7 Ways to Celebrate Fall in Southern Minnesota

Southern Minnesota LogoThis article is supported by the Southern Minnesota Tourism Association.

Starting in September, the verdant greens of Southern Minnesota summer burnish into bronze and crimson leaves, and the daylight takes on a golden autumn luster. In this part of Minnesota, autumn also brings a variety of activities, festivals, and opportunities to enjoy the beautiful foliage and the start of cooler temperatures.

Here are seven of the best ways to celebrate fall in Southern Minnesota.

1. Enjoy harvest-time happenings

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Celebrate the harvest and learn about the past at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engine Show. The annual flea market and swap meet, consignment auction and Barta Pedal Tractor Pull is held every Labor Day in Dundas. Steam and Gas tractor exhibits are on display. Take a horse-drawn wagon ride, watch threshing demonstrations, corn shelling and more.

The fall brings out the artists in southwestern Minnesota. The Meander Arts Tour is an award-winning, free self- guided tour of artists’ studios in the Upper Minnesota River Valley. The Meander is a great "trip on a tank full" for those seeking authentic culture, history and scenic vistas.

The event features 45 local artists and more than 33 individual studios in and near the southwestern Minnesota communities of Ortonville, Appleton, Madison, Milan, Dawson, Montevideo and Granite Falls.

2. Get a taste of homegrown apples

While the region is rooted in the apple industry, legislative action officially designated La Crescent as the “Apple Capital of Minnesota.” The LaCrescent Annual Apple Festival is held the third weekend in September to celebrate the apple industry and the history of this community. In addition to apples, also enjoy an arts and craft show, car show, flea market, and of course, apple pies. Orchard tours are available on Saturday afternoon, and the grand finale is the King Apple Parade on Sunday afternoon.

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Learn how to make apple butter the old-fashioned way at Apple Butter Day at Historic Forestville in southeastern Minnesota. This daylong event begins with boiling cider and apples in a 20-gallon copper pot and ends with sweet, tasty homemade apple butter. Guests can help stir the butter until it turns golden and adheres to the plate, marking the moment when it’s ready for sampling.

The Smaczne Jablka Festival (which means "tasty apple” in Polish) is celebrated annually in Winona every October. Hosted by the Polish Cultural Institute & Museum of Winona, the festival features Polish food, exhibits, multiple music venues, pumpkin decorating, sidewalk art, apple squeezing, a farmers market, Polish sheepdogs, homemade baked goods and more. The museum is open to the public with free admission during the event.   

3. Browse boutiques and antiques for fall finds

One of the best parts about fall is the transition from summer frocks to layered sweaters and cozy knits. A shopping stop in Southern Minnesota that you can’t find anywhere else is the Great American Main Street in Lanesboro—a go-to source for authentic goods crafted by traditional Amish artisans. Hand-stitched quilts and built-to-last furniture from one of many Amish shops can give your home the warmth of the season.

Whether you enjoy the hunt or the find, Marigold Days Flea Market & Antique Show in Mantorville will be sure to deliver this September. With more than 200 vendors displaying antiques, glassware, furniture, handcrafted items and metalwork, along with widgets, what-cha-ma-call-its and do-dads, you’ll be sure to find a fun treasure to take home.

Antique shops, occasional stores and barn sales are plentiful in southern Minnesota; click here for a detailed list.

4. Create new family traditions at local farms and corn mazes

Pumpkins lined up for sale

A good bet for fall-themed family fun is Tweite’s Family Farm Adventure. Its 12-acre corn maze is more than a labyrinth of stalks; puzzle elements like decoding a secret password, correctly answering riddles and questions, and other surprise challenges guide entrants on their journey.

Famished from your wanderings? Sample some of the fresh fudge offered by the farm’s concessions. Then, pick your perfect pumpkin from the stand or right off the vine.

