Some of the America’s most gorgeous fall colors aren’t in New England…they’re in Minnesota.
The Land of 10,000 Lakes isn’t just known for the water. Minnesota is nearly one-third forest, featuring 53 species of trees, including beautiful deciduous varieties that turn a rainbow of colors in the fall.
Planning a road trip to see MN leaves during peak colors? Use the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Fall Color Finder for up-to-date info on which areas have zero percent color change and where it’s already past peak hues.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on December 20, 2023 to include additional information for a few locations, along with updated imagery.
Our Top Picks for Fall Color in Minnesota
The North Shore of Lake Superior
- Nearest town: Duluth and Lutsen
- Best time for leaf peeping: Late September
Drive up I-35 toward Duluth to see the incredible forests of the North Shore. Spend a few hours driving north along the Lake Superior shoreline from Duluth to Grand Portage, a 154-mile stretch famous for being an unforgettable Great Lakes destination and for being featured in hometown hero Bob Dylan’s lyrics.
Here, the trees range from white cedar and balsam firs to tamaracks and red maples. Lake Superior is one of the Great Lakes, and the water temperature in the early fall is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit—one of the warmest times of year to jump in! Pull off the road near a lighthouse for great views and water access.
Hop on a fishing charter with Optimum Charters out of Duluth to cast your line and reel in a few walleye while ogling the beautiful leaves from the water. If you want to stay on land, fuel up at Northern Waters Smokehaus in Canal Park, right on the lake. This delicatessen offers smoked fish and imported cheeses and hosts a menu with incredible sandwiches made with fresh, local ingredients from produce to protein.
Once full, drive to Jay Cooke State Park to walk the path over the Swinging Bridge above the St. Louis River. There are 50 miles of hiking trails and 8 miles of biking paths to explore. Day hike a section of the Superior Hiking Trail, a more than 350-mile route from Duluth to Grand Portage. Some visitors hike sections of the path (like the Oberg Mountain Loop by Lutsen), while thru-hikers start at one end and walk until they reach the other weeks later! Stay overnight at the tent, drive-in, or RV camping sites at Jay Cooke. They stay open through the winter.
- Nearest town: The Headwaters of the Mississippi River
- Best time for leaf peeping: Late September through early October
Late September leaves are a dream in Bemidji. The city’s name is Ojibwe for “a lake with crossing waters,” and refers to the Mississippi River crossing Lake Bemidji. Board a boat and get out on the water for 360-degree views of autumnal awesomeness.
Stop by Paul Bunyan Park to get photos with the massive Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues. Stretch your legs by hopping on a bike and riding along the Paul Bunyan State Trail, a 115-mile-long path from Crow Wing State Park to Lake Bemidji State Park.
Grab breakfast at Minnesota Nice Cafe for home-cooked favorites like an avocado bacon eggs benedict or Denver omelet. You can’t go wrong with an Uff Dah Burger and fries for lunch. And don’t leave without a dessert—the pies are incredible.
Once fueled up, drive to Lake Bemidji State Park and lace up your boots for an 11-mile hike through aspen, pine, and hardwoods. This park offers two miles of wheelchair-accessible trails and is part of a special program loaning out complimentary colorblind glasses. The glasses are available for pickup from the ranger station to help individuals who are red-green colorblind to truly take in fall colors! This program is first-come, first-served. Reserve a drive-in or pull-through camping site to extend your time in the beautiful Bemidji area!
Whitewater State Park
- Nearest towns: St. Charles
- Best time for leaf peeping: Late September to mid-October
This 2,700-acre state park in Southeastern Minnesota is popular for anglers looking for trout and hikers looking for walks of all difficulty levels. There are over 250 bird species in Whitewater State Park, and many people come during the fall to look for varieties that migrate through the park on their way south.
The park features blufflands that were once shallow seabeds but turned into thick rock that eroded with time and glacial meltwater. Today, Whitewater State Park hosts rivers, cliffs, and valleys perfect for basswood, oak, and maple trees.
There are 10 miles of hiking trails here, from two-mile out-and-back Trout Run Creek to one-mile Meadow Trail. If you visit during a year with early snow, you may be able to snowshoe or cross-country ski in the park—truly one of our favorite activities. Snowshoes are available for rental at the visitor center, which is open year-round.
Grab lunch at Golden Harvest Cafe & Bar, a local staple serving American classics like burgers and prime ribs. Or, stop in for dinner—we recommend the half-broasted chicken dinner special.
There are many overnight facilities in Whitewater State Park, including drive-in, pull-through, and handicap-accessible campsites.
Great River Bluffs State Park
- Nearest towns: Winona
- Best time for leaf peeping: Late September through mid-October
Great River Bluffs State Park in Winona includes King’s and Queen’s Bluffs, two scientific and natural areas in the Mississippi River Valley. It’s also an easy weekend road trip from Minneapolis and Madison, Wisconsin.
Shifting glaciers with ice sheets up to two miles thick created the unique bluffs, tall, rounded cliffs that border the river. The massive hills are home to red foxes, great horned owls, ruffed grouse, and many other unique wildlife. Dogs are allowed here, but keep Fido on a leash.
