No matter what time of year it is, Minnesota offers an endless supply of natural wonders to enjoy. However, there is nothing that compares to the state’s gorgeous transformation of colors during the fall season. From early to mid-September through October, the Land of 10,000 Lakes undergoes a spectacular metamorphosis, beginning at the north end of the state and then spreading south. When it’s time for leaf peeping, you can see crimson red and glittering gold maple trees, dogwoods with stunning red twigs and rich purple leaves, and smoke trees that transform from blue-green to fiery yellow and red-orange. But with so much natural beauty, where should you go to see the leaves? Here are the five best spots for leaf peeping in Minnesota!
When is the Best Time to go Leaf Peeping in Minnesota?
Although spectacular, fall in Minnesota is often a short season. The changing colors begin along the state’s northern border, usually in the beginning or middle of September, and then spread south through the end of the month and into October. Peak foliage typically lasts around two weeks. However, many factors go into when the leaves change color, and how long they stay on the trees. Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources has also developed a Fall Color Finder to assist you as you plan your leaf peeping trips. Let’s take a closer look at the best spots for leaf peeping in Minnesota!
1. North Shore
One of the most popular spots for leaf peeping in Minnesota is North Shore, which stretches for 150 miles of Lake Superior’s shoreline, starting in Duluth and ending at Grand Portage. Not only is the scenery breathtaking, but there are so many places to see and fun to be had in this beautiful stretch of Minnesota.
The North Shore Scenic Drive offers a long stretch of natural beauty. But if you prefer hiking through the colorful autumn splendor, try North Shore’s Caribou Rock Trail, which has three overlooks and a waterfall. If you’re more into arts and crafts, head over to the village of Grand Marais. You can see the beautiful fall colors reflected in Lake Superior’s crystal-clear waters, and maybe even learn something new with a class at the North House Folk School.
Another great way to experience leaf peeping in North Shore is to head up to Lutsen Resort, where you can hike through the mountains, and even take a gondola ride to see the leaves. If you want to try something even more adventurous, you can watch the leaves whiz by in an exciting array of colors as you ride the Alpine Slide on Lutsen’s Eagle Mountain!
Of course, if you prefer leaf peeping from the safety of the ground, you can always drive along Highway 61. Driving the 150 miles without stopping takes around three hours — although stopping for photoshoots is half the fun!
2. Saint Croix State Park
Another excellent spot for leaf peeping in Minnesota is Saint Croix State Park. The park includes two large rivers (St. Croix River and Kettle River), as well as several streams. The combination of water features and stunning fall foliage makes this an ideal leaf peeping spot. There are also numerous trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, depending on your preferred method of locomotion as you enjoy leaf peeping through the park. Fall is also the peak season for migration, so keep your eyes open for birds as they pass through the beautiful trees.
For the ultimate 360-degree leaf peeping experience, you can head seven miles to the west of the park office and climb the fire tower — there’s nothing quite like gazing at the changing colors of the park’s foliage from 100 feet off the ground! The fire tower is a fun activity no matter the season, but in the fall, you can enjoy sweeping views of endless amber oak trees, twinkling yellow aspens, and vibrant red maples.
With so much to do and see, you might want to camp out in the park, or reserve one of the many vacation rentals or B&Bs nearby. Another great option is to visit the charming town of Taylors Falls. You can also hop aboard the Historic Stillwater Trolley tour to witness the colorful transformation of the ornamental trees scattered throughout the Victorian-era mansions and landscapes.
3. Great River Bluffs State Park
For a mix of colorful fall foliage and beautiful rock formations, head to southern Minnesota’s Great River Bluffs State Park. The park contains portions of the Mississippi River Valley, making its 3,000-acre preserve a lush and beautiful site. It is the perfect place for hiking, with excellent views of the changing leaves.
Kings Bluff Trail is one of the best leaf peeping spots in the park, from which you can see the park’s expansive rolling hills, the surrounding river, and of course, all the beautiful leaves. Another must-see stop is Vermillion Falls Park. Its rocky falls are surrounded by colorful trees, making it the perfect spot for leaf-peeing and fall photoshoots! If you’re looking for a shorter hike, you can try the trail leading up to Barn Bluff, where you can see picturesque views of the Mississippi River and surrounding areas.
4. Twin Cities
While many of the best leaf peeping spots in Minnesota are in the state’s northern areas, you can also witness beautiful fall colors in the Twin Cities. In fact, within just an hour of Minneapolis-St. Paul you can find numerous pumpkin patches and orchards for apple picking as you enjoy the changing leaves.
The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum provides one of the most beautifully diverse selections of leaf peeping colors for fall. From well-manicured gardens to prairies, woodlands, and forested areas, there is plenty to see and enjoy in the arboretum’s 1,200 acres of natural beauty. In October you can check out the Arb’s unique displays of pumpkins, squash, and gourds, and even buy your own to make some delicious pumpkin spice treats when you get home. You can also visit the AppleHouse, just a mile west of the main entrance, for Minnesota apples, pies, and cider.
A unique outdoor oasis found in the heart of the Twin Cities is Minnehaha Falls. Head to downtown Minneapolis to see this beautiful 53-foot-tall waterfall surrounded by fiery fall colors. And of course, the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis should not be missed, especially in the tranquility of the cooler fall weather. For stunning fall colors and your own little nature-therapy right in the city, check out the paths of Lyndale Park, Lyndale Farmstead, Lake Harriet, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, Brownie Lake, and Cedar Lake.
5. Quarry Park and Nature Preserve
One of the best leaf peeping spots in Central Minnesota is Quarry Park and Nature Preserve. Its 683 acres consist of wetlands, open prairie, scenic woodlands, and unquarried bedrock areas. There are also numerous trails, swimming quarries, picnic areas, granite quarries and historical exhibits, and even places for rock climbing.
In the fall everything is transformed by colorful aspens and oak trees, in addition to other plants like Indian paintbrushes, prickly pear cactuses, and yellow lady’s slippers. The fall colors are especially stunning when reflected in the clear water of the granite reflecting pools. Enjoy the tranquility and beauty of autumn as you walk, hike, or bike through this unique hidden gem in Minnesota. There is a $5-$10 fee for parking, but it is well worth the experience.
Bonus: Hidden Falls in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park
Southern Minnesota is often the last area of the state for the leaves to begin their annual transformation. It is also home to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, which is an excellent spot for leaf peeping. Since this is one of the lesser-known leaf-peeping spots in Minnesota, you won’t be fighting crowds to enjoy the fall colors.
There are many trails and networks throughout the park, all surrounded by thick forests filled with many different types of trees. In the fall, the leaves are beautiful with many different colors. A short hike (only a mile long or so) takes you to Hidden Falls, the secret gem of Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. As you walk along the trail, you can often see rocks covered in moss, animals, native plants, and more. The forest is lovely and quiet, which makes it a good place for hiking.
The Hidden Falls waterfall is not very tall — just 20 feet — but its location makes its beauty almost otherworldly. The waterfall is also wider than it is tall, so you can get close to it. It’s such a tranquil and charming spot, you’ll definitely want to stop to take some pictures. The best part is that it’s just as pretty no matter what time of year it is, although in the fall the colorful leaves make it feel like a magical oasis.
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- Department of Natural Resources, Available here: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fall_colors/index.html