Traveler - A Harvest of Fun

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Minnesota State Parks and Trails

September 2017


Mississippi River headwaters

Itasca State Park

Established in 1891, Itasca is Minnesota's oldest state park. Today, the park includes more than 32,000 acres and in excess of 100 lakes. Seeking fun? Walk across the mighty Mississippi as it starts its winding journey 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Stand under towering pines at Preacher's Grove. Visit the Itasca Indian Cemetery or Wegmann's Cabin, landmarks from centuries gone by. Camp under the stars, or stay the night at the historic Douglas Lodge or cabins. Explore Wilderness Drive past the 2,000-acre Wilderness Sanctuary, one of Minnesota's seven National Natural Landmarks. Experience spectacular fall colors from atop the historic fire tower.  Much of the early history of this area has been preserved at sites scattered throughout the park and through interpretive programs and events, such as the annual Autumn Harvest Festival, all of which introduce visitors to the rich human history of the area.     



The List - Great Autumn Views people looking out overlook

The fire tower at Itasca State Park is one of numerous locations to get a picturesque view of autumn as fall colors sweep across the landscape.  Many state parks and trails offer birds-eye views of breath-taking scenery that are even more awe-inspiring during fall color season.

Suggestions for some scenic sites to consider include:


Find more locations to get a great view.


Discover - Monarch Migrationmonarch butterfly on flower

Each fall a mysterious phenomenon takes place; a mystery that continues to perplex modern scientists. In early November, around the time of Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), a traditional Mexican holiday, millions of monarch butterflies arrive in the mountainous Oyamel fir tree forests of central Mexico.  Residents in these mountain villages welcome the butterflies as symbols of the spirits of their ancestors, returning each year to visit.  How these butterflies find their way to their ancient wintering grounds is unknown.

Monarch butterflies from across Minnesota, Canada and the eastern United States move southward in mass migration beginning in late August until the first frost. You can assist these small and fragile insects on their 2,000 - 3,000 mile journey by providing native wildflower habitat for them in your yard, road ditch or even in containers on your front step or patio.  You will find these grateful visitors quickly take advantage of nectar and habitat where they may briefly rest their wings before continuing on their long journey.  


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Learn about native plants that you can grow to help our butterflies and other pollinators.

Game Time - Share Your Fall Color Photosman with camera

Excited to watch the leaves change over the coming month?  You can track the progression of red, gold and orange across the state with the DNR's interactive color finder map.  When out exploring this fall, take some photos and share them on the Fall Color photo uploader so others can see what your favorite state park or trail looks like during autumn.

Fall colors generally peak between mid-September and early October in the northern third of Minnesota.  In central Minnesota, it's between late September and early October. The southern third of Minnesota can expect peak fall colors between late September and mid-October.  Peak fall color typically lasts about two weeks, but that can vary widely, depending on location, elevation and weather.

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Check out the Fall Color Photo Gallery to see glimpses of autumn from across the state.

Traveler Tip - Explore the Great River Roadview from Latsch overlook

You can travel the same path as our migrating monarchs on the Great River Road!  The Great River Road National Scenic Byway follows the course of the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles from Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The scenic route passes through 10 states and hundreds of river towns and is the longest scenic byway in America.  It takes about 36 hours of straight driving to travel from north to south along the byway. Most people take four to 10 days to make the journey.

September has been designated as Drive the Great River Road Month. Vibrant colors paint the trees and you’ll find festivals, farmers markets and fun activities all along the Mississippi River corridor.  The road passes through or near several Minnesota State Parks where you will find a variety of programs and opportunities to connect to the outdoors.  Find example itineraries that will help you experience the sights, sounds and tastes of the Great River Road in Minnesota, including numerous apple orchards and pumpkin patches open for tours and festivities.



Learn more about the Great River Road in Minnesota.


September Events - Fall Harvest Programskids participate in sack races

Celebrate nature's bounty this fall with Minnesota State Parks and Trails.  Many autumn programs focus on the changing season, the ways humans depend on the land for farming and sustenance, and the ways plants and animals prepare for winter.

A number of fall harvest programs are scheduled for September 23, including


Find more naturalist programs.

Keep reading! For past issues of the Traveler, click here.