In the fall, visitors love the 1.25-mile one-way King’s Bluff Trail along the river to the top of the bluffs for one-of-a-kind views of the Mississippi Valley. The path winds through oak savannah and is made of mowed grass and packed dirt, perfect for hiking boots.
South and East Overlook Trails are under one third-mile long and offer beautiful views of the tree-covered bluffs with benches for taking a break. Look for colorful oaks and maples here.
Grab a seasonal, organic, local breakfast at Blue Heron Coffeehouse, like a steaming cup of coffee and a piece of quiche.
This area has rich soil perfect for growing wine. Sample local varietals at Bluff Top Vineyard, a four-acre farm vineyard and winery near Dakota. They offer on-site samples and wine sales but do not have indoor seating. Try some wine and buy a bottle to savor while taking in the views. Cart and drive-in camping sites are available if you want to enjoy a sunrise or sunset without going far.
Interstate State Park
- Nearest towns: Taylors Falls
- Best time for leaf peeping: Late September to mid-October
Interstate State Park on the St. Croix River is a diverse mix of cliffs, floodplains, and forests. The oak and maple trees are stunning in late fall, and visitors travel here to canoe the river, hike to the cliffs, and even rock climb.
The park features trilobite, fish, and mollusk fossils from Cambrian times, 500 to 550 million years ago. Stop at the glacial potholes, holes formed thousands of years ago by swirling sand and water. If the temperatures have been warm, you may be able to spot late-fall wildflowers while hiking through the pine, oak and maple trees.
Interstate State Park has over nine miles of hiking trails, and guided hikes are available during the summer. Hike from Pines Group Camp to 120-foot Eagle Peak for from-above views at one of the tallest points in the park. This unpaved walk features uneven, steep terrain and stone stairs and is not mobility device accessible.
The Ice Age National Scenic Trail goes through parts of the park. This more than 1,000-mile trail is one of 11 National Scenic Trails in the country and meanders along the last continental glacier in the state. Pothole Trail, a 0.4-mile loop, is the western end of the Ice Age Trail. The walk goes along a rock formation called Old Man of the Dalles, and is considered the most geologically unique route in the park. The uneven terrain has a gravel surface and features stone stairs, an observation deck, a bench, and the potholes.
Campsites and vault toilets are available year-round, while modern restrooms are seasonally available throughout the park.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area
- Nearest towns: Ely
- Best time for leaf peeping: Mid-September to late October
Head to the Northwest part of the state to see peak leaves near the Canadian border. Stay in one of the many lodges or northern Minnesota cabin rentals near Ely (try Stony Ridge Resort and Cafe) and meander the hiking trails around town, like the 1-mile Kawishiwi Falls loop. Stop in Superior National Forest for a longer, more challenging walk to hike the 6.3-mile Bass and Dry Lake Loop.
Or, rent a canoe at a local outfitter (like Piragis Northwoods Company) and paddle into the wilderness for an immersive fall experience! Mid-September to October brings the most vibrant leaf hues here, with brilliant red maples and yellow and orange birch leaves.
While summer is more popular for water-bound visitors, fall still draws a crowd of paddling leaf peepers. Plus, the annual three-day Harvest Festival is in September. The beloved event features arts and crafts vendors plus food trucks from many cuisines. There’s nothing like coming off the water to split a gyro and a burrito in a beautiful park.
Grab last-minute gear at any of the amazing outfitters in town before eating a walleye sandwich or wild rice chicken pot pie at Insula Restaurant the night before hitting the water.
On your way in or out of town, stop at the International Wolf Center (open year-round) or the North American Bear Center (Open April through the end of October) to see examples of local wildlife you might spot while gazing at the changing leaves.
Cuyuna Lakes Area
- Nearest towns: Brainerd
- Best time for leaf peeping: Late September through October
Crosby, Minnesota has grown exponentially in the last ten years. From a quiet post-industrial town of around 2,300, this area explodes in the summer and fall when mountain bikers pedal 30 miles of trails around the mine pits at Cuyuna State Recreation Area.
These deep holes once contained iron ore mined from the early 1900s to World War ll. Once the mines stopped operating in the early 1960s, the holes filled with uniquely clear, deep blue water that attracted visitors like me year-round.
Fall is special here as the leaves reflect on the clear water. People bike, hike, snowshoe, and cross-country ski the many trails. You can enjoy the autumn colors from the water on a paddleboard, kayak, or canoe (many mines don’t allow motorized watercraft). There are also many non-mine lakes nearby, like Serpent Lake, just outside of downtown Crosby.
Hikers stick to the Cuyuna Lakes Trail, an 8-mile paved path from Crosby to Riverton that passes six naturally formed lakes and 15 mine pits left behind from industrial processes.
Stop for a bike tune-up and a coffee at Red Raven before heading out on a leaf-peeping adventure. Here, you can grab an extra pair of cycling socks while sipping a latte and nomming on house-made banana bread. Stop by Croft Kitchen and Bar for a brew, wild rice burger, and specialty Croft truffle fries.
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