in the northernmost points of the North Shore, such as Grand Marais, which is just one-and-a-half hours away from Ontario.

Grand Marais

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—it's the oldest art colony in Minnesota. You'll discover traditional crafts of the northern hemisphere at the North House Folk School and can even sign up for a class. Watch the painters at Artist’s Point putting sailboats, the lighthouse, and the beautiful fall scenes of Lake Superior in their artwork.

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