Colorful Minnesota: Forests and Water — Autumn Settles In On North Star State

Prairie Style File’s roving reporter Jack Dura is back, with a gorgeous look at the fall foliage in Minnesota. Seriously, just look at these photos.

You can see more of Jack’s adventures on his blog, Now I’m going to stop writing and let you soak in these beautiful photos of autumn in my home state. All words and images between this point and the links at the bottom of the page are Jack’s.

– Alicia

A canopy of red and yellow maple leaves cover part of Smoky Hills State Forest.

A morning haze drifted over Detroit Lakes as travelers drove east into the forested lakes country of Minnesota Saturday morning, Oct. 1.

The first day of the autumnal month was in top form in central Minnesota where maples, oaks, aspens and other trees, coniferous and deciduous, were ablaze with colors.

Smoky Hills State Forest lived up to its name as the haze drifted over the tops of trees while raindrops fell from the layered canopy. The sandy trail winding through the forest stopped at a hunters’ walking path, a grassy hike leading into the colorful wilderness.

Canopies of yellow-veined, red maple leaves blanketed patches of the forest while jack pines reached for the sky. Leaves large and small blazed yellow, orange, red and gold.

Areas of green still stood out, fading to yellow though contrasted against the straight, dark poles of jack pine and canvases of shifting colors on oak and aspen trees.

Jack pines reach for the sky in Smoky Hills State Forest in early October.

Along the walking trail, two ruffed grouse drummed on a log, puffing their chests before scurrying away and flying into the trees in the silent woods. The windless morning made all sounds a little louder, like a loon’s call on a wooded pond and the constant fall of water droplets from the trees overhead.

Driving on, the trail dipped down into a sandy bottom before pulling up onto the hard-packed road again. A trail to the forest’s lookout tower proved challenging driving over large stones and sandy washouts where a Chevy sat stuck, the driver’s side fallen into a deep rut, unable to move.

Yellow and red cover the leaves along the sandy trail in Smoky Hills State Forest.

Back on the main trail, the hard, sandy road skirted straight through the trees blazing green and yellow. Brown, fallen leaves gathered on the roadside before the road emerged State Highway 225, coursing generally north toward State Highway 71 and Itasca State Park where the headwaters of the Mississippi River attracted flocks of families, children and couples that Saturday.

The mighty Mississippi looked no larger than a creek as it coursed away from the still-as-glass Lake Itasca where few boaters rollicked on the autumn water.

The headwaters of the Mississippi River open up the 2,320-mile long river river at the north end of Lake Itasca.

A hike along the Schoolcraft Trail took visitors through more north woods pine, shooting straight up from the forest floor. Red squirrels darted in and around the path as nuthatches and blue jays fluttered around the path swept with pine needles. A small overlook across from an island concluded the trail before a loop returned hikers to the trailhead.

The park’s wilderness area was nearly overwhelming with colors along a twisting auto trail with several stops for hiking and nature viewing.

The landscape wasn’t limited to leaves; fungi of all kinds grew on bark, fallen logs and up out of the ground.
Itasca State Park blazed along with the rest of the trees along the drive home to the west.

Minnesota teems with fall color from late September to mid-October, though the final fling of color is dependent on freezing temperatures and some chemical factors of leaves.

Pines stand stall in Minnesota’s north woods in Itasca State Park.

Roughly 31 percent of Minnesota is forest, making an autumn getaway a little easier than the state’s western neighbor North Dakota, where 1.6 percent of its area is forested.

Nevertheless, both states shone in autumn glory as their trees began the artful transition to winter.

Smoky Hills State Forest
Osage, MN

Itasca State Park
36750 Main Park Drive,
Park Rapids, MN

What about you?
What do you love about Lake Itasca and the Smoky Hills State Forest?
How are you enjoying the fall season?
What do you like best about fall?
Want to contribute your own fall story? Comment below!

An oak leaf changes from green to orange and yellow in Smoky Hills State Forest in central Minnesota.

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