Farmamerica offers fall family fun during the day and spooky adventures at night. The Fall Fair is your best opportunity to experience all Farmamerica has to offer. See the Sheriff’s Posse Wagon Train and the Antique Tractor Pull, visit an early 19th-century Peddlers Grove tent city, or take a tram ride around the beautiful Time Lane with 10 historic sites and interpreters sharing the stories about agriculture in Minnesota.

The Haunted Corn Maze and Mill at Farmamerica are sure to put some fright in your night! Stop by the haunted feed mill on All Hallow’s Eve for pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating, games, magic shows and door prizes. Details on more corn mazes in Minnesota can be found here.

5. Hit the road for a colorful drive

Albert Camus once described autumn as “a second spring where every leaf is a flower.” Fall leaves reach peak color in Southern Minnesota between late September and early October, making this the perfect time for a scenic drive.

The Shooting Star Scenic Byway offers 32 miles of landscapes, historic buildings and small town charm. If you’re up for a road trip, the Highway 75 King of Trails Scenic Byway begins in the southwest corner of the state and spans the western border for 414 miles. Find national historic sites, breathtaking prairie landscapes, and maybe stumble across a community fair or two.

Discover a variety of backroad destinations and check out more “rainbow routes” in Minnesota this fall.

6. Taste local flavors 

Several Southern Minnesota farms are really nailing the fresh and local concept with everyone’s favorite dish: pizza. Pizza farms, including Red Barn Farm in Northfield, hold weekly and sometimes bi-weekly pizza dinners. For a few hours, the farm transforms into a pop-up restaurant, with guests young and old perched around the iconic red barn, savoring warm, cheesy pizzas made with ingredients grown right on the property. The dinners usually wrap up in October or early November.

Harmony Taste of the TrailGet a Taste of the Trail as you pedal your way through nine trail towns in southeastern Minnesota. The Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley trails are a 60-mile paved trail network that meanders along the Root River amid 300-foot bluffs, attracting thousands of outdoor enthusiasts each season. The trail begins in Fountain and runs through the quaint and picturesque rural communities of Lanesboro, Whalan, Peterson, Rushford and Houston.

The Root River Trail towns host Taste of the Trail events on three Saturdays in September. Bike between the communities and enjoy "tastes" of food, music, activities and more along the way.

7. Visit Southern Minnesota’s wineries and breweries

What would autumn be without Oktoberfest? Whether you’re toasting your German heritage, the change of seasons, or you just love a good party, visiting one of Southern Minnesota’s many breweries for some finely crafted beer will have you saying “prost” (cheers!), “danke” (thanks) and “ein mal, bitte” (one more, please).

Oktoberfest New Ulm

The city of New Ulm has an Oktoberfest double-header with celebrations on two
consecutive weekends each October. On the first Saturday, Morgan Creek Vineyards gets everyone in on the winemaking process with its traditional grape stomp event. The following Saturday, hop over to Schell’s Brewery for live music, German fare, and of course, local microbrews.

The annual Cambria Crush at Morgan Creek Vineyards every October is a harvest-time favorite for amateur sommeliers and casual wine drinkers alike. Part of New Ulm’s Oktoberfest celebration, the Crush has competitions for stomping, costumes, demonstrations, dance performances, as well as wine by the glass or bottle. Pair your wine with delicious hors d'oeuvres like European flatbread pizza and Swiss raclettes.

Can’t wait until October? Mankato’s Oktoberfest Bier on Belgrade gets the party started early in September. Begin the day with a toast and ceremonial first beer with city officials, and then get ready for fun, games and beer. Enter the brat-eating contest or show your strength and precision with a game of hammerschlagen (hammer-beating), where opponents take turns attempting to drive nails into a stump with one blow.

And if you have lederhosen, throw them on and make sure to bring your stein: Guests in lederhosen get a free beer.

From bustling downtowns to untouched wilderness, pine forests to bluff country and historic landmarks to modern-day attractions, Minnesota is incredibly diverse. If you’re looking for arts and culture, you’ll find it here. Places to reconnect with family and friends, we’ve got those too. So what is it that makes this state so unique? Browse this website, exploreminnesota.com, to learn more.