Minnesota Weekly Fall Color Update - Sept. 13, 2018

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Minnesota Weekly Fall Color Update - Sept. 13, 2018
Lovely fall grasses at Glendalough State Park

Welcome to the first edition of the 2018 Minnesota Fall Color Update! This update will be sent out each Thursday afternoon during the fall color season. Information in this report is brought to you by Explore Minnesota and the Department of Natural Resources. For the most current updates, check out the Fall Color Finder

The trees, grasses and wildflowers have benefited from strong moisture levels and prime growing conditions throughout most of Minnesota this summer, setting the stage for stunning fall color displays. Dry conditions in portions of northwest Minnesota have accelerated the color change. Parks recommended for good fall color in the prairie grasses, wildflowers and some of the trees can be found this week at Buffalo River, Glendalough and Big Stone Lake state parks. 

Peak fall color typically arrives in the northern one-third of the state in mid-September to early October. The central third of the state is most colorful between late September and early October. Southern Minnesota trees reach the height of their fall color late September to mid-October. One exception is the North Shore of Lake Superior, where peak fall color arrives about a week later than inland areas due to the warming effect of the lake.

The Hike MN Sweepstakes is underway now through Oct. 21, with an array of prizes available including Minnesota getaways and gift cards for Mall of America and Minnesota State Parks. For information on hiking in Minnesota and to learn about 10 must-see fall hikes, visit Hike MN.

As a result of  teaming up on this year’s fall color updates, some of you may get two copies of this e-newsletter—one from Explore Minnesota and one from Minnesota State Parks and Trails. Feel free to unsubscribe from one or the other if you only wish to receive it once.


[Southern] [Minneapolis-St. Paul Area] [Central] [Northwest] [Northeast]


Northeast Minnesota

Fall color is beginning to appear in the far northeast region of the state. This weekend, consider a trip to Scenic and St. Croix state parks.

Franz Jevne State Park - Birchdale, west of International Falls
Many trees within the park are displaying 25-50% fall color. The wildflowers are nearing full bloom, and the prairie grasses have taken on golden hues.

Scenic State Park - Bigfork, north of Grand Rapids
A few shrubs, black ash, basswood and red maples are showing fall color, particularly in the lowland areas. Most foliage is still green and will probably not change much before the weekend. All trails at Scenic are in great shape for hiking. Rent a canoe, kayak or rowboat to explore Coon and Sandwick Lakes, or do some fishing from the wheelchair accessible fishing pier. Kids' Discovery Kits, Birding Kits and Fishing Kits can be checked out at the park office. To reserve a kit, please contact the park office.

Cascade River State Park - Grand Marais
The maple ridges are taking on color, with roughly 25% of the foliage displaying bright reds and yellows. Bright yellow, red and purple wildflowers can be found throughout the park. A hike to Lookout Mountain offers great views. Recent rains have caused the waterfalls to run swiftly. Discover the Cascades, a series of five small waterfalls and the Cascade Falls, on a half-mile hike on the Cascade River Lower Loop.

Banning State Park - Sandstone
Brightly colored leaves are appearing in the maples and other tree species. The Quarry Loop Trail is an excellent choice for fall color seekers. The self-guided trail along the Kettle River Rapids and old quarry buildings is a beautiful and easy 1.7 mile hike. The Kettle River is running fast -- be sure to check out Banning's two waterfalls and Hell's Gate Trail. Bikers will find access to the Willard Munger State Trail just 5 miles from the park.

St. Croix State Park - east of Hinckley
The savanna restoration areas are beautiful this week with big bluestem grasses turning lovely shades of amber and bright yellow sunflowers waving in the breeze. A few leaves are beginning to turn, but most trees remain primarily green. Plan a birding marathon using St Croix's Birding Marathon Map. And on Saturday, Sept. 15, enjoy a number of activities and programs including the Migration Game, Guided Canoe Trip, and Curious Canines.

Northwest Minnesota

The fall transformation is underway in the far northwest region of the state, partially due to dry conditions, with 25-50% fall color now visible at Lake Bronson and Buffalo River state parks.

Lake Bronson State Park - Lake Bronson, northwest of Karlstad
Some leaves in the tree canopies and nearly all of the leaves in the understory have changed color, with leaves are beginning to fall. Bike or hike from the Visitor Center to Lakeside Campground on the paved bike trail for the best views of the fall foliage and the lake. Climb to the top of the historic WPA water tower for a bird's-eye-view of the colorful transformation. Two fishing piers are available. Lake Bronson State Park is a Geocaching Checkpoint, with GPS units to borrow for free. Please inquire at the park office to learn more.

