Fall is in full color with trees ablaze in fiery hues of yellow, orange and red. With all this lush seasonal beauty and the crisp, cool weather comes thoughts of that idyllic autumn drive. There’s no better time than now to take a romantic road trip for two along Minnesota’s scenic roadways. Or load your kids in the back of the car and head out for a family weekend excursion taking in all the radiant foliage that Minnesota has to offer. Here are just a handful of some of the best autumn drives in our gorgeous state:
Best fall drives in Minnesota
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website has a handy map that shows where the peak fall foliage is right now.
Minnesota’s North Shore. Beautiful anytime of the year, Minnesota’s North Shore is a 150-mile scenic byway extending from Duluth to the Canadian border via State Highway 61. Take in the picturesque beauty of fall leaves against the backdrop of waterfalls, Lake Superior and the foothills of the Sawtooth Range. Ranked the #1 attraction in Duluth by Trip Advisor, there’re plenty of shops and restaurants along the way as well as state parks to stop and take a hike. Split Rock Lighthouse is an ideal setting for family photo.
St. Croix River. Whether you’re on the Minnesota or the Wisconsin side, the 280-mile scenic byway along the St. Croix River is quintessential autumn viewing. Transport back to simpler times as you wind along the river through quaint, New England-like towns – it’s a slice of Americana that’s sure to please. Beginning in Afton (on the MN side) drive up as far north as Banning State Park before crossing the river to Wisconsin and heading south to Grantsburg. Stillwater is a great pit stop along the way to get a bite to eat and do a little antique shopping.
Historic Bluff Country National Scenic Byway (MN 16). Nestled among rolling tree-covered hills and cozy little towns such as Lanesboro, this 88-mile stretch is located along the banks of the Root and Mississippi rivers beginning south of Rochester. Historic sites, Amish markets, cave tours, museums, art galleries, and eateries all make for a fun-filled day trip exploring the southeastern reaches of Minnesota, but the breathtaking bluffs are the real star of the show.
Chain of Lakes Byway. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay a bit closer to home, especially when you live close to the Chain of Lakes. Part of the Grand Rounds Byway, the Chain of Lakes Byway is 13.3 miles of inner-city bliss that circles Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Cedar Lake, Brownie Lake, and Lake of the Isles. Be sure to pack a picnic, take in some live music at the Lake Harriet Bandshell, or visit the bird sanctuary near Lake Harriet. Whether you’re low on gas or short on time, if you live in Minneapolis, don’t miss out on seeing this natural treasure in all its splendor.
Brainerd Lakes. Home to some of Minnesota’s top resorts such as the Historic Grand View Lodge, Breezy Point Resort and Madden’s on Gull Lake, the Brainerd Lakes area in central Minnesota is a hidden gem at this time of year as the crowds flock to the North Shore and the river valleys for their fall leaf festivities. Enjoy hiking or biking along the Paul Bunyan State Trail (the longest continuously paved trail in the US), or visit the 583-acre Northland Arboretum. Book a weekend stay at the Historic Grand View Lodge, one of the first log-built lodges in the state, and enjoy an on-site spa, multiple dining options, an indoor water park, and three championship golf courses. It’s all just a 2 hour drive north of Minneapolis.
So before flu season really gets underway, pick a clear, sunny day, grab a cup of coffee (preferably pumpkin or cinnamon spiced), and hit the road for a little autumnal escape. The only regret you’ll have, if you stay home.