Minnesota fall foliage guide: Best places to see fall colors and other family-friendly things to do in the Land of 10,000 Lakes
When I first moved to Vermont, I had no idea leaf-peeping was a thing. I mean, fall foliage is technically a season Vermont builds tourism around. While we haven’t lived in Vermont for 30 years, it holds a special place in my heart. (UVM alum right here…go Cats!).
So when autumn comes around in Minnesota I get a little homesick for the Vermont foliage season. But there’s an easy fix – take a road trip to the scenic North Shore in Minnesota or along the scenic byways of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers to the Minnesota state parks and many more places – including your own backyard – all great places to chase fall colors in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
When do fall colors peak in Minnesota?
Typically, fall colors peak between late September to late-October in Minnesota. However, I’ve visited several of these places after the official peak time in early November and the fall colors are still doing their thing. The timing of the autumn colors peaking depends on where you are in Minnesota as well as the weather. When looking to find the best fall colors near me, I always check the Minnesota DNR Fall Color Finder. You can even sign up for updates to be notified by text or email when fall colors start to peak throughout Minnesota.
With millions of acres of forests, Minnesota is one of the best places in the U.S. to see fall colors
More than a third of Minnesota is covered in forests. That’s 17.6 million acres. So it’s no surprise that Minnesota is a leaf-peeper’s paradise. Join me on a virtual tour of some of my favorite places for fall foliage colors in Minnesota.
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Minnesota foliage road trip along the North Shore of Lake Superior
Minnesota’s most scenic drive is the North Shore along Lake Superior. This is the perfect place for a fall foliage road trip. Here are a few of the best places in Minnesota to see fall colors along the North Shore.
Lutsen Mountains, Lutsen, Minn.
The Lutsen Mountains area in Minnesota is beautiful in every season – especially when the fall colors of gold, orange and reds start peaking against the green pine trees. Lutsen is where you can enjoy the dramatic panoramic view of the Sawtooth Mountains and Lake Superior.
The Summit Express Gondola at Lutsen Mountains takes you 1,000 feet up Moose Mountain for some stunning fall foliage views. You’ll find a mountaintop chalet and can grab a ride back down. Or there are several trails at Lutsen Mountains to hike if you prefer to trek down among the greens, golds and reds of autumn leaves.
And if you time your visit to Lutsen Moutains early in the fall, you can also take in an alpine ride to enjoy all the beautiful foliage scenery.
Tettegouche State Park | Silver Bay, Minn.
Tettegouche State Park, one of my favorite Minnesota state parks, in Silver Bay, Minn. offers beautiful hiking trails, the Baptism River, waterfalls and the stunning Palisade Head. These soaring sheer cliffs overlook the rugged shores of Lake Superior.
Palisade Head and Shovel Point at Tettegouche State Park | Silver Bay, Minn.
For some breathtaking and panoramic views of Lake Superior during fall foliage season (or any season), stop at Tettegouche State Park’s Palisade Head. It’s located rght along Highway 61 (North Shore scenic byway). The entrance is two miles from the main entrance of Tettegouche State Park, and this view is just a short distance from the parking area.
Warning: You’ll appreciate the unobstructed views of the sheer cliffs of Palisade Head, Shovel Point and Lake Superior. However, use great caution (especially with children) as the cliffs at Palisade Head rise 300 feet above the lake. Several people have fallen over the years resulting in serious injuries and even death.
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park | Two Harbors, Minn.
The iconic Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors is one of the top things to do in Minnesota and on the North Shore. While most of the buildings are currently closed because of the pandemic, you can roam the grounds to enjoy some beautiful fall colors. The area also offers many bike and hiking trails – the famed Superior Hiking Trail runs through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. See my local’s guide to the historic Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in Minnesota.
It’s only a quarter-mile hike down to the Lake Superior shoreline to capture a stunning pic of the historic Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, Minnesota. I don’t recall how many steps down and back up, but thinking close to 200. You can find places to stop on the stairs and take additional shots of the Split Rock Lighthouse, Lake Superior and fall foliage while you catch your breath.
