On Fall's Trail in Minnesota

What to Do & Where to Do It

Bike Brainerd Lakes and Mille Lacs

Follow the trail of Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox. Gull, Pelican, and Cross lakes and the Whitefish chain of lakes sparkle amid woods of maple, oak, birch and aspen. Mille Lacs's Kathio State Park is an expanse of colorful forest at the edge of Mille Lacs—an observation tower here offers fantastic views. The paved Paul Bunyan Bike Trail runs between Brainerd and Hackensack.

Access: Trails are generally in the area of Highway 371
Peak color: Late September to early OctoberPaddle the North Shore of Lake SuperiorTrees along the greatest of the Great Lakes provide great seasonal display for kayakers and canoers, and several state parks offer rivers, waterfalls, hiking trails, and scenic overlooks. You'll see yellow aspen and birch along the shoreline, with scarlet maples inland along forest roads. Paddle with mountains of fall color on one side and a lake with no visible limit on the other, navigating the craggy lava-scapes that dance beneath Superior's waters. Make sure you have a reservation for a place to stay to avoid the crowds, go during the week.

Access: Countless inputs available along Highway 61, Duluth to Grand Portage
Peak color: Mid-September to early October

Drive the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway

Minnesota's Great North Woods offer an inspiring fall driving experience. This magnificent scenic highway winds over hills through the colorful mix of pine and hardwoods of Chippewa National Forest. Return via County Road 7, and a side trip to beautiful Scenic State Park. Or take one of the back roads through the forest, with stops at lakes and hiking trails.

Route: Highway 38, Grand Rapids to Bigfork
Peak color: Mid-September to early October

Hike the Trails of the Virginia-Cook Area

Great trails across rugged terrain. Towering trees set alongside lots of lakes and creeks make for a hiking paradise. Superior National Forest features scented green pines and high-color hardwoods, with plenty of lakes and hiking trails off the side roads. (Great biking trails, too.) From Virginia to Tower, Hwy. 35 is an easy drive. From Cook, Co. Roads. 23 & 24 (part paved, part gravel) are scenic back roads that wind their way through the forest.

Access: Various trails off Highway 135 and County Road 23 and 24
Peak color: Mid-September to early October

Bike the Bluff Country Pedal by pastures and farm fields scattered among rugged bluffs, wooded ravines and quiet valleys. The hardwood forest is especially scenic in the fall. Highlights include Beaver Creek and Forestville state parks, the popular Root River Bike Trail, interesting shops in Lanesboro and Harmony, and several colorful fall festivals. The attractions of the bluff land are no longer a secret, so you may want to reserve a place to stay, or try nearby Winona or Rochester for additional accommodations.

Access: Look for trails near Highways 16, 43 and 76, plus County Roads 4, 10, 12 and 21
Peak color: Mid-October

Hike the Mississippi Headwaters

Looking for the origin of North America's longest waterway? Itasca State Park is where you'll find it: the source of the mighty Mississippi. Lake Bemidji State Park, surrounded by birch and pine, is another natural highlight of the area. Bikers are welcome too: you'll find a paved bike trail in Itasca, and mountain bike trails in Bemidji State Park. The nearby Heartland Trail also offers some very scenic biking.

Access: Itasca State Park along Highway 71 between Park Rapids and Bemidji, and along numerous other trails in the area
Peak color: Mid-September to early October

Drive Along the Minnesota River

Follow the bends of the river, its banks bordered with yellow and gold hardwood. Riverside parks in LeSueur, St. Peter, Mankato, and New Ulm, as well as bluff top overlooks in New Ulm. At Minneopa State Park, a trail follows the riverbank and takes you past the famed 45-foot double waterfalls along Minneopa Creek.

Route: County Road 6 & Highway 93 from Belle Plaine to LeSueur, thenHighway 169 to Mankato, then Highway 68 to New Ulm.
Peak color: Late September to mid-October

Drive the Northern Mississippi River Valley

This drive offers charming river towns and wooded bluffs along the Mississippi. In autumn the steep hillsides dress up in brilliant hues of red, russet and gold. Stop at one of several scenic overlooks, including those at Frontenac and Great River Bluffs state parks. Munch apples from roadside stands. This is a popular fall drive, so book your stay ahead of time.

Route: Highway 61 between Red Wing and La Crescent
Peak color: Mid-October

Paddle the St. Croix

The scenic St. Croix River winds through wooded hillsides and sheer cliffs. Four state parks feature great river views: Interstate, Wild River, William O'Brien and Afton. The riverside towns of Stillwater, Taylors Falls and Afton offer places to stay, though this popular area fills up fast on the weekends.

Access: Numerous river access points stretching north of Taylors Falls and cascading past Afton
Peak color: Late September to mid-October

Bike Otter Tail County

This is great biking land, where the prairie meets the forest. The rolling countryside between Fergus Falls and Perham is a blend of wooded hills, lakes, and farmland. Highlights are Maplewood and Glendalaugh state parks, historic Phelps Mill, and the view from Inspiration Peak, off Co. Rd. 38. Fall bikers will find a bit more solitude here than on the more heavily traveled routes.

Access: Trails and roads can be accessed along Highways 108 and 78
Peak color: Late September to early October

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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