Hayes Lake State Park - south of Roseau
Many of the trees are turning color or shedding their leaves, and some of the grasses and wildflowers are past their peak due to drought. To view the best of the golden leaves, hike the Pine Ridge Trail along the north side of the lake. The lake is unusually low but the fish are still active. There is a boat landing and fishing pier, and the park offers canoe, kayak and row boat rental on the weekends.

Big Bog Recreation Area - Waskish
Fall color is beginning to appear in the trees, but the wildflowers and grasses are nearing their peak. A peaceful stroll down the Old Marina Trail in the Southern Unit of the park is the perfect place to unwind after a day of hiking or canoeing. Be sure to walk the Bog Boardwalk, and climb the 1937 fire tower for a spectacular view of the Upper Red Lake shoreline and the Big Bog. Boat and canoe access and multiple docks are on the Tamarac River. Consider renting one of the camper cabins.

Itasca State Park - north of Park Rapids
The ash trees are just beginning to show hints of yellow, and a few of the basswoods are beginning to soften to a yellow hue. Most other tree species remain green. The understory shrubs offer the most color with rich purple-red leaves in the dogwoods, and yellow-gold leaves in the hazel. The big bluestem is a lovely purple hue. While hints of autumn color can be seen throughout Itasca, hiking any park trail, driving Main Park Drive or Wilderness Drive, or even touring by boat, kayak or canoe are good ways to enjoy the subtle transition from summer to fall. Anglers will find 2 fishing piers and 4 boat accesses. The restaurant at Douglas Lodge is open through Oct. 7. And on Saturday, Sept. 15, enjoy a performance by Rebby and the Romantics.

Buffalo River State Park - Moorhead
The big and little bluestem grasses are rich gold and rose-purple with some sections more than 6 feet tall! Many late season wildflowers compliment the color in the prairies. Be sure to check out the Bluestem Prairie on the south side of the park, as well as the River View and Hiking Club trails for the nicest views. The Picnic Area Trail will bring you to some great fishing spots on the Buffalo River.

Central Minnesota

Park staff report little fall color change in the trees, but abundant color in the wildflowers and grasses. Two of the most colorful parks this weekend include Maplewood and Savanna Portage state parks.

Maplewood State Park - Pelican Rapids
The native prairie grasses are a beautiful reddish-brown and the bright blooms in the wildflowers can be seen throughout the park. The ash trees are starting to turn yellow and the dark reds of the sumac are beginning to show as well. Some maples are starting to turn vivid shades of orange and red. Hike Hallaway Hill for impressive views of the park and surrounding area, or take a drive on the 4.5 mile park drive through the heart of Maplewood's forests and prairies. A fishing pier and two boat accesses are available in the park.

Glendalough State Park - Battle Lake
Sweeping views of the prairies are enhanced by lovely red, orange and gold grasses, as well as bright yellow sunflowers and goldenrod, and purple blazing star and asters. The Prairie Hill and Sunset Lake trails are ideal for hiking. Watercraft and bike rentals are available until Oct. 21.

Sibley State Park - north of Willmar
The big bluestem and Indian grasses are in full color. The asters are adding a splash of color to the landscape. The Pond View Trail is a favorite for taking in both the prairie and woodland colors. Hike the Mount Tom Trail then climb to the Mount Tom Lookout for a panoramic view of Sibley and beyond.

Mille Lacs Kathio State Park - Onamia
While most trees remain green, bright blooms in the wildflowers and colorful grasses can be found throughout the park. Walk the Landmark Trail to visit two archaeological sites and learn about the area from interpretive signs along the way. This trail also takes you along Ogechie Lake where you can see the golden wild rice growing in the lake. Bring a lunch and sit at one of the picnic tables in the Cooper Site. On Saturday, Sept. 15, meet at the Interpretive Center at 2 p.m. and learn about the process to build an 1860s-style canoe through the documentary film Birchbark Canoe.

Savanna Portage State Park - McGregor
Many of the small maples are turning shades of red, orange and coral. The underbrush is very golden. Travel the park roads or visit Loon Lake or Lake Shumway for the nicest fall color views. Enjoy fishing from the fishing pier.

Minneapolis-St. Paul Area

Fall color is becoming more visible in the understory shrubs, grasses and wildflowers. Parks along the St. Croix River such as Wild River and William O'Brien state parks should offer the nicest fall color this weekend.

