Fall is all but officially here, and there are already trees here in Minnesota that are starting to change. Temperatures may be dropping, but we still have a lot to look forward to before the real cold begins. Though Minnesota is famous for its frigid winters and steamy summers, fall is when the Land of 10,000 Lakes truly shines. So, why not take in the landscape while it’s bursting with color? This road trip will take you on a tour of southern Minnesota’s most colorful sights. You’ll travel along the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers to discover some of Minnesota’s greatest autumnal beauty. Take a look:
This trip is best covered over a weekend, the longer the better. It covers over 350 miles from Albert lea to Sandstone - or the other way around - and is estimated to take about 7 hours to complete. You can find the map and full driving directions
1. Myre-Big Island State Park - Albert Lea
Have you ever heard of Myre-Big Island State Park? We sure hadn't. But come peak season, this 116-acre park will be vibrant with color. Much of the action can be seen in the tall maple trees that dot the park, but there's another interesting attraction as well. The marshes draw migrating waterfowl, making for a spectacular birding adventure.
Address: 19499 780th Avenue, Albert Lea.
2. Root River State Trail - Lanesboro
Who says you have to stay in your car during a road trip? The Root River State Trail The Root River is a slow-moving river that meanders eastward to meet up with the Mississippi River. It's a lovely spot for tubing in the summertime, and it's even more beautiful in the fall. The 42-mile Root River segment is a paved path along the river, offering stunning views of the gold and red leaves reflected in the water.
Address: Root River Trail Center, 100 Milwaukee Road, Lanesboro.
3. Great River Bluffs State Park - Winona
Heading further east into Winona, you'll catch your first glimpse of the Mississippi River as it flows through Minnesota's Bluff Country. The entire city of Winona is beautiful, but you'll want to view it from above. Trails in the park take you high above the Mississippi River Valley. Between the colorful treetop views and the sight of the Great River, you'll be awestruck.
Address: 43605 Kipp Drive, Winona.
4. Barn Bluff - Red Wing
Hope you haven't had your fill of bluffs, because our next stop is a must-do experience while you live in Minnesota. Red Wing's Barn Bluff is a historically significant site that is also incredibly beautiful. Much like Great River Bluffs State Park, it affords views of the Mississippi River and beyond. It comes with the added bonus of Lake Pepin sparkling in the distance. The trail that climbs Barn Bluff is about 2 miles long and will take you 400 feet over Red Wing.
Address: See map for directions to the trailhead.
5. Afton State Park - Hastings
From Barn Bluff, the quickest route to Afton State Park cuts into western Wisconsin. If that doesn't bother you, it's a great opportunity to see another famous river bluff, Wisconsin's Diamond Bluff. But if you'd rather keep it to Minnesota, head west on Highway 61 to Hastings. That's where you'll find this state park best known for its
. But Afton State Park isn't just a swimming spot. It's also a prime destination for leaf peeping. The park has 20 miles of hiking trails, many of them offering excellent views of the St. Croix River. Go in peak season, and you won't be disappointed.
Address: 6959 Peller Avenue South, Hastings
6. William O'Brien State Park - Marine on St. Croix
William O'Brien is a fairly popular state park with well over 200,000 annual visitors. And when you look at all it has to offer, it's no wonder. With 12 miles of well-established hiking trails, you can see a big chunk of the park in just a few hours. And when you're done, you can have a picnic along the St. Croix River or Lake Alex. When the ground is strewn with colorful leaves - and more are hanging from the branches above - it's positively magical.
Address: 19074 St. Croix Trail, Marine on St. Croix.
7. Interstate State Park - Taylors Falls
After taking some time at William O'Brien, the next stop is Interstate State Park. This popular Taylors Falls spot offers prime opportunity for leaf spotting. Hiking trails along the cliffs overlook the St. Croix River, with interesting geological formations easily spotted along the way. When you're ready to turn your eyes from the fascinating glacial potholes, you'll be blown away by a landscape of river, cliffs, and autumn trees intertwined.
Address: 307 Milltown Court, Taylors Falls.
8. St. Croix State Park - Hinckley
The drive from Interstate State Park to St. Croix State Park is about 70 miles, but it's 100% worth it. If you take the scenic route along Highway 61 - also known as the St. Croix Scenic Byway - you'll pass through many charming small towns. These will all be ablaze with color, and far more interesting than anything you'll find on the freeway. St. Croix State Park itself is a few miles east of Hinckley. It consists of 34,000 acres of land with access to both the St. Croix and the Kettle Rivers. It would be a good spot to do a little fall canoeing. And don't forget to climb the fire tower to see the fall colors from above!
Address: 30065 St. Croix Park Road, Hinckley.
9. Banning State Park - Sandstone
Just a bit further north from Hinckley is Banning State Park. This gorgeous park is right on the Kettle River, a State Wild and Scenic River that is considered a great spot for kayaking. Even if you're not into paddling, this park is well worth visiting. Peaceful hikes through the trees will take you to historic sites, picnic areas, and river views. There is even a small waterfall on the river. If the water isn't too rough, it's possible to wade out on the rocks and enjoy the scenery with a panoramic view.
Address: 61101 Banning Park Road, Sandstone.
Do you have any other favorite fall foliage spots? Have you taken a fall foliage road trip? Let us know down below.
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