Pack your bags, grab the kids (or find a sitter) and hit the road. Drives that depict autumn at its best await you and your loved ones. From historical bed and breakfast inns to large resorts with spas, game rooms, and indoor pools, this year’s Complete Autumn Traveler showcases the must-see destinations within a short drive of the metro area.
NORTH WOODS AREA
Grand Marais Lake Superior Trading Post; Photo by Visit Cook County
Located at the tip of Minnesota’s Arrowhead, Cook County offers numerous attractions and ways to enjoy the natural beauty of the state. The sprawling county is situated on Lake Superior, by surface, the world’s largest freshwater lake.
There is no shortage of things to do in Cook County during the autumn months, whether it involves appreciating the changing leaves during a hike or paddling in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, hanging out with the locals at a quaint coffee shop, or shopping at a unique store. Visitors might spot a moose along the Gunflint Trail, stop in at the new Voyageur Brewing Company in Grand Marais for a pint, or simply enjoy the solitude and peace of being “Up North.”
“Cook County is vast, pristine, and dramatically rugged—a travel destination for the kind of people who would love to visit Norway and Alaska,” says Shelby Gonzalez, Cook County’s strategic marketing partner.
Additionally, Cook County was ranked one of the top 75 travel destinations for dog lovers in the United States and Canada by National Geographic (thanks to dog-friendly North Shore towns, outdoor activities, and fun dog-themed events).
Lake Bemidji; Photo courtesy of Visit Bemidji
Located on the shore of Lake Bemidji, Bemidji is known for its Northwoods beauty, especially radiant in autumn. Appreciate the season from a bike trail or paved path (Bemidji is a bicycle-friendly city), including a portion of the 123-mile long Paul Bunyan State Trail, or go by car to check out the kaleidoscope of color—the city is surrounded by scenic byways.
Anglers love that Bemidji has over 400 fishing lakes within a 25-mile radius, and those who love to find unique goods enjoy the bustling downtown, filled with independent shops and restaurants. There are several accommodation options, the majority with lakefront views.
“Small enough to be comfortable, yet large enough to be convenient,” is how Visit Bemidji’s Cindy Habedank summarizes the appeal of Bemidji.
Lake Superior Hiking Trail Scenic Overlook; Photo courtesy Lutsen Resort
This Lake Superior resort offers all the amenities and activities of a modern vacation destination while showcasing the distinct beauty of nature. Guided fall color tours, visits to a local maple syrup business, and live music on Saturday nights are just a few of the reasons to book a fall vacation at Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior.
Whether you’re bringing the kids, getting away for a romantic weekend, or planning a trip with your best girls, you’ll find traditional lodges, log cabins, and modern condominiums and townhomes spread across the resort.
“Lutsen Resort combines a warm tradition of hospitality with all the amenities sought by today’s visitor,” says owner Nancy Burns.
Good times to visit include the annual “Fall Wine and Food Weekend” in November and the “25th Annual Bluegrass Masters Weekend” November 6-8.
Leech Lake; Photo by Bill Lindner
Plan a trip to Leech Lake and the surrounding area in northern Minnesota and you’ll find a lot more than great walleye and muskie fishing, though Leech Lake doesn’t disappoint in that area.
The lake itself is the third largest of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes and boasts 195 miles of shoreline and a maximum depth of 156 feet. State parks and national forests surround the lake, including Chippewa National Forest, Itasca State Park, and Paul Bunyan State Forest.
The area isn’t only limited to recreational activities on the water and within the Northwoods landscape. There are museums, breweries and wineries, and unique shops to explore.
Lodging options are vast, mirroring the size of the lake, including lake cabins, RV parks, bed and breakfasts, and hotels.
CENTRAL LAKES REGION
Arrowwood Resort Townhomes; Courtesy of Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center
Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center
Whether you’re planning a golf getaway, girls’ spa weekend, or family vacation, Arrowwood Resort, situated on the shore of Lake Darling in Alexandria, has something for everyone: an 18-hole golf course, indoor water park, spa, conference center, and marina. If it’s not too chilly, explore the area in a canoe or kayak, or saddle up and see the area’s scenic beauty from a 45-minute guided horseback ride.
