In Minnesota, the trees start to change color in the middle of September and continue into mid-October, offering beautiful views for both locals and visitors in the Twin Cities metro area of Minneapolis and St. Paul. There are many places to see fall colors in the area, some just a short drive away from Minneapolis-St. Paul. For those wanting a more in-depth look at nature's hues, some historic avenues, parks, wildlife refuges, and other areas are ideal for walking or hiking. A local ski area even provides an original way to see the seasonal foliage via a chairlift ride that includes a campfire and live music.
Sample the season with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource's fall color finder, which includes frequent updates on the status of foliage in state parks, peak times, an option for email alerts, and a trip planning function.
The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum at the University of Minnesota in Chaska, open since 1958, has one of the largest varieties of trees you'll see anywhere in the state. Take a scenic drive through the Arboretum's forest consisting of over 1,200 acres of gardens, or walk around the miles of trails and admire the leaves.
Tickets must be bought online in advance. An admission charge applies, though children under 15 are free.
Scenic Drives on Avenues and Parkways
Minnesota is an excellent destination for a fall foliage drive. In St. Paul, mature trees run the length of Summit Avenue, a pretty drive where the architecture of the houses is as worthy of admiration as the leaves. Walking tours are available through the end of September if you'd like to learn about the architecture and history of what is said to be the longest avenue of Victorian homes in the U.S.
Minnehaha Parkway in Minneapolis and the Great River Road on both sides of the Mississippi River are also very pleasant drives during the fall. The bridges on Lake Street and Ford Parkway boast lovely views of the Mississippi from which you can spot colorful trees.
The Twin Cities are blessed with several wonderful city parks. Some are large like Minnehaha Falls Regional Park, one of the oldest parks in Minneapolis, where visitors can enjoy not only colorful leaves but river views, a waterfall, and limestone bluffs. Also charging no entrance fee is the biggest park in Minneapolis, Theodore Wirth Regional Park, which is nice for a picnic, fishing, soccer, and numerous other activities.
In St. Paul, an interesting way to see the foliage is from above in Highland Park's historic water tower. There are usually open houses at the tower two times a year, but they are canceled for 2020. Hidden Falls Regional Park has no entrance fee. It's also an ideal place to walk, enjoy the fall foliage along nearly 7 miles (11 kilometers) of paved trails, and stop for a picnic.
Hyland Hills Ski Area
Hyland Hills Ski Area within Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Bloomington, about 15 minutes south of Minneapolis, offers a creative and fun way to see the foliage. Their annual Fall Color Chairlift Rides are typically the second weekend in October. Along with being escorted to the top of the chairlift, the ride usually includes stargazing, a campfire, live music, and great views from the top of one of the highest hills in Hennepin County.
The ski area is also a nice place to enjoy activities like snowboarding, renting a chalet, and golfing. You can also explore the raptors, reptiles, and other creatures at Richardson Nature Center, which is closed temporarily as of mid-October.
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Along the Minnesota River Valley, wetlands and wooded areas are protected for native plants and trees to flourish, which in turn support native birds and animals. The Bloomington Education and Visitor Center, the refuge headquarters, is closed temporarily as of mid-October 2020. Another helpful place to start your foliage journey is The Rapids Lake Education and Visitor Center in Carver, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Minneapolis. The refuge has trails and hiking paths open for visitors to admire fall colors, shoot some lovely photos, and spot local wildlife. Take a short half-mile loop, or explore more than 30 miles (48 kilometers) of hiking trails through prairie, woodland, and wetlands in this area, which has over 14,000 acres of land.
Local Lakes and Rivers
If you canoe or kayak, then you probably already thought of paddling the lakes and rivers here, guaranteeing a gorgeous view of fall colors. The Three Rivers Park District has more than 30 rivers, lakes, and streams, and the district supplies all the gear and can take you on a kayaking fall color tour for a different perspective. Pick an urban or quieter area at Lake Minnetonka, Lake Rebecca, Cleary Lake, Whitetail Lake, or along the Mississippi River.
The banks of the Mississippi River, especially in the Mississippi River Gorge in St. Paul and East Minneapolis, are heavily wooded. Padelford Riverboats offers a fall color trip, departing from downtown St. Paul. You can also walk along the trails, the East River Road, or West River Road, along each side of the river.
Fort Snelling and Afton State Parks
Fort Snelling State Park, centrally located between Minneapolis and St. Paul, where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers converge, has rolling hills to hike, and plenty of trees and wildflowers to admire. The park typically offers fishing, biking, cross-country skiing, and interpretive exhibits, along with other activities. Day-use permits are available for a cost; there is no camping.
Afton State Park, on the east side of the Metro area in Hastings, has hiking, walking, and leaf-admiring opportunities with views of the St. Croix River. The park is also a nice spot for swimming, fishing, camping, and naturalist programs. This park offers day-use and camping permits.
Before you go, check park websites for closures due to weather, events, and other changing conditions.
Lake of the Isles Park and Nicollet Island
Bring binoculars to view the islands on Lake of the Isles Park in Minneapolis, where there is no fee to enter. The lake's two wooded islands and trees can be seen easily from shore, but many birds preparing for their fall migration make use of the islands. Visit early in the morning for the best chance of seeing a rare bird species, or stop by anytime for the leaves. The park has walking and biking paths, and hockey and ice skating rinks, as well as additional fun recreational options.
Nicollet Island, in the Mississippi River a bit north of Saint Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis, is the best urban spot to see fall colors, but with skyscrapers rising behind the leaves. Check out the paths by the water and lovely Victorian houses on the island. Also, Nicollet Island Park is a good place to relax with a picnic and enjoy a view of the first dam on the Mississippi, built in 1858.
Caponi Art Park
Caponi Art Park in Eagen, just 15 minutes from St. Paul, has 60 acres of rolling hills, lakes, and woodland—with miles of walking paths for viewing the fall colors—a large collection of sculptures, an outdoor amphitheater, and more. Self-guided tours detail the park's history and artwork, or you may prefer a walking tour with a trained docent. You can also check out Shrines to Nature, a temporary art installment by popular artist Christopher Lutter-Gardella. The park has free admission, but it gladly accepts donations.