6 Unique Ways to View Minnesota Fall Colors

by Ed Forteau /
Ed Forteau's picture
Sep 23, 2011 / 0 comments

There's nothing like the spectacular fall colors to inspire and delight.  For the maximum “Wow!” factor in Minnesota fall color viewing, take yourself to the top.  The top of, well, any of several things that gets you to a point far above treetop level for an amazing, panoramic view of  brilliant color stretching out as far as you can see.


fall colors


1. Climb a fire tower.

Whew.  Climb multiple sets of stairs to the top of the 100-foot fire tower at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park in the fall and, as you catch your breath, enjoy the reward: an expanse of colorful hardwood treetops and giant Mille Lacs Lake.  Towers such as this one were built decades ago as lookouts to watch for wildfires.   Today, they aren’t needed for that purpose any more, but fire towers have been kept as scenic outlooks at four state parks: Itasca north of Park Rapids, St. Croix east of Hinckley, and Whitewater east of Rochester, as well as Mille Lacs Kathio near Onamia. There are fabulous fall color views from all of these towers.


2. Or, a water tower.

Lake Bronson State Park
in the northwest corner of the state has a handsome stone tower, built in the 1930s as a combination water and observation tower.  And in St. Paul, the landmark 1920s Highland Park Water Tower, on Snelling Avenue at Ford Parkway, is open to the public the weekend of Oct. 10-11, timed to coincide with peak fall color in the Twin Cities.  At both, climb inside stairs to the observation area at the top.


3. Ride in a covered wagon.

At the Buena Vista Ski Area (bvskiarea.com) near Bemidji, you can ride on a pioneer-style, horse-drawn covered wagon to a ridge top for a view of lakes and woods.  This high point is along a continental divide; rivers on one side of this elevation flow north to the Hudson Bay, and on the other, south to the Gulf of Mexico. 


4. Glide on a ski lift.

Ride the enclosed Lutsen Mountain Tram (lutsen.com) to the top of Moose Mountain, 1,000 feet above Lake Superior, for spectacular views of the big lake, the Sawtooth Mountains and the Poplar River.  These forested hills are a fabulous array of color in the fall.  At the top, enjoy a meal at the Summit Chalet and the view from its expansive deck.  The tram ride is $10.75 for adults (less for kids and seniors), and runs daily through Oct. 18 (Saturdays Oct. 24-Nov. 14, but fall color is mostly past by then). In the Twin Cities area, Hyland Hills Ski Area in Bloomington is offering fall color chairlift rides Oct. 2 (evening) and Oct. 3 after 3 p.m. for $5. (Call 763-694-7676 for more information.)


fall colors


5. Take a hike.

There are countless places in Minnesota to hike to scenic overlooks with a beautiful fall color view.  The North Shore of Lake Superior, the Mississippi River Valley from the Twin Cities south, and the St. Croix River Valley are popular fall color areas with scenic vistas, and some areas in the middle of the state also have hilltop views.  Here are some suggestions:


Oberg Mountain (5 miles NE of Tofte on Hwy. 61 to Forest Rd. 336, then 2 miles to trail head): This 2-mile Superior National Forest trail is very popular, especially in the fall, because it loops around a mountaintop, with awesome views in all directions, providing vistas of inland hills and of Lake Superior.  It’s a moderate uphill trek for the first half-mile or so, then the path circles the summit.


John Latsch State Park (Off Hwy. 61 about 10 miles N of Winona ):  The Mississippi River Valley between Red Wing and LaCrescent is especially scenic when it’s cloaked with a tapestry of fall color.  The half-mile round-trip Riverview Trail in this small park follows a series of steps to a bluff top called Mount Charity, for amazing views of the river valley far below.  (Be cautious and avoid the cliff’s edge.)  Great River Bluffs State Park south of Winona has similar views from several scenic overlooks, some just a short walk from a parking area.


Inspiration Peak (NW of Alexandria, off Co Rd. 38):  The crest of this hill, one of the highest points in this part of the state, has a panoramic view of the lakes, wooded hills and fields of scenic Otter Tail County.  It’s a quarter-mile, slightly uphill walk from the parking lot.  (Hallaway Hill in nearby Maplewood State Park offers a similar view after about a half-mile hike.)


6. Drive to the top.

Some of the fall color vistas in the areas noted above can be reached by road.


Palisade Head (Off Hwy. 61, 2 miles NE of Silver Bay):  From a cliff top high above Lake Superior, this overlook has spectacular views of the lake’s rocky, woody north shore, and on a clear day, far across the lake to Wisconsin.


Garvin Heights (In Winona off Hwy. 61; take right at Huff Street and follow signs):  This overlook has great views of the Mississippi River, bordered by tall, forest-cloaked bluffs.


Mt. Tom, Sibley State Park (15 miles N of Willmar, off Hwy. 71):  The highest point in this part of the state, Mt. Tom has lovely views of the area’s wooded hills, lakes and farmland.  From the parking lot, the hilltop is about a half-block walk up a steep, paved path.  Or, make a hike of it by taking a path starting from the trail center in the park; Mt. Tom about a 3-miles round-trip walk from the trail center.


For more information about any of the state parks mentioned in this article, go to:


Don't know WHEN to go? Check out the fall color report at exploreminnesota.com/eNewsletterSignup.asx

All information contained herein provided by Explore Minnesota

Photos courtesy and copyright Jessie Voigts