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Complete Autumn Traveler: 20 Reasons to Get Away

Discover brilliant fall foliage, impressive orchards, fun autumn festivals, scenic golf courses, and romantic getaways this fall. Our guide will help you experience the season in all of its glory.

Complete Autumn Traveler: 20 Reasons to Get Away
Photo by Visit Chippewa Falls, Wis.

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With Bemidji State Park, Itasca State Park, the Chippewa National Forest, and the Continental Divide encompassing the area, anywhere is a good place to see brilliant shades of red, orange, yellow, and green during Bemidji’s autumn season.

Explore the Leech Lake-Red Lake Trail a mile south of Turtle River on Highway 71 for a taste of history. “The trail is worn to over a foot deep by early travelers and explorers,” explains Denelle Hilliard, Visit Bemidji executive director.

Other must-see sites include the Fur Trading Post, memorial of Count Beltrami, and beautiful Lake Julia, where you’ll find the Continental Divide, with water flowing north to Hudson Bay and south to the Gulf of Mexico. Take a narrated ride on an authentic covered wagon along a historic trail overlooking the Continental Divide. “Bemidji’s fall colors are spectacular,” Hilliard says.

The city is also home to many talented artists. Visit from Oct. 19-21 for the free “First City of Arts: Studio Cruise,” providing a unique opportunity to visit the studios and meet the artists in person.


Big gaming options. Check. Big-name entertainment. Check. A large hotel. Check. Excellent restaurants. Check. A spa, on-site daycare, a swimming pool, and an arcade. Check, check, check, and check. When looking for your next get-away, consider Shooting Star Casino Hotel and Event Center in Mahnomen, just north of Detroit Lakes.

Shooting Star is home to a 386-room well-appointed hotel (complete with access to an indoor pool and hot tub), over 1,000 slot machines, a bingo hall, 16 blackjack tables, the Sereniitee Spa (great for a massage or facial), four on-site dining options, interesting events, and big-name entertainment. Visit Shooting Star this fall for the Paranormal Convention Oct. 12, or to catch the “hillbilly jedis”—country duo Big and Rich—perform Oct. 26.


A variety of deciduous trees (think maples, elms, and oaks)—combined with the right climate—create a stunning kaleidoscope of color in Detroit Lakes. While visiting the area, stay at The Lodge on Lake Detroit, a lifestyle hotel on the shore of Big Detroit Lake, less than two miles from downtown, and near golf courses, city parks, fishing hot-spots, biking trails, shopping, and great restaurants. Each of the large, modern smoke-free rooms and suites face the lake and the sunset, with a special focus on pampering and positive energy. Other unique lodge features include sunset serenades, eco-friendly initiatives, a full-service spa, indoor pool and hot tub, fitness area, sandy beach, dock, and boat slips.



Spend a cool autumn day in Chippewa Falls, Wis., about 90 miles from the Twin Cities, and drive through the countryside visiting apple orchards before sampling locally-produced beer or wine at the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, Autumn Harvest Winery, River Bend Vineyard & Winery, or O’Neil Creek Winery. Other fall activities include visiting the free Irvine Park and Zoo (over 300 acres of natural beauty, with cougars, bear, bison, tigers, a museum, and picnic shelters), paddling down the Chippewa River, pedaling along the Old Abe State Trail (19.5 miles of paved bike trail from Chippewa Falls to Cornell), or celebrating at the 10th annual Oktoberfest Sept. 21-23.


Instead of zoning out to the TV, tune in to one another at Hawks View Cottages and Lodges, located about 45 minutes north of Lacrosse in Fountain City, Wis. The five well-appointed cottages are set high up on a steep, wooded bluff—prepare for stairs—with “hawk’s eye views” of the Mississippi. You’ll forget about the real world as you relax in this peaceful setting. The two lodges overlook Seven Hawks Vineyards—with wines made from 100 percent locally grown grapes. If you feel like venturing out, visit the tasting room and wine bar, grab a pint at the Monarch Irish Pub, visit the historic sites in town, or take a side trip to Alma, Nelson, or Wabasha, home of the National Eagle Center.


