LITTLE FALLS — Sara Schoepf got an eyeful of Minnesota’s natural beauty when she went on a stroll recently with a friend at a Morrison County park.
The retired teacher from Cushing learned a thing or two about how vibrant the colors were as she walked Tuesday, Oct. 5, in James Green Park in Little Falls by the Mississippi River dam.
“Meeting a friend, enjoying a beautiful day,” Schoepf said, surrounded by trees with leaves in various autumn hues of green, yellow, orange and red.
The Minnesota native is just one of many area residents who appreciate the show Mother Nature puts on every year. So popular is fall color viewing, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources regularly updates an online map in the fall indicating peak fall colors in the state.
“There’s no greater glory than seeing what Minnesota looks like in the fall,” Schoepf said. “And the weather is glorious — you can’t beat it — it just magnifies the opportunity to be outside.”
Val Cervenka is the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources forest health program coordinator and fields a lot of questions about peak fall colors in the state.
“Fall colors generally start in your area in late September. But that can certainly change with the weather as it has this year,” Cervenka said Thursday. “I think people love getting out in the fall. They are sick of the heat, they would like to go exploring.”
“I think people love getting out in the fall. They are sick of the heat, they would like to go exploring.”
— Val Cervenka, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources forest health program coordinator
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fall color finder offers online maps that allow the user to compare the color of a region in the state to previous years.
“Last year, it looks like you were almost at peak right now or at peak right now,” Cervenka said of the Brainerd lakes area. “And you would think that would have happened this year when we had all this drought causing leaves to fall and change color but kind of early.”
Time might be running out for sightseers, tourists, campers, photographers, outdoor enthusiasts, naturalists and others who appreciate the vibrant colors before the tree leaves fall away.
“According to this fall color map, you're still not at peak … but last year, you were at peak already,” Cervenka said of Crow Wing and Cass counties.
Fall color finder
To update the DNR’s map weekly, state park staff report on the condition of the trees, wildflowers and grasses in their region.
“I think that the parks can update whenever they have information, but the actual official day of updates is Thursdays, until probably at least mid-, if not late, October depending upon how fall is progressing down to the bottom of the state,” Cervenka said.
Drought conditions continue to slowly improve in Minnesota, with extreme drought dropping from 23.58% to 17.58%, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and the percentage of the state that has come out of drought conditions rose from 6.5% to 9.8%.
“Drought can put a tree into stress. And when a tree goes into stress mode, it sheds leaves because leaves are losing water all day long … so it’s a natural process,” Cervenka said. “But if a tree is stressed for any reason — you know, insects and diseases — those are all stressors.”
Portions of the state are displaying seasonal color change up to 100% in the northern parts of the state, according to the DNR’s fall color finder map as of Friday, with trees in Crow Wing County at 50-75% of fall color that can be seen.
“In the fall — when days are starting to get shorter, nights are getting longer — that's a signal to trees, like, ‘Hey, it’s time to prepare.’ And so as this happens, the green chlorophyll in leaves is produced less and less and less until finally it stops being produced,” Cervenka said.
The reds and purples are caused by anthocyanins, the result of sugars combined with compounds called anthocyanidins.
“Those reds in red maples, for example, and red oaks — that is a color that's produced in the fall because as leaf veins are starting to close down, sugars are trapped into the leaves and then those sugars combine with other leaf compounds,” Cervenka said.
For weekly email updates on where to find peak fall color, people can sign up at the fall color finder website or they can text “FALL” to 468311 to subscribe for text updates.
“If you're looking for places to go there, the Explore Minnesota website has a list of ‘Rainbow Routes.’ And one of those routes includes Brainerd lakes in Mille Lacs, and it just talks about the route to take if you'd like to see great color,” Cervenka said.
To view the DNR’s fall color finder map, plan a trip with Explore Minnesota, view an events calendar, or to share and view photos, visit dnr.state.mn.us/fall_colors.
Hit the road for an unforgettable drive through a rainbow of colorful fall foliage in Minnesota this autumn, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The department’s list, which can be found at https://bit.ly/3uTHBcc, includes “some well-known favorites, and some lesser-known gems where you don't have to share the view with a crowd.”