The trees in Minnesota start to change color and show their blazing autumn beauty in September and October. It's the perfect time of year to hop in the car and take a day trip to scenic places like historic Red Wing or to take a boat trip from Stillwater on the St. Croix River.
You can see the fall foliage from the river as you kayak or canoe for a day and there are both easy and more difficult hikes in places like the William O'Brien State Park. Along the way on your day trip, enjoy shopping for antiques, sip a root beer float, or take in a fall jazz festival—all an easy drive from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.
One of the oldest towns in Minnesota, and located in a historic bluff country, Red Wing is a good place to start a tour of lovely fall scenery. In addition to the historic downtown, the Red Wing Pottery factory and store, Red Wing Stoneware, and flagship Red Wing Shoe store (home of the world's largest boot!) there are lots of opportunities to see the fall color.
Take a drive around the countryside, hike up to Barn Bluff or go for a walk in Memorial Park, both of which are right in town, or take a cruise on the Mississippi River. The river cruise option gives you the chance to spot eagles nesting in trees along the banks of the river.
Getting There: Red Wing is 52 miles from St. Paul and is situated just off U.S. Highway 61 South.
From St. Paul, take U.S. Highway 52 South to Hampton, Minnesota, and then MN Highway 50 East to U.S. Highway 61 South.
Travel Tip: Consider a factory tour at the Red Wing Pottery Factory where you can watch all phases of the pottery-making.
Bluff Country is the gorgeous stretch of countryside following the Mississippi River south from Red Wing. The terrain gets hillier and prettier the further south you go and if you time it right, the fall color will be spectacular.
Tour the countryside by car on one of the five scenic byways in the area, and stop in on the pretty historic towns like Wabasha, located on the Mississippi River near its confluence with the Chippewa River (visit the National Eagle Center). Winona where you can drive up to the bluffs and see the views and take a walking tour of the historic district with stained glass windows and lavish facades.
Or, there are many opportunities for hiking and outdoor recreation, with several state parks and plenty of hiking and cycling trails to be found. Great River Bluffs State Park, on the Mississippi River southeast of Winona, is known for hiking trails through the fall colors. Particularly nice in fall are the easy trails with scenic overlooks of the Mississippi River Valley.
Getting There: Bluff Country takes up Minnesota's southeast corner with six scenic byways, five counties, four state parks, three state trails, two state waterways, and the state forest. The best way to discover the Bluff Country is to choose a scenic byway to drive and branch out from there. Two hours south of Minneapolis, take Highway 16, now the 88-mile Historic Bluff Country National Scenic Byway. It begins at Dexter off Interstate 90 and travels across farmland to Bluff Country along the Root River Valley ending at La Crescent on the Mississippi River.
Travel Tip: Plan a stop at Winona where you can drive up to the bluffs and see the views and take a walking tour of the historic district with stained glass windows and lavish facades.
Cannon Falls: Biking and Paddling
A great way to see the fall foliage is to rent a bike and travel the 20-mile Cannon Valley Bike Trail, which follows the Cannon River. Or, paddle the river itself in a canoe, kayak, or raft. Consider Cannon Falls Canoe and Bike for kayak and canoe trips on the Cannon River, about 45 minutes south of Minneapolis.
The Cannon River and Cannon Valley Trail offer a great way to spend the day enjoying the Minnesota Valley and the town of Cannon Falls. While biking, or before or after your paddling adventure, you can stop by a variety of coffee houses, shops, or the popular Cannon River Winery.
Getting There: Cannon Falls Canoe and Bike is located at 615 N. 5th St. in Cannon Falls off Highway 52.
Travel Tip: Canoes and kayaks are not "one size fits all." Contact the rental company beforehand if you have more than two people who want to go paddling. Often a canoe can hold up to three people and may have a maximum weight limit. Kayaks come in one-person and two-person styles and also have a weight limit.
The pretty town of Stillwater is surrounded by lovely scenery. There's plenty to do in town, with cute boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. Stillwater has been voted as: one of America’s Most Picturesque Small Towns, one of the Best American Towns for Fall Colors, and one of the Best U.S. Towns for Antiquing. You can take a 45-minute historical tour of the town of Stillwater by trolley. Stillwater also holds an annual Fall Colors and Jazz Festival in early October and has things to do such as live music and a farmer's market through October.
For taking in the scenery by car, head north, along the St. Croix river—William O'Brien State Park is about 20 miles north, and if you keep going, you'll get to lovely Taylors Falls, voted one of "Minnesota's Best Places to See Fall Colors" by WCCO TV.
Getting There: Stillwater is about a 35-minute drive from Minneapolis via MN-36 E.
Travel Tip: Book the kid-friendly (and discounted) Storytime Trolley tour if your trip includes a Saturday morning.
About an hour north of the Twin Cities, Taylors Falls is a quaint city on the St. Croix River. The downtown has shops and restaurants, plus historic houses. A favorite place to stop is The Drive-In, the iconic burger and shake joint of the 50s. Grab a burger and a root beer float and relax at a picnic table outside.
Almost in town is Interstate State Park, for short hikes and interesting geological features—high cliffs and deep "potholes" carved in the rock during the ice ages. There’s also evidence of ancient lava flows and traces of old river beds.
A recommended short hike is the 1.25-mile River Trail, which circles around glacial potholes, holes carved into ancient rock. Some of the holes in the bedrock are huge—the park has more glacial potholes in a small area than any other location in the world.
You can also go paddling. No canoe or kayak? Try Taylor's Falls Canoe and Kayak Rental for trips on the St. Croix River. Located one hour from the Twin Cities, Taylors Falls Canoe and Kayak Rental has one-way trips starting in Minnesota Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls and continuing downstream on the St. Croix to either the Osceola Landing or William O'Brien State Park. Local one-way canoe or kayak rentals are available seven days a week.
You'll find Taylor's Falls Canoe and Kayak Rental at Minnesota Interstate State Park, 307 Miltown Road in Taylors Falls off Hwy 8.
Getting There: Taylors Falls is surrounded by scenic drives, and you may prefer to take the scenic route there from the Twin Cities, along the St. Croix, instead of driving on I-35.
Travel Tip: For a relaxing view of the fall colors, consider a cruise on the river on an old-fashioned paddle wheeler and make your reservation ahead of time.
The Hyland Hills Ski Area in Bloomington, just south of Minneapolis, runs annual Fall Color Chairlift Rides on select weekends. As well as riding the chairlift, there is usually stargazing, a campfire, live music, and great views from the top of one of the highest hills in Hennepin County.
Getting There: It's a quick 15-minute drive to Bloomington via Interstate 35W South. Hyland Hills Ski Area is located at 880 Chalet Road.
Travel Tip: During chairlift ride weekend, the ski area will be open from 5-9 p.m. on Friday and 4-9 p.m. on Saturday. Go early as this is a popular event.