Complete Autumn Traveler

In the Midwest, maples, elms, and oaks—combined with the right climate—create nature’s ultimate grand color show. In these pages, we feature some of the best spots to appreciate the view.


Chippewa Falls, Wis.

When the air is crisp and the trees are showing a hint of color, a trip to Chippewa Falls, Wis.—about 90 miles from the Twin Cities metro—is the perfect way to spend an autumn day. Appreciate beautiful scenery as you drive along the river and back roads, stopping to tour area apple orchards, or sampling local beer and wine at the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, Autumn Harvest Winery, River Bend Vineyard and Winery, or O’Neil Creek Winery.

“Pick up a fall driving guide at the Chippewa Area Visitors Center, or request one by mail [by calling 1-888-723-00240],” says Allyson Gommer, tourism director for the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. “Pick a route or two, get on the back roads, and stop in at the residents’ favorite spots.”

Other favorite stops include local cheese shops (cheese is, after all, what Wisconsin is known for), historical museums, the free 300-plus acre Irvine Park and Zoo (with a bear, cougars, bison, tigers, the historic Sunny Valley Schoolhouse, the Pioneer Norwegian Log Home, and picnic shelters on site), and activities like paddling down the Chippewa River, or pedaling along the paved Old Abe State Trail.

Hawks View Cottages and Lodges

For a spectacular fall foliage tour, take the Great River Road along the Mississippi down to Hawks View Cottages and Lodges in Fountain City, Wis. (about 45 minutes north of Lacrosse). This unique destination is not your typical lodging experience; the five well-appointed cottages are situated up high on a steep, wooded bluff—offering “hawk’s eye views” of the Mississippi. Guests staying here should have an adventurous spirit (prepare for stairs) and be ready for fresh air, relaxation, comfortable accommodations, and an unforgettable stay, whether planning a romantic weekend or fun girls’ getaway (Hawks View was recently voted a “Favorite Resort for a Girlfriends’ Road Trip” by the Women’s Press). The cottages are modern and clean, beautifully designed, and well stocked with the basics, perfect for preparing a big breakfast, lunch, or dinner (gas grills are available) and enjoying the novelty of your own little “tree house.” Explore the quaint little river town of Fountain City (be sure to check out the tasting room at nearby Seven Hawks Vineyards) or nearby attractions in Winona, Wabasha, or Alma.

Canoe Bay

Wine and dine in a unique, romantic atmosphere at Canoe Bay, the only prestigious Relais and Chateaux member in the Midwest. Designed exclusively for couples, Canoe Bay—located in the northwestern Wisconsin city of Chetek—is one of those off-the-beaten-path places that force you to appreciate the beauty of peace and quiet.

Rise early on a brisk autumn morning, put on your hiking shoes, and explore the estate. Treat yourself to a massage, relax in front of the fireplace, then head to the lakeside dining room for a glass of wine (over 500 to choose from) and a four-course meal, prepared with fresh produce from the garden.


Grand View Lodge

In the Brainerd Lakes area, one wave of color starts early in September (northern region) and ends in late October (southern), packing a one-two punch of both subtle and color changes for guests staying at Grand View Lodge.

In addition to beautiful scenery, activities available to Grand View Lodgers include lung-busting mountain bike rides on the Cuyuna Trail, walleye fishing, hikes, shopping in downtown Nisswa, Ashiatsu massage at the Glacial Waters Spa, casual or sophisticated on-site dining, or hanging out at Zorbaz, Bar Harbor, or Cowboys, just a few miles away. Golf packages are available for those who love to tee it high and let it fly—Grand View Lodge was the only resort in Minnesota to rate in the Top 121 Golf Resorts in the World 2012 by Condé Nast Traveler—or even better yet, visit during Golftoberfest Oct. 12.  

 “A lot of our guests just prefer to relax,” says Frank Soukop, director of marketing at Grand View Lodge. “It’s kind of like getting away without going away. Just sitting outside on your cabin deck or by the fireplace with a bottle of wine—either with friends or a loved one—is a great way to unwind.”



Bemidji is surrounded by state and national forests and two state parks providing many opportunities for seeing fall colors. Visitors can find the prettiest places on the Five Color Driving Tours, or at the Tourist Information Center.  

One unique way to take in the spectacular scenery is in a covered wagon, courtesy of Buena Vista Logging Village.

The season is perfect for golfing (the courses are less crowded and more scenic), fishing, geocaching at Lake Bemidji State Park, biking through the state and national forests, and bird-watching (particularly songbirds, Peregrine falcons, rough-legged hawks, Scaup, Golden Eyes, Tundra swans and an occasional rarity such as a White-winged Scoter). There are plenty of dining, shopping and lodging options for visitors, and year-round attractions that appeal to the whole family.