Gooseberry Falls State Park |Two Harbors, Minn.
If you love waterfalls, you must visit Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota’s most popular state park. The whole family can enjoy an easy hike on a paved trail around the falls top to bottom. This state park is less than seven miles south of Split Rock Lighthouse. While it’s beautiful all year round, the fall colors here at Gooseberry Falls are pretty spectacular.
Beaver Bay, Minn.
Beaver Bay, Minn. was our base camp while exploring the North Shore during fall foliage season. We stayed in a cottage at the beautiful Cove Point Lodge overlooking Lake Superior – easy day trips to check out the beautiful fall colors from this Minnesota location.
Silver Bay, Minn.
For a variety of scenic fall colors, check out Silver Bay, Minn., which offers 21 hiking trails. The trail that leads you to a scenic overlook of the city of Silver Bay and Lake Superior is relatively short (but may have some natural overgrowth that you’ll need to hike over or around). Silver Bay is a beautiful destination along the North Shore of Minnesota during fall foliage season.
Agate Bay | Two Harbors, Minn.
We stopped in the town of Two Harbors, Minn. to check out the fall colors surrounding the lighthouse and to take a short hike along Lake Superior’s Agate Bay. While there were warnings to watch out for bears when we went hiking, I was happy and surprised to come across only a deer.
Silver Creek Cliff Wayside Park and Tunnel | Two Harbors, Minn.
While on the most scenic highway in Minnesota (Highway 61), be sure to pull over at the Silver Creek Cliff Tunnel overlook near Two Harbors, Minn. You’ll actually go through two tunnels on this fall foliage road trip. Check out That Traveling Chick’s post for more details and photos.
Moose Lake State Park | Moose Lake, Minn.
Less than two hours north of the Twin Cities and only 40 miles south of Duluth – the gateway to the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota is Moose Lake State Park. This MN state park offers several easy hikes through forests of tall trees and alongside Echo Lake. I hiked Moose Lake after fall color peak time and it was still beautiful.
St. Croix State Park | Hinckley, Minn.
Less than two hours north of the Twin Cities (and south of the North Shore), you’ll find Minnesota’s largest state park, St. Croix State Park. The 33,895 acres feature some of my favorite fall foliage spots in Minnesota. Trails wind along two rivers – Kettle and St. Croix, which you can hike alongside or go kayaking or canoeing.
St. Croix State Park fire tower offers the best views of fall colors in Minnesota
Minnesota’s largest state park also features a 100-ft. fire tower that you can climb for some amazing fall foliage views. Check MN state park’s website for the latest updates.
Built in 1937, the St. Croix State Park Fire Tower is one of the 123 fire towers that were used to monitor wind and fire damage. Most fire towers are decommissioned (this one in 1981) as they now use aerial surveys.
Here’s a video clip of my son and husband climbing the St. Croix State Park fire tower. I joined them a few minutes later – and it was a workout (also went back up a couple of weeks later with my friend).
Chase fall colors at Minnesota state parks, regional parks, city parks and Minnesota lakes
Head to your local state parks for some beautiful fall foliage this autumn. Check out my Exploring MN state parks challenge series and my local’s guide to the best Minnesota lakes for some inspiration on where to find fall colors.
You’ll find spectacular fall colors at Beaver Creek Valley State Park in Caledonia, Minn. This beautiful state park with its stunning bluff views and switchback trail is worth the drive to the southeast corner of Minnesota.
One of my favorite Minnesota state parks for fall colors is Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in Preston, MN. The photo above was actually taken past peak season for autumn foliage in Minnesota (early November 2020).
Loved all my beautiful hikes at Minnesota state parks last fall. Lake Louise State Park in Le Roy, Minn. is perfect if you’re looking for solitude and beautiful colors in southern MN.
Chasing waterfalls and fall colors in Minnesota
One of the best things to do in Minnesota in autumn is chase waterfalls.
