Unusually Vibrant Colors This Fall: Find the Best Spots

The MN DNR is predicting an especially colorful fall season due to ideal summer weather conditions. We found five spots around the state—including Lanesboro and Lake Superior—with great autumn views.

Photo by BisonTree/Flickr

For some, the reappearance of pumpkin spice lattes signals the beginning of autumn. Others prefer the centuries-old approach of watching the leaves change color. In the internet age, there’s a high-tech update to this method.

The Minnesota DNR has launched its annual online fall color finder, updated daily with a map of the state noting which areas are at their peak colors, past their peak, or not quite there yet. For those curious about the colors in Minnesota’s state parks and recreation areas, the site includes a chart measuring the percentage of color saturation in each location (with photos).

The DNR expects especially brilliant leaves this season thanks to a Goldilocks-esque summer that has affected the color-changing process just right: not too sunny, not too rainy, with cool autumn evenings anticipated. Leaves change color due to biochemicals that create various hues when exposed to different levels of sun, water, and acidity, depending also on the health of the tree. The trees are already starting to change in some parts of Minnesota, with peak colors coming earlier in northern parts of the state and later farther south.

Check out these five popular spots for fall-color enthusiasts:

  1. Summit Avenue, St. Paul (late September–early October)

Summit Avenue is known for its historic mansions, but the stately line of trees along the street makes for vibrant viewing of the autumn colors. If you can’t get enough, head over to the nearby Lake Street and Ford Parkway bridges for views of the Mississippi River bordered by colorful trees.

  1. North Shore Scenic Byway (mid-September–early October)

This 150-mile 3-hour drive following the Lake Superior shoreline provides some of the state’s best colors. Spanning from Duluth to Grand Portage, highlights include views of the Split Rock Lighthouse, maple hikes at Tettegouche State Park, and a panoramic view from Mount Josephine at Grand Portage National Monument. 

  1. Grand Rounds Scenic Loop (late September–mid-October)

This scenic loop circles through some of Minneapolis’ most popular sights: Lakes Calhoun, Harriet, and Nokomis, Minnehaha Falls, the Stone Arch Bridge, and more. Combining both urban and natural landscapes, this tour can be completed in a car, or on bicycle for more adventurous color-seekers. 

  1. Root River State Trail (early–mid-October)

For those wanting to ditch the car completely, this 42-mile bike trail follows the Root River in southeastern Minnesota, near Lanesboro. For a particularly unique view, grab some paddles and kayak or canoe the same route on the water itself.

  1. Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (late September–mid-October)

This 1,200-acre space in Chaska is home to tree gardens, prairie spaces, natural forests, and art installations. For those looking for a quick tour of the arboretum’s autumn colors, check out 3 Mile Drive, which loops around the park, allowing visitors to drive, shuttle, bike, or walk among the trees and gardens.