Explore fall color close to home

The week ahead promises warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine to enjoy the fall colors in the lakes area.

A maple tree shows its autumn colors Saturday, Oct. 3, along Ojibwe Road around Round Lake. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Some people travel many hours and miles to see the fall color that blossoms in the fall and can be seen in abundance in the state’s northwoods.

For those of us who live here, it can at times pass amid the daily rush of living, glimpsed on the way to work and lost after lengthy to-do lists this time of year.

But there are many options to explore fall color right here in the lakes area.

Oak leaves turn a bright red Saturday, Oct. 3, in Pillsbury State Forest. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch


Suggested trips and local favorites

Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism office, recommends a fall drive on the Lake Mille Lacs Scenic Byway.

“The Lake Mille Lacs 68-mile Scenic Byway is the state’s 22nd byway. The byway loops around Lake Mille Lacs and includes highways 169, 27, 18 and 47. Shakopee Lake Road, which is a county-owned road, is also part of the loop. It's just 30 minutes from Brainerd and 90 miles north of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“The scenic route includes many opportunities to learn about Minnesota’s natural beauty, rich history, culture and recreational opportunities. A partial list of the route’s attractions include: birding and wildlife viewing, the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post in Vineland, several historic Civilian Conservation Corps campsites from the 1930s and 1940s, the nation's smallest national wildlife refuge and two state parks.

“The Lake Mille Lacs area and it's byway offers something for everyone in the family. Whether you're making a trip to Onamia, Isle, Wahkon, Malmo or Garrison to see the huge walleyes or the fall colors, picnicking in the two state parks, hiking or biking the multi-use trails, cross-country skiing or just relaxing in a cozy resort, it's a trip worth taking!”

Or check out the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway. "This drive is bursting with options for nature enthusiasts – birding, fishing, biking and hiking – and for golfers or casual day-trippers who prefer the boutiques, galleries and gift shops of Pequot Lakes, Pine River and Crosslake," Explore Minnesota reports.

Looking for a day driving trip to get away, try the Otter Trail Scenic Byway. “This byway offers more than 1,000 sparkling lakes and wildlife-filled wetlands, 19th century flour mills, scenic trails and spectacular roadside sculptures. There are many intriguing historic sites, informational markers and the rich natural and cultural resources that make this picturesque reroute and attraction for visitors from around the world,” Explore Minnesota reports.

Other options include Itasca State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, and the list goes on to include many more.

Closer to home, there are multiple options from just a drive in the lakes area to destinations.


Equestrians and their horses take to the trail for a fall ride hosted by the Boots'n Buckles Saddle Club Saturday, Oct. 3, in Pillsbury State Forest. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Take a drive or a walk or ride in area parks

  • Visit the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area by Crosby-Ironton, about 15 miles northeast of Brainerd. It offers both the mountain biking and paved bike trails, kayaking, hiking but the latest report from the DNR has the Miner’s Mountain overlook road closed until mid-October for construction.

  • Mille Lacs Kathio State Park, 15066 Kathio State Park Road, Onamia. This National Historic Landmark, offers extensive interpretive and nature programs. Activities available include climbing the 100 foot observation tower, hiking trails, swimming, canoeing, cross-county skiing, wildlife and bird watching opportunities, playground, and historic sites.

  • Try the Milford Mine Memorial Park at 26351 Milford Lake Drive, Crosby for a history walk in the woods.

  • Climb the historic fire tower for a bird’s eye view at the Paul M. Thiede Fire Tower Park, at 5230 County Highway 11, Pequot Lakes

  • Bicycle or drive to Crow Wing State Park, bikes can use the Paul Bunyan State Trail to get there from Brainerd, to see the historic Old Crow Wing Village, the confluence of the Mississippi and Crow Wing rivers and fall color. It is about 9 miles south of Brainerd.

  • Charles A. Lindbergh State Park offers a Mississippi River view and a trip in history.

  • Pillsbury State Forest offers trails through heavy forest dotted with small lakes and ponds and a trail system popular with equestrians with 27 miles for horse and rider and 1.2 miles of hiking trails among its other attractions.

  • Another locally popular drive is on Beauty Lake Road off County Highway 77 west of Gull Lake or Ojibwa Road around Round lake.

The forecast for the week ahead offers a favorable time to explore the fall color before it’s gone with sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s expected for the Brainerd lakes area this week.
Monday, Oct. 5, is expected to reach 67 degrees with sunny skies and breezy south wind. Tuesday has a 20% chance of showers in the afternoon but is expected to be mostly sunny with a high near 70. Wednesday and Thursday may be a bit cooler with highs near 61, but with plenty of sunshine. Friday may be the prime day of the week with a potential high of 72 degrees and Saturday is close behind with a possible high near 69 along with sunny skies and a light breeze. Sunday also promises sunshine and a high near 67 degrees.

Overnight lows all week are expected to be above freezing, mostly in the upper 40s.

Try the Explore Minnesota bingo card to add to the fall leaf color outing or just the next drive to get away for awhile. It can be downloaded to play on a smartphone or tablet, or printed to take on the drive. Screenshot.


Trip activity

To make the trip more of an interactive experience for passengers, Explore Minnesota has a downloadable and printable Road-Trip’N Bingo card that is specific to areas of the state. The central Minnesota card features items like a historic downtown, a bald eagle, a pontoon, scenic overlook, train, pumpkin patch, roadside attraction and many more.

Most of Cass and Morrison counties, all of Crow Wing, Todd, and Wadena counties, and swaths of Aitkin and Mille Lacs counties are listed for peak fall color. To download the card, go to .

Central Minnesota is in peak color from an Explore Minnesota report. Screenshot

Explore Minnesota fall color report

Fall color has progressed rapidly, leaves are falling and many areas of the far north are now past peak. Some areas of this region, however, are at their peak and filled with bright yellow, gold, peachy-orange and vibrant red leaves. The oaks are contributing rich shades of rust and maroon to the landscape.

While some areas are now past peak, the trees in much of northwest Minnesota continue to put on a dazzling show. Pockets of bright red and orange-yellow are visible in the red and sugar maples, and golden tones fill the paper birch, aspen, ironwood, boxelder and cottonwood trees. The understory shrubs are at peak shades of red, peach and yellow-orange leaves.

Most areas of central Minnesota are nearing peak fall color. The forest canopies and understory shrubs are filled with vibrant red, orange, peach, apricot and yellow leaves, blanketing most landscapes with a warm, golden glow. The native grasses are adding to the show with their rich shades of gold, bronze, maroon and purple.

Fall color has progressed rapidly and some of the maple and basswood-dominated forests are nearing their peak color displays. Many maples are filled with red, orange and peach colored leaves, and the sumac and vines are a vibrant crimson red. Landscapes are saturated with golden-yellow fall color found in the ash, cottonwood, elm, hackberry and other tree species.

Bright red, orange and yellow leaves are rapidly developing in the forest canopies, and much of the sumac and other understory shrubs are brilliant shades of scarlet and crimson. Prairies throughout Minnesota's southern region are overflowing with beauty as they near peak fall color.

For more information, go to


This year's fall color updates are a collaboration between Explore Minnesota and Minnesota State Parks and Trails.

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