Minnehaha Regional Park in Minneapolis, featuring the 53-foot Minnehaha Falls waterfall, is especially beautiful in autumn with its fall colors.
And since you’re in the neighborhood (kinda), you can find another beautiful waterfall surrounded by fall colors in Minneapolis about five miles away from Minnehaha Falls. St. Anthony Falls is located right on the Mississippi River.
Minnesota’s state parks are my favorite places to chase fall colors. Pictured is the beautiful autumn colors that frame the double waterfall at Minneopa State Park (this is the top half of the cascading water). Added bonus: This state park is one of two that is home to a bison herd. The other is Blue Mounds State Park in southwest Minnesota near the Iowa and South Dakota borders.
Chasing fall colors in your own backyard
This willow tree is my favorite tree in any season – especially when it showcases its golden fall colors. And it’s only a few blocks away from me at Antlers Park overlooking Lake Marion in Lakeville, Minn.
And then just a few miles away on the other side of Lake Marion are the brilliant fall colors at Ritter Farm Park – still in Lakeville, Minn.
And sometimes you don’t even have to leave your front yard to capture beautiful fall foliage. I captured a lot of really cool photos of trees at night and the wee hours in the morning typically between 2 and 3 a.m. over the past year. That’s because our miniature dachshund, Romeo, and I had a weird sleep schedule. We had to say goodbye to our beloved Romeo earlier this summer so this image of the autumn leaves at night is bittersweet as it reminds me of those quiet nights of just him and me and the trees.
“There is a time for everything. There’s a time for everything that is done on earth. There is a time to be born. And there is a time to die. There is a time to plant. And there’s a time to pull up what is planted.”Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
Best places for fall leaves in the Twin Cities: Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minn.
One of the best neighborhoods for stunning autumn colors is the historic Summit Ave. in St. Paul, Minn.
Take a stroll along the historic Summit Ave. in St. Paul, Minn. during fall foliage season. You will not be disappointed. Learn more about the prettiest street in Minnesota and the Twin Cities: A local’s guide to the historic and beautiful homes of Summit Ave.
Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota features the best fall colors in the Twin Cities
One of my favorite places in the Twin Cities for a peaceful urban hike or stroll to reflect is Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. It’s beautiful in any season especially the fall. See my related post: Most beautiful cemeteries in the world.
Other fun things to do in the fall in Minnesota
Here are some other top fun fall activities to do in Minnesota.
Top things to do in Minnesota in the fall: Take a history tour
When heading to the North Shore of Minnesota, start off your fall foliage road trip by visiting Minnesota’s most popular historic home – Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, Minn. – the gateway to the North Shore.
How beautiful is the image of Glensheen Mansion that I captured last summer? I’ve also toured the historic home in the winter (hosted by Glensheen Mansion both times; opinions are my own). I need to head back up that way soon to take autumn shots of Glensheen’s garden and grounds. Note that they have social-distancing guidelines in place and there is plenty of outdoor space on this 12-acre estate.
History Center of Olmsted County and Mayowood Mansion
The History Center of Olmsted County and Mayowood Mansion hosted my husband and me on several history tours during the fall season. And it was the perfect time to visit to check out all the fall foliage at both historic locations in Rochester, Minn. Opinions, of course, are always my own.
One of my favorite historical tours and places to visit for fall colors: Mayowood Mansion – home of one of Dr. Charles H. Mayo and Edith Mayo.
The History Center of Olmsted County. The 54 acres includes two historic farmsteads, historic buildings and the History Center museum – and plenty of opportunity for some leaf-peeping at all the fall colors. You can read about our great experience as we traveled back to the 1800s in Minnesota. And you’ll have to check out the History Center of Olmsted County’s annual creepy doll contest they run every Halloween.
Top things to do in Minnesota in the fall: Visit a nature center
While we were in Rochester, Minn. last fall, we visited the Quarry Hill Nature Center. The visitor center was super cool and educational; however, it is currently closed due to the pandemic . Regardless, Quarry Hill Nature Center is still worth a visit to hike along the easy paved paths and check out the old quarry and caves. We loved looking at the fall colors while hiking at Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, Minn. last autumn. Here’s a local’s guide to the best hiking trails within 50 miles of Rochester.
