By Trent Jonas
Autumn is coming, and autumn in the North Star State is nothing short of stunning. Hiking amidst the color bursts of foliage is one of the best ways to enjoy Minnesota’s fall colors. Here are a handful of our favorite hikes!
Nerstrand Big Woods State Park contains one of the last remnants of the Big Woods—a huge deciduous forest that once covered southern Minnesota—in the state. This means oaks, maples, and basswoods that burst into blossoms of red, orange, and gold when the weather starts to turn cold. Start with the White Oak Trail from the trailhead, then take the Maplewood Loop counterclockwise until you connect with the basswood Trail. When you hit the Fox Trail, take it north and cap off your hike with a walk around the Hidden Falls Trail Loop, where you’ll be treated with a waterfall and an easy stroll back to the trailhead.
Moose Lake is located between Duluth and Hinckley, not far from Interstate 35. This easily-accessible park, at just over 1,200 acres, is relatively small. But shoreline on Moosehead and Echo Lakes, as well as several ponds within the park, create gorgeous water vistas. Combine this with mature stands of aspen, mixed with maple, birch, and basswood, and the fall palette paints the ponds like watercolors. Start on the Wildlife Pond Trail to take advantage of views of the fall colors over water, then head onto the Rolling Hills Trail and complete the loop for some autumn tree bathing. The changes in elevation are moderate at worst, and a portion of the trails are paved for easy accessibility.
Twin Cities folks looking for a nearby foliage fix should head southwest to the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area and the Minnesota Valley State Trail, which snakes through the area, following the course of the Minnesota River. In places, the river valley can be five miles wide and as deep as 300 feet. In autumn months, the floodplain forests and bluff top oak savannas explode with colors, surrounding you on all sides with festive foliage. If you prefer a paved trail, hike the portion between Shakopee and Chaska. The trail continues from Chaska to Belle Plaine with a natural surface and also connects with the Louisville Swamp District of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
In Western Minnesota, head over to Maplewood State Park to enjoy some of the state’s finest fall foliage. As the park’s name implies, it is home to a healthy hardwood forest of mostly maple trees. Basswood and oak lend support to the maples’ lead role and create a dazzling display of colors over the park’s hills and valleys, reflecting across its clear, cool lakes. An extensive trail system enables you to take advantage of the vistas and bathe in the autumn colors. From the trailhead, set out on the Ironwood Trail. The changes in elevation and views along and across Lake Lida, as well as Beaver, Field, and Andrew Lakes, punctuate the colors and enhance the vibrancy of the fall foliage in the park.
In a transition zone where hardwood forests and oak savannas meet the conifers of the Great North Woods, Wild River State Park is perfectly situated to highlight all the stunning glory that fall foliage in Minnesota has to offer. Soaring views down the St. Croix River valley enhance the experience and drama of the park’s vistas. The best foliage views take advantage of the valley’s bluffs. The Old Logging Trail and Deer Creek Loop follow the bluff lines above the St. Croix and offer forested vistas for miles downriver and across the valley to Wisconsin. For a more immersive foliage experience, hike the Trillium Trail and connect with the Sunrise Trail.