Rainbow Routes: 11 Fall Color Drives

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 7, 2000

Here’s a sampler of routes for viewing a rainbow of colorful fall foliage in Minnesota.

Thursday, September 07, 2000

Here’s a sampler of routes for viewing a rainbow of colorful fall foliage in Minnesota. Included are some well-known routes, familiar favorites. But there are also some with great color that are less well known – where you don’t have to share the view with lots of others.

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North Shore Of Lake Superior

Route: Hwy. 61, Duluth to Grand Portage Peak color: mid-September to early October

Great color and great lake views, very popular with fall color fans. Several state parks with wilderness rivers, waterfalls, hiking trails, and scenic overlooks. Yellow aspen and birch along shoreline, with scarlet maples inland along forest roads. Make sure you have a reservation for a place to stay, and try planning midweek trips to avoid the busiest travel periods. This has just been designated as an "All American Drive," one of only 14 routes in the country so noted for their outstanding scenery.


Virginia-Cook Area

Route: Hwy. 135, Co. Rd. 23 & 24 Peak color: mid-September to early October

Superior National Forest features a beautiful mix of pine and hardwoods, with plenty of lakes and hiking trails off the side roads. From Virginia to Tower, Hwy. 135 is an easy drive. From Cook, Co. Rds. 23 & 24 (part paved, part gravel) are scenic back roads that wind their way through the forest.


Edge Of The Wilderness

Route: Hwy. 38, Grand Rapids to Bigfork Peak color: mid-September to early October

Scenic byway winds over hills through the colorful mix of pine and hardwoods of Chippewa National Forest. Return via Co. Rd. 7, and a side trip to beautiful Scenic State Park. Or take one of the back roads through the forest, with stops at lakes and hiking trails.


Mississippi Headwaters

Route: Hwy. 71 between Park Rapids and Bemidji, plus numerous other roads around these towns Peak color: mid-September to early October

Itasca State Park, source of the mighty Mississippi River, is the star attraction. Lake Bemidji State Park, with its birch and pine, is another highlight. Surfaced bike trail in Itasca, and mountain bike trails in Bemidji State Park. Also, scenic biking along the nearby Heartland Trail.

Otter Tail County

Route: Hwys. 108 & 78, and numerous county roads Peak color: late September to early October

The rolling countryside between Fergus Falls and Perham is a blend of wooded hills, lakes, and farmland. Highlights are Maplewood and Glendalough state parks, historic Phelps Mill, and the view from Inspiration Peak, off Co. Rd. 38.


Brainerd Lakes & Mille Lacs

Route: Hwy. 371 and 6, and the county roads between them, plus Hwy. 169 Peak color: late September to early October

Gull, Pelican and Cross lakes and the Whitefish Chain of Lakes sparkle amid woods of maple, oak, birch and aspen. Mille Lacs Kathio State Park is an expanse of colorful forest at the edge of Mille Lacs, and an observation tower here offers fantastic views. Fishing, boating, golfing and biking the Paul Bunyan Trail are favorite activities in this lake country.

St. Croix River Valley

Route: Hwy. 95 from Taylors Falls to Afton Peak color: late September to mid October

Scenic St. Croix winds through wooded hillsides and sheer cliffs. Four state parks feature great river views: Interstate, Wild River, William O’Brien and Afton. Charming towns of Stillwater, Taylors Falls and Afton have numerous antique and gift shops. Boat excursions feature great fall color. This drive is very popular in the fall; consider a midweek visit to avoid weekend traffic.

Twin Cities Touring

Route: Parkways around Minneapolis lakes, along Minnehaha Creek, Mississippi and Summit Ave. Peak color: late September to mid October

Few major cities can boast such beautiful drives, especially pretty in the fall. Circle Lake of the Isles, Calhoun, Harriet and Nokomis lakes, and visit Minnehaha Falls. The Lake Street and Ford Parkway bridges have great views of the Mississippi bordered by colorful, wooded hillsides. St. Paul’s tree-lined Summit Avenue is bordered by stately homes.

Mississippi River Valley

Route: Hwy. 61 between Red Wing and LaCrescent Peak color: mid October

Charming rivertowns and wooded bluffs along the Mississippi. Steep hillsides dressed in brilliant autumn hues of red, russet and gold. Several scenic overlooks, including those at Frontenac and Great River Bluffs state parks. Several roadside apple stands. This is a popular fall drive, so book your stay ahead of time.


Minnesota River Drive

Route: Co. Rd. 6 & Hwy. 93 from Belle Plaine to LeSueur, then Hwy. 169 to Mankato, then Hwy. 68 to New Ulm. Peak color: late September to mid October

Follows the bend in the river, and the ribbon of yellow and gold hardwoods that borders its waters. Riverside parks in LeSueur, St. Peter, Mankato, and New Ulm, as well as blufftop overlooks in New Ulm. At Minneopa State Park, a trail follows the riverbank, and there are 45- foot double waterfalls along a creek.


Bluff Country

Routes: Hwys. 16, 43, and 76, plus Co. Rds. 4, 10, 12 and 21. Peak color: mid-October

Pastures and farm fields are scattered among rugged bluffs, wooded ravines and quiet valleys. Canopy of hardwoods is especially scenic in the fall. Highlights include Beaver Creek and Forestville state parks, the popular Root River Bike Trail, interesting shops in Lanesboro and Harmony, and several fall festivals.

For more information on fall color drives, or other Minnesota destinations, check out the Explore Minnesota Web site, www.exploreminnesota.com.