Travel For Two
12 of the Best Hikes for Fall Foliage
Experience the area’s changing leaves from the trail. We share our picks for the region’s most colorful fall hikes.
Nationally award-winning parks and a get-outdoors local culture make it easy to find scenic hikes that wind through tunnels of red, orange, gold and copper fall foliage throughout the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro region. To double that beauty, try one of these destinations along rivers and lakes that mirror autumn’s beauty on crisp, blue-sky days.
Cross the Minnesota River
Cedar Avenue Bridge reopened in fall 2019 to exclusively give hikers and bikers an intimate view of the Minnesota River Valley, only minutes away from the Mall of America in Bloomington. It ripples with wildlife as an important rest stop for migrating birds. Black coots dip into the water seeking food. Sunlight shimmers across emerald-headed mallards. Canada geese and trumpeter swans let out their distinctive honks as they paddle in pairs. The bridge connects with several trails for exploring the bluffs and river’s edge.
The 14,000-acre Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge curves through the southern side of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro region, touching Burnsville, Shakopee and Chaska, making it easy to find additional picnic spots, romantic strolls or adrenaline-pumping mountain bike trails along its banks.
Birdwatch Along the Mississippi Flyway
Pack binoculars or a telephoto lens for a birding hike through the 3,000-acre Fort Snelling State Park, which sits along the eastern edge of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport and boasts 18 miles of trails. Audubon estimates 60% of North America’s birds use the Mississippi River Flyway during migration, and the park’s location at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers offers them sheltered bottomlands and ponds to refuel and rest. Hike Pike Island’s loop to see both rivers or hike up to Saint Paul’s Fort Snelling, built in the 1820s, for blufftop views.
Climb Hills in Bloomington
Known for its winter ski runs, the 2,565-acre Hyland Lake Park Reserve features nearly 18 miles of trails that wind through forested hills and restored tallgrass prairie and offer sweeping views of Hyland, Bush, Normandale and Anderson Lakes. Look for additional activities at Richardson Nature Center, or try out the 18-hole disc golf course or the illuminated Lake Trail, which can be enjoyed after dark as days shorten.
Sample Eagan’s Woods
Close to 26 miles of hiking trails thread through 2,000 acres at Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Dakota. Kayaks can be rented at the Lebanon Hills Visitor Center for the lake, or you can cool off with one last swim of the season at Shulze Lake Beach. The park on the eastern edge of the metro area also has campsites for anyone not ready to leave the wooded oasis.
See Minnehaha Falls
Catch one of the area’s most iconic sights — Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis — draped in fall colors as it drops 53 feet before flowing east toward the Mississippi River. Minnehaha Regional Park sits along the Light Rail Line, making this a popular spot that’s easy to reach without a car.
Loop Around Minneapolis’ Lakes
From Minnehaha, you can follow the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, a historic greenway that connects to the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park, considered the most visited park destination in the area. Lakeside paths circle Lake Nokomis, Lake Harriet, Lake of the Isles and Bde Maka Ska, passing some of the city’s grandest houses.
Explore the Great River
Get an up-close look at one of the world’s most storied rivers at Mississippi Gateway Regional Park, which borders Brooklyn Park and Coon Rapids northwest of Minneapolis. More than 2 miles of trails wind along the Mississippi shore and a walkway spans the dam, letting visitors see and hear the power of the river as it rumbles over the structure. Watch for deer, beaver, mink, eagles and many migrating birds that follow the Mississippi Flyway each fall.
Go by Foot or by Saddle at Bunker Hills
While best known for its sprawling summer waterpark, Coon Rapids’ 1,600-acre Bunker Hills Regional Park is threaded with enough trails for a day of fall hiking and comes with the added option of soaking in fall colors while on a horseback trail ride. There’s also the chance to fit in one more campout for the season with 72 sites and two camper cabins to rent within 30 minutes of downtown Minneapolis. Additional recreation includes a golf course, archery and disc golf.
Hike Near Minnetonka
In the southwestern part of the metro area near Waconia, Carver Park Reserve also offers campsites and 25 miles of trails, including a 1,700-foot floating boardwalk through a marsh. Look for the golden glow of tamarack trees in the swamp, let dogs loose in the off-leash area and check out the Lowry Nature Center. Head across Highway 7 to the adjacent Lake Minnetonka Regional Park for more trails and views of Lake Minnetonka, the state’s 10th-largest lake.
Stroll Through Urban Marshes
The 3 miles of trails at Richfield’s Wood Lake Nature Center — including a boardwalk through the heart of a marsh — offer a different palette of fall colors with cattails, prairie, woods and open lake that draw deer, turkeys, mergansers, herons and other waterfowl and birds. Twelve miles away, St. Louis Park’s Westwood Hills Nature Center also offers more than 3 miles of trails and a floating boardwalk into prairie, woods and marsh that’s home to turtles, fox, deer and owls. More wildlife can be seen in the new Interpretive Center.