Monday, September 8, 2014

Great Fall Color Drives

There's nothing quite like the brilliance of a vast hillside of colorful trees turning color.  The reds, oranges, yellows and browns seem to usher in all that's great about fall.  The temperatures are cooler but still not bone chilling, making you want to sit by a fire, drink hot cocoa and nestle in a blanket.  There are no bugs and hiking through the woods offers a crunch under your feet and a feast for the eyes.

If you love getting the most out of seeing all the fall colors, then you're reading the right post.  We've put together some great scenic drives that you can manage in a weekend, some even in a day.  Pack a picnic and your hiking boots, and throw the kids and the dog in the van.  Head out on an adventure!

First, Find The Color

Minnesota is a big state.  The northern tip of the state hits it's peak fall colors much earlier than this southern end of the state.  For this reason, you'll want to know where the best colors are before you head out.

The map below shows the typical peak times in Minnesota.  And while this serves as a great first resource, you'll want to know specifically where the colors are changing the most at any given time.  Many factors affect leaves changing color:  drought conditions the previous summer, cooler nighttime temperatures, sunlight or lack of it, and high winds and rain.
Typical Peak Color
Source:  MN DNR

Luckily, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has provided a great map to let you know when and where the best fall colors are at any given moment. As you can see from the map on the left below, the colors haven't quite started to change yet which still gives you plenty of time to plan a get away.

fall color map
Source:  MN DNR

Without further ado, we've listed a few routes you might want to try this fall.  We've listed them in order of which areas are most likely to show fall colors first.

Scenic Highway 61 MN North Shore
Duluth to Grand Portage
150 Miles one way

Oberg Mountain, Tofte, MN
There's a reason people call this part of the state "God's Country".  The majesty of Lake Superior combined with the rocky, tree covered hills makes this one of the most beautiful areas in Minnesota.  With numerous hiking trails (like the renowned Superior Hiking Trail), state parks and historic sites, you're sure to find plenty to do along the way.  And this area gives you your best chances of seeing some rare wildlife.

Great stops along the way:
Glensheen Mansion in Duluth
Gooseberry Falls near Two Harbors
Split Rock State Park near Two Harbors
Palisade Head near Silver Bay
Lutsen Mountain near Tofte
Grand Marais
Guflint Trail north of Grand Marais
Grand Portage State Park

Lake Country Scenic Byway
Detroit Lakes to Walker and Itasca State Park
88 Miles one way

Credit:  Joe Novak

Fall colors reflected in a serene lake.  The call of loons and the cry of eagles overhead.  The star attractions of this area are the Chippewa National Forest, Itasca State Park and Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. Get off the main track and walk on a bog, walk over the source of the great Mississippi River, fish from the shores of pristine lakes or better yet from a canoe, hit three different casinos along the way, and bring your binoculars for some great bird watching.  And when you're sitting around the fire, look up in the sky and you may just see the Northern Lights in all their glory.

St. Croix Scenic Byway
Afton to Sandstone
140 Miles one way


If there’s a signature scene of fall driving in Minnesota, it may just be the view from Highway 95 approaching Taylors Falls as you begin the descent into the valley of the St. Croix River. The scenery taps into the Americana section of our brains—a shapely river valley cloaked in flaming maples, a scattering of conifers, a 19th-century town greeting us at the bottom of the hill. It is the closest Minnesota comes to New England.

Some of the oldest towns in Minnesota are along this beautiful route include Stillwater (self proclaimed birthplace of MN), and Taylor's Falls where some homes date to the 1850's.  There are plenty of state parks and historical sites to see along the way.  And it's a short drive from the Twin Cities, one that could be done in a day if you want.

Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway
Dexter to LaCrescent
88 miles one way

The southeast corner of the state is delightful.  Full of hills and valleys, twisty roads, limestone bluffs, old barns, and the meandering Root River.  It's breathtaking and unlike any other terrain in the state.  In fact, this area is so gorgeous that there are 4 other scenic byways in this area alone.  

Biking is highly touted in the area and you can rent one almost anywhere and spend the day on miles and miles of state bike trails.  The Root River is known for great trout fishing and the land boasts some of the best areas for turkey hunting.  Be sure not to miss the super cool town of Lanesboro, with great shopping and east and a theater as well.

Source:  Michelle Schwake for Stafford Family Realtors

No comments: