Corn mazes, hayrides and Oktoberfests kick state’s fall tourism into high gear

Published 8:10 am Tuesday, August 30, 2016

By Jennifer Brooks

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Corn maze season is coming, the one time of year when you can tell people to get lost without sounding rude.

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Minnesotans pack the short, sweet autumn season with festivals, carnivals, Oktoberfests, hayrides and, of course, corn mazes.

Cornfields are being carved into fantastical shapes in every corner of the state.

“Fall is just an incredible time to explore Minnesota,” said John Edman, who heads the state tourism council Explore Minnesota. “The corn maze reflects a part of our culture. It celebrates the end of a great growing season.”

The farther you drive to a corn maze, the greater your reward.

In Pipestone County, the Spronk family carved one of their fields into the shape of Minnesota, complete with its counties. When the Rock River Pumpkin Festival kicks off in Edgerton on Oct. 1, visitors can crisscross the state from Rock County to Cook and from Kittson to Houston counties and back.

It might seem too soon to be talking about pumpkins and cider and autumn leaves while the swimming pools are still open and ice cream trucks are still circling the block. But the state’s tourism officials know it’s never too early to start planning for fall.

Explore Minnesota keeps a running tally of the biggest and most baffling corn mazes in the state. The list runs from the Vikings-themed maze of the Twin Cities Harvest festival to the massive labyrinth in Shakopee celebrating the 20th anniversary of Sever’s Fall Festival to the 3 miles of pathways that will wind through the pirate-themed corn at Tweite’s Family Farm in Byron.

Most of the mazes will open in mid-September through early October. Up North in Warroad, where summers are even shorter, the County Corn Maze opened Aug. 19. Visitors who make the road trip will be rewarded with a corn maze designed to look like a road trip, complete with vehicles, roads and roadside attractions crafted out of rows of corn.

The scenery along the way will be getting more colorful. Right now, the Department of Natural Resources’ fall color finder — — is solid green. But by mid-September, the trees in northern Minnesota will be hitting peak fall colors, and the scarlets, yellows and oranges will be brightening trees to the south.

Explore Minnesota has mapped out fall color driving tours it dubbed “Rainbow Routes.” Leaf peepers can cruise the banks of the Mississippi or the St. Croix River Valley, drive in loops around the Iron Range or Brainerd Lakes or roam along the coast of Lake Superior.

“Don’t let the season pass you by,” warns the Explore Minnesota site.

“There’s so much to do in such a short period of time,” Edman said.

It’s not even Labor Day yet, but grocery shelves are already crowded with pumpkin-spiced everything and two separate farmers almanacs are forecasting a frigid winter ahead for Minnesota.

Some fall color and a ramble through the corn maze could help cushion the blow.

So when sweater weather comes, Minnesotans have options. The Department of Agriculture’s Minnesota Grown website counts 24 crop mazes around the state, 165 pumpkin patches, 18 cider mills and legions of summer and winter farmers markets.

For a more-than-comprehensive list of fall activities around the state, visit