Bluefin Bay

The golden birch and fiery maples are worth a North Shore autumn getaway on their own, with fall colors attracting people from across the state. “Guests can wake to the sight of an endless watery horizon, breathe in the fresh lake air, and then almost literally step from their door out into brilliantly colored forests,” says Lori Schaefer, marketing director, Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts—including Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior, Surfside on Lake Superior, and Temperance Landing. Guests can appreciate the cooler weather and breathtaking views from a guided hike along the Superior Hiking Trail, on a bike, kayak, or canoe (available at no extra charge), or on a self-guided hiking or fall color driving tour. Shuttle service is available to trailheads. Book the romantic retreat and stay two or more nights, enjoying not only the fall colors, but breakfast and a candlelight dinner. Book the couples spa getaway and stay two or more nights and receive a 60-minute couples’ relaxation massage at Waves of Superior Spa. If your idea of a fun fall getaway includes quality time with your best girlfriends, stay at Bluefin Bay from Nov. 15-17 for the annual “Girls Gone North” weekend.

Grand Marais

Leaf-peeping and hiking are among favorite North Shore pastimes in the autumn months. Stay right in the heart of the action at Best Western Superior Inn & Suites in Grand Marais, offering 66 rooms—all lakefront—with views of Artist Point in the distance. Visitors can easily explore a variety of key attractions and recreational sites on the North Shore, including Lake Superior, the Gunflint Trail, Lutsen Mountains, and Superior National Forest. The hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of many unique village restaurants, shops, and galleries.



Detroit Lakes

Nature is an integral part of the Lodge on Lake Detroit experience, located on Big Detroit Lake, with all rooms lakefront to take advantage of spectacular sunsets. Unique room options include the Renewal Spa Suites with aromatherapy whirlpool tubs and fireplaces, and the Retreat Suite with furnished kitchens and connecting rooms, ideal for girls’ get-aways, family reunions, or retreats. Stay at the Lodge on Oct. 5 for LIVE at The Lodge, a special musical event featuring regional musicians Kathie Brekke and 42nd Street Band. (LIVE at The Lodge are regular events hosted by the Lodge in the two-story lobby.) Music is the theme Nov. 15 when you purchase a night or two at The Lodge and tickets to see The Pines at The Historic Holmes Theatre. Wine and cooking is on the agenda Nov. 16 for a special limited-space event, featuring Chef Michael from SpeakEasy in Detroit Lakes.

Fergus Falls

Fergus Falls, located only 2.5 hours northwest of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and an hour southeast of Fargo Moorhead (right off I-94) is home to wonderful museums, historic buildings, a performing arts center, boutique shopping, a nature learning center, a world-class horse arena, and fabulous biking/walking trails, including the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail and Otter Trail Scenic Byway. Over 1,000 lakes attract visitors to fish, boat, and relax. The area is especially beautiful in the autumn months.


College is back in session in the Fargo-Moorhead area, breathing a whole new life into their restaurants, retail shops and vibrant downtown. Fargo-Moorhead is a great vacation destination for biking (over 200 miles of trails), kayaking on the Red River, right in city limits, and visiting interesting historical sites like Bonanzaville: Pioneer Village and Cass County Museum, Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County (also known as the Hjemkomst Center). “One thing you can’t forget about when it comes to fall in the Fargo-Moorhead area is football season!” says Nicole Holden, marketing director. “Fargo is home of the North Dakota State University Bison, back-to-back Division 1 champions. Game day takes on a life of its own.” Visit this fall and become part of the excitement.


Ole Store Restaurant – Northfield

When dining at Ole Store Restaurant, an upscale yet casual neighborhood restaurant in Northfield, expect an entrée to be not only visually appealing, but over-the-top in flavor. The chefs draw inspiration from an autumn harvest of local produce, fresh meats, and bountiful fruit in every dish they create. Pair a dish—like the New York strip with seasonal vegetables—with a glass of wine or craft beer for a truly unforgettable meal. Visit Northfield during the weekend of Oct. 19-20 for the South Central Minnesota Studio ArTour.


Appreciate a kaleidoscope of changing colors during a leisurely drive to historic downtown Wabasha, home of the National Eagle Center, located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Visitors can meet rescued bald and golden eagles and stand on an observation deck, viewing wild eagles in their natural habitat as they soar above the river. Explore two floors of displays and interactive exhibits to learn about eagle biology, ecology, and natural history and learn more about eagles (including how and what they eat) during one of the engaging live eagle programs, offered daily at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. “It’s the perfect time of year to get out and enjoy the beauty of the natural world,” says Eileen Hanson, director of public relations, National Eagle Center. Visit through Oct. 27 for SeptOberfest, when Wabasha is decorated for fall and events include boutique shopping discounts, free concerts, carriage rides, seasonal feasts, and a pub crawl.

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