clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Fall foliage recommendations in Minnesota

New, 21 comments

Welcome to Episode 2 of The Slumpbuster Series.

Jesse Lund

"Fate is fait accompli."
- Messaoud Mohammed

Fait Accompli is a term that essentially means something is a done deal. The Confederates were done before General Lee's official surrender; the relationship was over before the breakup; Martin Winterkorn's resignation was guaranteed the moment the Volkswagon story broke. Lee's signature, Winterkorn's resignation, and the official end of the relationship - all fait accompli.

The Minnesota Twins' elimination from the 2015 playoff race? Fait accompli. Maybe that's too deep for a Saturday.

Let's talk about fall foliage instead.

The Basics

There are a great many places in this world where you can see some beautiful autumn colors. New England has some of the best locations in the United States, but while that perhaps makes it the most popular location for seeing colors that doesn't make it the only brilliant one. Up and down the Appalacians, the eastern seaboard south of Washington, and the Pacific northwest all have plenty of options.

Today, we're sticking to Minnesota. Minnesota's scenic beauty is criminally under-rated, as anyone who has spent any time there at all will tell you. Outside of the Red River Valley on the western border of the state, Minnesota is packed with lakes and forests and hills.

Today's recommendations are for those of you already in the state, for those of you with plans to travel to the great midwest, and for those of you who have stumbled across this post in a Google search and are bold enough to choose a travel destination that might not be at the forefront of your mind. Go forth, my friends, and see.

The Colors

First, a bit of science!

Leaf color is based on biochemicals. Green is the result of a pigment called chlorophyll, which is produced through the photosynthesis process. Chlorophyll reflects green light, absorbing blues and reds, but because it's processed faster than it's produced the shorter days in autumn mean less photosynthesis. Less sunlight and lower temperatures lead to less chlorophyll, allowing other pigments to be revealed in leaf color.

Carotenoid compounds give off the yellows and oranges. These compounds are already there during photosynthesis, but they only play a minor role and so become visible when the leaves break down chlorophyll. Reds, purples, and blues are the result of anthocyanin compounds. Sugar and acidity/alkalinity play roles here, but just like the yellows and oranges the colors will be more vibrant on warmer, sunnier autumn days. And here you thought it was all just in your imagination.

Only break out these bits of trivia if you know for a fact that they will impress your company. Otherwise, just point and say "Ooohh, pretty!"

The Recommendations

I browsed a number of websites for suggestions. While I haven't been to all of them personally, they come with fantastic first-hand reviews and are in some of the most beautiful parts of the state. Each entry comes with a title, linked to a website for more information, along with location (closest city or town) as well as the time of year where you're most likely to see the best colors (based off of the DNR's map below).

Name Location Best to View
Cascade River State Park Lutsen Mid September to early October
Chain of Lakes Minneapolis Late September to mid October
Drive to Duluth Harbor Duluth Mid September to early October
Fort Snelling State Park St. Paul Late September to mid October
George H. Crosby Manitou State Park Finland Mid September to early October
Gooseberry Falls State Park Gooseberry Mid September to early October
Grand Portage State Park Grand Portage Mid to late September
Itasca State Park Park Rapids Mid September to early October
Judge CR Magney State Park Grand Marais Mid September to early October
Mille Lacs Lake Lake Mille Lacs Late September to early October
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Chaska Late September to mid October
Mississippi River Bluffs Winona Early to mid October
Northland Arboretum Brainerd Late September to early October
Sawtooth Mountains Lutsen Mid September to early October
St. Anthony Main Minneapolis Late September to mid October
St. Croix River MN/WI border Late September to mid October, depending on location
Temperance River State Park Schroeder Mid September to early October
Tettegouche State Park Silver Bay Mid September to early October
The North Shore Two Harbors Mid September to early October
Whitewater State Park Altura Early to mid October


Below is a map from the DNR which indicates which times of the year are the best times to view colors in a certain part of the state. Please remember that this is just a guide, and that you can find weekly fall color updates for Minnesota here.

Minnesota Fall Foliage

Additional Notes

If you check out any of these places, I approve of photographic evidence. I grew up in Minnesota and I'll certainly return there, but for the time being I'm out of state and so am very happy to live vicariously through your adventures. I also recommend having a look at the Superior National Forest Fall Colors Blog.

Here are just a few additional resources for you, in case giving you actual locations and websites and dates isn't everything you could possibly want from this Slumpbuster post.

Best Foliage Drives in Minnesota

Best Other

I did try to avoid duplicates in this post, but if I at all failed you have my sincerest apologies. Just get out there and see the colors and let me know when you're over it. Oh, and the Twins will never win again.