Independent restaurants and unique shops and antique stores line the main drag in downtown Alexandria, buzzing with tourists and residents year-round. “Downtown Alexandria is known for its shopping with plenty of unique, specialty, and antique stores,” says Shari Prause, Arrowwood director of sales and marketing. Stay in a guest room or suite, townhome, or cottage.
Good Ol’ Days Resort
In the heart of the Brainerd Lakes area, Nisswa is a favorite vacation destination for shopping and spending quality time with the family. Stay in a cottage or lodge room at Good Ol’ Days Family Resort, located on Lower Cullen Lake. The resort is on the Paul Bunyan Trail, only six blocks from shopping and activities in downtown Nisswa. This completely renovated resort boasts 10 new cottages and an eight-unit lodge. Amenities include a beautiful lakefront beach, playground area, and organized guest activities, with several golf courses nearby.
Courtesy of Wilderness Resort
Rent a cabin or villa at the Wilderness Resort Villas on Middle Cullen Lake and enjoy a peaceful vacation on one of Minnesota’s most secluded lakes. Fishing enthusiasts have the opportunity to fish Upper, Middle, or Lower Cullen Lake, and families enjoy the year-round indoor pool, fitness center, spa, and game room. Pets are welcome.
Lanesboro; Steven Gaertner – Fotolia
Hawks View Cottages & Lodges
Only a two-hour drive from the Twin Cities, Hawks View Cottages & Lodges—located in Fountain City, Wis., along the scenic Great River Road—is the ideal destination for anyone with a sense of adventure. It’s a steep climb to the cottages, located in the woods, offering beautiful sky-high views of the Mississippi River. The lodges are located on the site of Seven Hawks Vineyards, where estate-grown award-winning wine is produced.
Historic Scanlan House Bed & Breakfast Inn
Lanesboro is the “Bed and Breakfast Capital of Minnesota,” and one of the most beloved B&Bs is the Historic Scanlan House Bed and Breakfast Inn. This Lanesboro trademark—now celebrating its 30th year in operation—not only delivers warm hospitality and delicious food, but a historic 1889 Queen Anne Victorian charm.
While visiting, bike down a paved bike trail along the Root River (you can rent a bike if you don’t want to bring yours along), spend a day shopping in town, visit the winery, go golfing, birding, geocaching, or see a performance at the Commonweal Theatre Company.
“(Lanesboro) has kept that small town charm and personality, and every business and every person make this a destination that no one should miss,” says innkeeper Kirsten Mensing.
My Top Five Ways to Spend an Autumn Day
By Twin Cities Live Host Elizabeth Ries
New Scenic Café – Duluth
There’s nothing better than driving up the North Shore of Lake Superior when that first fall chill is in the air and the leaves are changing colors. Once in Duluth, the New Scenic Café is the place to stop. It has a rustic North Shore atmosphere with unexpected (and delicious) food. The menu changes along with the seasons. sceniccafe.com
I believe that cabin season in Minnesota should last year-round. Yes, I know in winter it’s nearly impossible to plow the mounds of snow leading to your little cottage on the lake, but come on, who doesn’t just feel better at the cabin? My best friend’s family has a cabin in Crosslake and I can’t get enough of the place, no matter the season. crosslake.govoffice.com
The St. Paul Farmers’ Market
The panic starts to set in for me during the fall months because I begin counting the weekends, wondering just how many farmers’ markets I can hit up before the snow falls and the vendors pack up for winter. The St. Paul Farmers’ Market, located in downtown St. Paul, features fresh, locally-grown produce, bakery goods, cheese, poultry, buffalo, venison, beef, pork, lamb, maple syrup, eggs, bagel sandwiches, honey, organic plants and produce, flowers, plants, shrubs, and more. stpaulfarmersmarket.com
Itasca State Park
I remember visiting the park as a little girl and being amazed that a trickle of water over a bed of rocks is the beginning of the massive Mississippi River I see every day. Itasca is Minnesota’s oldest state park (established in 1891) and includes 32,000 acres of land and more than 100 lakes. dnr.state.mn.us
Natura Farms – Marine on St. Croix
A few years ago I discovered this farm and I love it! You volunteer to do farm work and then take home the berries and veggies you pick! Talk about “will work for food”… sign me up! naturafarms.com