Where to See Fall Foliage in Minnesota

Grand Marais, on the north shore of Lake Superior, is awash with gold in the autumn
Grand Marais, on the north shore of Lake Superior, is awash with gold in the autumn | © Joe Mamer Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Mike Title
12 October 2020

Fall is a season that many look forward to in Minnesota, with the sun out and the countryside bursting with autumnal hues – not least thanks to the many different kinds of maple tree to be found here. The colours hit their peak any time between late September and mid-October (depending on the weather), so we at Culture Trip have picked the best spots to hit if you’re planning a fall trip in the North Star State.

Grand Marais

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In the North Shore region – near the Sawtooth Mountains and around Lake Superior – you’ll find cultural Grand Marais, a town bursting with glorious trails and dedicated to its arts and crafts. It’s a great spot to witness the change in foliage, too – the morning glow of light reflecting off the mountains sets you up for a day in nature, or for just hanging around this lively seafront town. Wherever you look – whether it’s to the sky, the reflection on the lake or even the setting sun itself – the deep reds, oranges and yellows are in abundance.

Stillwater

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The St Croix River is only about half an hour’s drive east from central Minneapolis, and it’s here that you’ll find the delightful small town of Stillwater. The Stillwater Riverboat Cruises company has been running Fall Color Cruises for over 30 years, and though there are many ways to experience the wonderful colors, sitting back on these fantastic paddle boats as you idly cruise down the river is up there with the best. Around Stillwater itself there are many trails to follow into the woods and the local wineries are well worth a visit, too.

Ely

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Fall Colors near Ely, MN.
© Elizabeth Wold / Alamy Stock Photo
If you want to avoid the crowds, head for the town of Ely, nestled deep in the Superior National Forest beside the Canadian border. As you can well imagine, this is the kind of trip that immerses you deep into the colors and aromas of fall, with a connection with nature that is almost primal. It’s a trip for those wishing to experience mountain ash, maple, aspen and oak trees in true calmness. If you’re really adventurous, try a log cabin sauna and a swim in the lake.

Itasca State Park

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USA, Minnesota, Itasca State Park
© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
Itasca State Park is a 32,000-acre (12,950-ha) sanctuary in the northeast of Minnesota, up where the Mississippi River begins its journey to the Gulf of Mexico. With wildlife in abundance, the towering trees might almost be from another world. With red and white pines, northern white cedars, tall white spruce and giant mighty old oaks, you’ll feel spoiled by the array of foliage on display. There is no shortage of campsites here either, offering lodges or cabins – and the chance to disappear into the beauty of nature for a spell.

Red Wing

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The town of Red Wing is roughly an hour’s drive southeast of Minneapolis, on the banks of the Upper Mississippi River. Visitors are drawn here by the promise fo excellent hiking, complete with vast woodland filled with scarlet trees. One popular trek is 20 miles (32km) along the Cannon Valley, taking you through the forests along the lakefront, with bald eagles soaring overhead. It is a chance to really get up close to nature in all its glory, so it’s unsurprisingly splendid in the fall. Alternatively, the Barn Bluff hike leads you onto a 340ft (104m) ridge with spectacular views of the surrounding area.

Eagan

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Autumn leaves reflected in Jensen Lake at Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, MN.
© Joe Mamer Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Eagan is only 18mi (29km) south of Minneapolis and is a popular place to visit in the fall, particularly for those keen to hike into the hills. There are around 1,000 small lakes, wetlands and ponds surrounded by maples, boxelders, white oaks and green and black ash trees, all of which turn gold and red in the fall. Caponi Art Park is also particularly pleasant, with over 60 acres (24ha) of wooded landscape and trails, and several large sculptures on display.

These recommendations were updated on October 12, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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