Wild River State Park - Almelund, east of North Branch
The sumac and other understory shrubs are becomming very colorful, adding shades of red and maroon to the landscape. Some of the trees are changing in scattered locations. The wildflowers are nearing full bloom. Driving the park roads will give you some good glimpses of color in the trees, flowers and prairie grasses. Enjoy a sweeping view of the St. Croix River valley from the Visitor Center deck. For high vistas and a hilly hike, try the Highland Hills trail. Consider renting a canoe or kayak to view the fall colors from the river; shuttle service is offered on the weekends. Check out Wolves at our Door at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15 to meet a live wolf from the International Wildlife Center and learn about wolf biology, mythology and more.

Interstate State Park - Taylors Falls
The trees remain mostly green, but the wildflowers are stunning. Experience beautiful green vistas throughout the park from the pothole area to the River Trail to the Sandstone Bluffs Trail. On Saturday, Sept. 15, enjoy a Fall Discovery Walk at 10 a.m., Guided Potholes Tour at noon, and Where are the Majestic Falls, Grand Staircases and Ancient Villages? at 2:30 p.m.

William O'Brien State Park - Marine on St. Croix, north of Stillwater
The trees are still very lush and green, but the prairies are a sight to behold. Beautiful purple and gold grasses blow gently in the breeze, and the sumac is a stunning red. Hike the Prairie Overlook Trail, the highest point in the park. Once you reach the top, allow some time to take in the breathtaking view. Geocashing 101: A High-tech Treasure Hunt will be offered this Sunday, Sept. 16 at 1 p.m. A limited number of GPS Units will be available.

Fort Snelling State Park - St. Paul
The goldenrods, sunflowers and asters are filled with bright blooms, and visible along the trails throughout the park. The cottonwoods provide a lovely canopy on Pike Island and along the Minnesota River. Park staff recommend hiking around Pike Island, renting a Nice Ride bike to tour the main park, or renting a canoe for a paddle on Snelling Lake. An Animal Tracking Workshop will be offered Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 15-16 at Fort Snelling.

Lake Maria State Park - Monticello
The sumac has turned beautiful shades of red, orange and maroon, and some of the trees are speckled with yellow leaves. A drive to the Little Mary Lake Picnic Area is recommended for the best views. Anglers will enjoy the fishing pier on Little Mary Lake.

Southern Minnesota

While park staff report minimal changes in the leaves, the prairie grasses are stunning. Parks offering the strongest displays this weekend include Fort Ridgely and Big Stone Lake state parks.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park - Nerstrand, south of Northfield
Just a hint of yellow is appearing in the trees and shrubs. Hike to Hidden Falls where the waterfall is flowing nicely following the significant rainfall on Sept. 4.

Frontenac State Park - southeast of Red Wing
Aside from the wildflowers, Frontenac remains almost entirely green. Visitors will still enjoy an autumn hike to the upper picnic area overlooking Lake Pepin and the bluffs, or along the Hiking Club Trail through the forest and prairie. Don't miss the Nature Hike offered on Saturday, Sept. 15 at 10 a.m.

Myre Big Island State Park - Albert Lea
Admire the waves of purple and gold big bluestem and Indian grasses, as well as the bright yellow blooms on the goldenrod and compass plant. The grasses seem to sparkle in the sunlight, and a walk through the prairie is best to view the colorful grasses. Canoe, kayak, paddleboard and rowboat rentals are available daily through September with drive-in access on Albert Lea Lake.

Fort Ridgely State Park - Fairfax, northwest of New Ulm
The prairie grasses are tall and lush, and filled with rich shades of gold and maroon. Native flowers and grasses are easily seen throughout the park. The southern and eastern overlooks offer beautiful views of the river valley. The Fort Ridgely Historic Site grounds are open for self-guided tours.

Big Stone Lake State Park - Ortonville
The colors of the prairie grasses and wildflowers are very vibrant this year due to the abundant rainfall. Check out the tunnel of gold in the Meadowbrook area, the towering sunflowers along the entrance road, and the tall big bluestem, Indian grasses and switchgrass along the prairie hike. The Bonanza Area hillsides seem to glow in the morning and evening sun from the fiery red sumac.


Don’t miss the spectacular fall color show! Plan ahead with a customized travel planner from our Explore Minnesota Travel Counselors at 888-VISITMN (888-847-4866), or request your planner at Contact a Travel Counselor. Before you go, be sure to check out these 10 spectacular fall color routes in Minnesota, and plan a stop at an apple orchard or pumpkin patch along the way!

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