Top things to do in the fall in Minnesota: Minnesota Zoo Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular
One of the best family-friendly events in the Twin Cities is the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular at the Minnesota Zoo. This magical trail features more than 5,000 creative pumpkin carvings. Special thanks to the Minnesota Zoo for hosting me again this year. Opinions, of course, are always my own. Check out my review of one of the top things to do in Minnesota this Halloween season: Review and photo gallery of the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular.
Additionally, you can enjoy a virtual tour of our Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular experience. This is one of my top things to do in the fall in Minnesota. And it’s great inspiration to carve the most creative jack-o-lanterns this Halloween.
Top things to do in the fall in Minnesota: corn mazes
I grew up in Iowa and when I visited friends on the farm, we’d play hide and seek in the cornfields. But I didn’t experience my first corn maze until I was an adult. And it’s been a fun family tradition (even before we had our son).
Sever’s Fall Festival and its corn maze has entertained our family for years – located in the Twin Cities metro area of Shakopee, Minn. It’s one of our top things to do in Minnesota in the fall. You must order tickets online.
Some of the best things to do at Sever’s Fall Festival include the largest corn maze in Minnesota, corn pit, jumping pillows, pumpkin blasters and more.
Top things to do in the fall in Minnesota: haunted tours
Several iconic haunted house and haunted tours in Minnesota such as Valley Scare at Valley State Park in Shakopee, MN and Scream Town in Chaska, Minn. are open during the Halloween season. We loved our Haunted Rochester Trolley tour in Rochester, Minn. The trolley is open air and most stops are outside. However, they may put the plastic flaps down during the tour. Here’s a local guide to the top things to do in Rochester in the fall or any season.
Although not located in Minnesota, you may be interested in my experience staying at one of the most haunted hotels in America: The Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, Mass. While I don’t necessarily find cemeteries scary, here’s a list of my pursuit of the best cemeteries in the world – including a few here in Minnesota.
Top things to do in the fall in Minnesota: apple picking
Apple picking at the local apple orchard is always a top thing to do in Minnesota. Fun fact: My favorite apple, honeycrisp, was developed here in Minnesota.
Top things to do in Minnesota in the fall: Homegating – the new way to tailgate
One of our family’s favorite thing to do in the fall in Minnesota is to tailgate before Minnesota Vikings home games. If you’re unable to tailgate at the stadium, try homegating. Check out my post: The year of homegating – the new way to tailgate. Skol!
Top things to do in Minnesota (or anywhere) in the fall: ongoing quest for the best mac and cheese
Fall is sweater weather, boot season and the official restart of my ongoing quest for the best mac and cheese – not just in Minnesota in the fall – but anywhere during any season. I have an entire blog post dedicated to the best mac and cheese in the U.S. Mac and cheese – the best comfort food in the fall.
So when you’re in Rochester, Minn. to check out Mayowood Mansion, the History Center of Olmsted County and Quarry Hill Nature Center, Chester’s Kitchen & Bar offers one of Minnesota’s best lobster mac and cheese.
And one of my top three places for lobster mac and cheese in the U.S. is located in the Twin Cities. You can find Lobster Smack Shack in Minneapolis, Minn. as well as the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport in Bloomington, Minn.
And not only does this former food truck turned brick-and-mortar restaurant have the best lobster mac and cheese, I’m also a huge fan of Smack Shack’s lobster guacamole. Yes, lobster guac is a thing. A really delicious thing!
If you need more inspiration on what to do in the fall in Minnesota or anywhere, check out That Traveling Chick’s top 10 list of things to do outside in the fall. I also recommend checking out my top things to pack on a day hike.
And if you’re looking forward to the season that comes after fall (who are you people?), here are the top 90 things to do in the winter in Minnesota and other brrrrlow-zero states.
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