11 Best Ways to Experience Minnesota Fall Colors
Flaming red maples, copper oaks, yellow birch. As fall sweeps across the Twin Cities, the best ways to enjoy seasonal brilliance involve getting outdoors. Simply step outside and experience the explosion of fall color for yourself!
Whether you’re an outdoor adventurer, or more of an outdoor observer, there’s something for everyone this fall.
Let Fall Colors Wash Over You Near (or on!) the Water
1. Relax in a Gondola
Striped-shirt gondoliers take couples and small groups for rides in authentic Venetian boats departing from historical Stillwater. Enjoy the gentle rocking — and maybe even a ballad — during these scenic trips on the St. Croix River.
2. Paddle the Mississippi
Paddle Share, a new program — and the first within a national park — offers kayak rentals and return stations along three sections of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. Kayaks are available at North Mississippi Regional Park in Brooklyn Center, and at the Lowry Avenue Bridge for, respectively, 3.9- or 1.7-mile trips to Boom Island Park. Above the Falls Sports offers 2 1/2- or four-hour guided tours on the Mississippi, along with themed tours that can even include craft brews!
3. Circle the Lakes
Grab a bike, walk or run the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, which circles 50 miles through Minneapolis, connecting its lakes — Harriet, Lake of the Isles, Calhoun and Nokomis — with parks, Minnehaha Creek and the Mississippi River. It’s what makes the Twin Cities Marathon, Oct. 1 this year, one of the prettiest urban routes in the country. Bikes can be rented seasonally through Wheel Fun Rentals, which also offers kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards. There’s also a St. Paul location at Lake Como. Nice Ride, a bike-share program, rents 1,800 bright blue-and-green bikes at more than 200 Twin Cities locations, perfect for a weekend ride where you can watch the fiery fall colors reflected in the lake water.
4. Steam Across Minnetonka
The Museum of Lake Minnetonka runs trips around this beloved lake with tucked-away bays, islands and some of the nicest homes in the Twin Cities. Passengers ride in the lovingly restored 101-year-old steamboat named Minnehaha. Once part of the Minneapolis streetcar system, the gold-and-red boat operates on weekends throughout the fall, mirroring the vibrant colors of the season.
Soak up the Season from the Sky
5. Go Birding
Quietly tucked along American Boulevard between Mall of America and the MSP International Airport, the Bloomington Visitors Center for the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge offers maps and information for exploring this oasis of 14,000 acres, stretched throughout 13 units in the metropolitan area. Free programs include guided birding and photography hikes, plus plenty of trails to explore on your own. Take binoculars and spot every fall hue at places like Old Cedar Avenue Bridge, where you can scan the river for pelicans, swans and other waterfowl. You may even see songbirds, cranes and raptors as they gather for migration. The Minnesota River converges with the Mississippi near historical Fort Snelling and 3,711-acre Fort Snelling State Park, which has a fishing pier and beach.
6. Soar Above It All
Besides offering deliciously sweet apples, Aamodt’s Apple Farm in Stillwater is also home to hot air balloon rides! Take in all the stunning colors of fall from a bird’s-eye view as you float along the St. Croix River Valley. Balloons take off from the orchard and follow the winds above the river, giving you the best view of fall for miles around.
Lace up Your Walking Shoes and Take in the Autumn Sights
7. Head Out on a Hike
At close to 5,000 acres, Maple Grove’s Elm Creek Park Preserve is among the largest in the metro area and boasts 50 miles of trails. Try the 5.5-mile loop from Eastman Nature Center that follows Rush Creek. Three Rivers Park District also offers stunning fall views, as well as guided fall hikes and other seasonal activities throughout the metropolitan area.
8. Walk Among Artwork
Check out the Walker Art Center’s newly expanded 9-acre Minneapolis Sculpture Garden that features 58 works of art. New sculptures, like the 15-foot-tall bright-blue rooster, join iconic pieces like “Spoonbridge and Cherry.” Another noteworthy sculpture garden is the 60-acre Caponi Art Park in Eagan. Both perfect places to watch the colors of fall combine with the inspiration of art.
Indulge Your Adventurous Side with Outside Fall Activities
9. Saddle Up
Another great way to see fall colors? From horseback! Enjoy a one-hour trail ride at 1,600-acre Bunker Hills Regional Park north of Blaine and Coon Rapids. Kids must be 8 or older to participate, although there are adult-led pony rides for younger children. The park also features golfing, hiking and biking, along with a campground for enjoying the last warm days of fall.
10. Pedal with Adrenaline
The Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists help maintain 85 miles of trails at 11 sites in the Twin Cities, trails that rank among the nation’s top destinations for overall bicycling (not to mention some of the best places to see the leaves change color). Check out more than 7 miles of trails down the hills and across the prairie at St. Paul’s 1,840-acre Battle Creek Regional Park.
11. Go Downhill
Burnsville’s Buck Hill slopes (where Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn once trained) installs artificial snow for offseason skiing, boarding and tubing. It also lets mountain bikers rumble down its hills on the southern edge of the Twin Cities. It’s an ideal spot to enjoy winter fun while surrounded by fall’s beauty.