Forest Favorites: A Minnesota Fall Color Roundup

Jack Dura loves fall. He’s also the only person that has ever said “leaf peeping” in my presence without eliciting a shudder. (For some reason, that phrase gives me the creeps, but Jack says it so dang earnestly that I don’t even mind.) So he’s the perfect person to show off some of the best spots to see fall foliage in Minnesota.

Oh, before I go, I should tell you that Jack writes for The Bismarck Tribune and for his own website, acrossnorthdakota.com, so be sure to drop by his site to say hello. I should also tell you that he wanted this post to be called “A Sylvan Spectrum: #ForestFavorites Autumn Color Roundup.” But, 1.) I couldn’t figure out what a sylvan spectrum was, precisely (Jack always includes at least one park and one word or phrase I have to look up) and 2.) It screwed with my SEO.

So I pulled rank and switched it. (Feel free to tell him what a jerk of an editor I am.) 😉

But you should totally use the #forestfavorites hashtag. We are gleefully trying to make it a thing.  (Because, as Jack helpfully pointed out, not everything in Minnesota falls under my #PrairiePlaces hashtag.) Here’s Jack!

– Alicia

The story and photos to follow are by Jack Dura.


Deep in the woods of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, a muddy road runs a twisted path to Mud Lake.

Like the wildflowers of spring and summer, autumn’s colorful foliage is a delight of nature, but much more fleeting.

Weather, moisture and temperatures can swing a fall color season any which way, but if you know when and where to look, you’ll be rewarded.

Northern Minnesota’s forests are a leaf peeper’s wonderland. From the classic tourist spots to backroad beauty, the North Star State is a canvas of color come September and October. Right about now, much of Minnesota is peaking for fall colors, according to the state’s online color finder.


Sumac turns bright red along Josephine Lake in Itasca State Park.

Itasca State Park is a jewel. Minnesota’s oldest state park has the headwaters of the Mississippi River and a wilderness drive that’s a feast for the eyes in fall.

Rusty oaks, bleeding maples, rustling aspens—they’re all there. Itasca is a hotspot, however.


A fallen maple leaf cradles water in the Smoky Hills State Forest.

To get off the beaten track, you can drive the Smoky Hills Trail in the state forest of the same name just to the southwest of Itasca. Watch for fallen trees though, but hike the forest’s non-motorized trails and listen for ruffed grouse under the canopy.

Leaves aren’t the only colors of fall. At Lake Bemidji State Park, bog boardwalks beckon hikers into another world.

Pitcher plants grow at both Big Bog Lake and Sundew Pond in the park. While their blossoms are long gone by late September, the carnivorous plants still shine purple and red, growing together in groups.


Pitcher plants cluster together at Sundew Pond in Lake Bemidji State Park.

Bike or hike the Paul Bunyan State Trail through Lake Bemidji State Park, and check out the park’s overlooks of the lake. A colorful canvas will greet you.

Deeper in the woods, the pines of Scenic State Park await you. Walk the esker of Chase Point or the lake’s edge boardwalk at sunrise.


The esker of Chase Point runs about a mile as the divider of Coon and Sandwick lakes at Scenic State Park near Bigfork, MN.

A CCC museum lodge is open for visitors with interpretative exhibits, including an 80-year-old nature scene carved from wood, paintings, mounted animals and plant exhibits.

Late-season loons bathe in Coon Lake’s waters while Canada geese fly low over the surface. At night, the wind shakes down more and more leaves from the quaking treetops.

For those looking to really get lost in the woods, Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge’s Mud Lake road is a kaleidoscope of colors to travel at one’s own risk. Mud, rocks and twisting turns await any adventurers down this way, but if timed rightly, you’ll see a sylvan spectrum.

If you’re lucky, it’ll rain too.


Rosehips shine red in the evening light along Coon Lake at Scenic State Park.

What about you?
What are your favorite spots for fall foliage?
Which one of these parks is your favorite?
What are some fall destinations on your bucket list?
What are your favorite things about autumn?

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