It’s not Munich, Germany, but it feels awfully similar. La Crosse’s Oktoberfest, Sept. 28-Oct. 6, welcomes more than 100,000 attendees for general “merrymaking” in a carnival-like atmosphere each fall. The Oktoberfest lineup includes parades, pageantry, royalty, beer, brats, and world-famous entertainment. New this year, the event’s Northside Festgrounds will be family-friendly and alcohol-free, the site of a fun dance contest, strong man competition, and theatre performance.



Designed exclusively for couples, Canoe Bay—the only prestigious Relais and Chateaux member in the Midwest—is a gorgeous, unspoiled, secluded fall retreat located in northwestern Wisconsin. Located in the town of Chetek, near Rice Lake, the 280-acre property includes miles of hiking trails, beautiful aspen, oak, and birch trees (admire the views from your private deck), and quiet Lake Wahdoon—no motorized boats or jet skis are allowed—perfect for canoeing, kayaking, or fishing. While you’re unwinding, why not treat yourself to an hour-long massage in the hotel’s spa, cuddle in front of your private fireplace, or relax in a two-person whirlpool? In the evening, head over to the lakeside dining room to enjoy a glass of wine (there are over 500 domestic and imported vintages to choose from) and an excellent four-course meal prepared by a talented chef.


Located in northern Wisconsin —less than three hours from the Twin Cities—Hayward is an easy drive along Highway 53. With a population of less than 4,000, this former logging town offers the perfect disconnect from the hustle and bustle of city life. Golf at a course set within the natural beauty of the North Woods, shop or dine downtown, or walk inside a 143-foot-long, 41-foot-tall musky (otherwise known as the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum). Hayward is home to the Chequamegon (pronounced Sh-wah-mah-gon) Fat Tire Festival every September, “The Nation’s Most Popular Off Road Bicycle Adventure.” The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest encom-passes more than 1.5 million acres, with more than 400 miles of impressive hiking/biking trails.



Every autumn there is an energy and excitement in Northfield as college students get settled in at Carleton and St. Olaf. About a 35-mile drive from the Twin Cities, the town is the perfect distance for a day trip to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park (excellent hiking and biking), the Cowling Arboretum, restaurants featuring from-scratch kitchens, local pubs with tons of personality, and eclectic boutiques offering everything from clothes and shoes to rare books and kitchen gadgets. A multitude of arts and cultural activities take place in this pretty little city, like the Studio ArTour Oct. 20-21, featuring 24 open art studios with works of 52 artists and one-of-a-kind works including abstract paintings, landscapes, hand-made knitted items, jewelry, ceramics, welding, glass, and mixed media.


New Ulm, about 85 miles from the metro area, is in the heart of the 287-mile Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway—one of the most stunning fall color drives in the state. “We’re different than other prairie towns of Southern Minnesota by virtue of being in not one but two river valleys,” explains Terry Sveine, convention and visitors bureau manager for New Ulm. “And we have more trees and greenery than you’d expect in the southern part of the state.” See radiant fall colors from the top of the 102-foot tall Hermann Monument (15-mile views in any direction), from a hike in Flandrau State Park, or at Oktoberfest Oct. 6-7 and 13-14, when New Ulm will “crank up the accordions” and celebrate its German heritage. On Friday, Nov. 23, the city will mirror another German tradition with the Parade of Lights and ChristKindlmarkt, an outdoor craft and vendor market held downtown.


With the Mississippi River on one side of town and majestic limestone bluffs on the other, a more beautiful place than Winona is hard to find. This charming city—located in southeastern Minnesota—is home to historically significant buildings, as well as a variety of dining, shopping, and lodging options, and numerous recreational opportunities. Winona has earned a reputation as an art and cultural mecca also, with four museums, a vineyard, and interesting festivals taking place throughout the year. Add to the list the “Voices from the Past Cemetery Walk” at Woodlawn Cemetery Oct. 13-14, and you have every reason to plan a trip to Winona this fall. Unless, of course, you’re scared of ghosts.



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