Fall, Five Ways

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Paddling through Lake of the Isles in prime fall season 
Things to Do // Article

Fall, Five Ways

By Jamie Korf and Natalie Larsen, Mpls.St.Paul Magazine

From spooky to fancy, old school to thrilling, find your autumn adventure with these unique spins on the season.

Creepy Doll Contest, History Center of Olmsted County, Rochester

Gagool, 2021's Creepy Doll Contest winner  / History Center of Olmsted County


If you’re someone whose go-to reaction GIF is the finger-snapping pumpkinhead garbed in a unitard — you know, the one that puts the boogie in boogeyman? — then you’ve come to the right place. To satiate your ghoulish delights, we plumbed the underworlds to present you with the state’s most spine-chilling, hair-raising activities.

Rochester: Creepy Doll Contest

“The doll I disdain handling is the one with human hair,” curator Dan Nowakowski of the History Center of Olmsted County once said.

Just call it the uncanny valley of the dolls: Every year, the museum unearths its creepiest, most lifelike antique playthings for a good old-fashioned fright. It’s become a bit of an anticipated event, sparking a contest IRL and on social media where followers are encouraged to vote on their favorite one. (Last year, the doll “with the menacing side glance” named Gagool took the title.)

The exhibition — with the theme “cult classic movies” — kicks off at the end of September. As you survey the glass cases, why not challenge one of the sleepy-eyed dolls to a staring contest? You may be surprised to find out who wins. 

Rochester: Hauntings With Hawk

Rochester has a storied past rife with ruthless gangsters, devastating weather events, and unsolved murder mysteries. In this hop-on, hop-off “Trolley of Doom” tour, the city’s very own lead paranormal investigator whisks passengers through the city’s darkest recesses while sharing her own firsthand experiences with the other side.

Dr. Hawk Horvath, who’s gone cross-country to probe the top 10 haunted places in the nation, will be pulling out all the stops on the tour, performing an actual investigation in real time with legit ghost-hunting gear at one of the sites. Available on select days from September through November.

Sleepy Eye: Zoo Man's Palace

In the words of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Zoo Man has “gadgets and gizmos aplenty” and no shortage of “whozits and whatzits galore.” Except each carefully curated treasure looks like it could double as a portal to a supernatural dimension, from rotting ventriloquist dolls to Shrine Circus castoffs and a collection of old wooden coffins.

“I aim for every item to have a story,” Zoo Man says. On weekends in September through October, he’s holding a Nightmare Underground tour where groups of six to eight people are led down an alleyway, onto a ramp, and into his corridor of spooky curios.

“I lock the door [on the groups], kill the lights, and they have to find their way through. They’ll walk through the clown room first, where the animatronics are buzzing around, walking and talking and singing,” he says with a slightly menacing laugh. And from there...well, we won’t give away the rest. 

Zoo Man's Palace, Sleepy Eye

Zoo Man's Palace

Duluth: The Haunted Ship

Since its maiden voyage in 1938, the William A. Irvin was a fixture on the Great Lakes port for 40-ish years, transporting iron ore and coal from the westernmost tip of Lake Superior to the U.S. Steel’s mills of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. In the aftermath of its glory days, the ship is notorious for its supposed specters, becoming something of an attraction for paranormal teams everywhere. On select days from October 6 to October 31, you can see what all the fuss is about as you tread its dank depths, making your way through a series of disorienting pitch-black corridors to the “dungeon” of the ship. 

St. Louis Park: Halloween Horror Nights at REM5

Here’s an unusual alternative to outrunning costumed actors as you usher in the season of spooks: outfitting yourself in a headset that opens a portal to the inner workings of your mind, a place where you explore the horrors in your own psyche. The folks at REM5 VR Lab curate the most terrifying immersive experiences for two nights only; last year’s footage included games called “The Plank” and “Face Your Fears.” To make a night out of it, drink tickets are available and costumes are encouraged. Just keep reminding yourself that it isn’t real (or is it?). 

Stillwater: Warden's House Museum Flashlight Tours

Turn on Night mode as you enter one of Minnesota’s oldest buildings, the Warden’s House Museum, a structure that once belonged to the Minnesota Territorial Prison. Over six decades, it housed 13 wardens from Stillwater Prison, including figures from the James Younger gang, some of history’s most notorious outlaws. While the museum is open year-round, the public is invited to see it in a different light (or lack thereof ) in October to learn about the history of the house and how it evolved from Minnesota’s Most Wanted to...wait for it...Minnesota’s Most Haunted. Legend has it that warden Henry Wolfer’s daughter Trudy still haunts the halls to this day. Explore exclusive spaces usually withheld from the public, like the servant’s staircase and basement. 

Native American basket made of wild rice and birchbark, Mille Lacs Lake Indian Museum

Native American basket made of wild rice and birchbark 


Fall’s hallmark crimson and crispness make some of us romanticize the good ol’ days. From freezing time with your fingers at Minnesota’s largest scrapbooking store to getting a load of Lanesboro’s shimmering countryside on horse and buggy, there’s something out there for all the nostalgic makers, dreamers, and believers among us.

Roseville: Wild Rice Festival

In the late 1400s, the Ojibwe Nation migrated westward, where they chanced upon wild rice growing on the water in the tributaries and coastal wetlands of Lake Superior, fulfilling a prophecy of finding a home where “food floats on the water.” Every year, the City of Roseville celebrates the wild rice harvest and Native American culture in its Wild Rice Festival, which includes Native American dancing and drumming, hands-on apple cider pressing, honey extraction demonstrations, and more. Held on September 17 from 10 am to 4 pm. 

Pine City: Pine City Scrapbooking Co.

Stretch your fingers and then art- fully arrange personal memorbilia at Minnesota’s largest scrapbooking and stamping store, replete with a 12-room, 24-bed retreat center (call it a paper crafter’s paradise). Corral a handful of the sentimental scrappers in your life and let them know their own bed and table await for a weekend of fall-time fun and leisure. Weekend retreats available between September 9 and November 25. Fridays and Saturdays must be booked together. 

Lanesboro: Bluffscape Amish Tours

If you’re itching for a change of pace after summer’s endless string of to-dos, you’ll find a slowed-down one here in historic Lanesboro. (Spoiler alert: The horse-and- buggy pickup sort of sets the tone.) It’s an experience for the senses: After traversing the sloping hills of the countryside, swathed in shimmering golds, burgundies, and oranges, you can pick and choose from an assortment of goods for purchase, like baskets, quilts, and leather goods. Tours are available Mondays through Saturdays, with departures at 10 am and 1:30 pm.

Moorhead: Comstock House

This 19th-century Queen Anne home may be riveting in looks (That beautiful oak balustrade staircase! Those ornately carved doorknobs and hinges!), but the energy of bygone times percolating throughout its walls will surely steal your breath. Solomon Comstock, one of Moorhead’s first settlers, collaborated with railroad magnate James J. Hill to lay down some tracks on the banks of the Red River, trans- forming Moorhead into a hub of commerce and education. Learn about the early days of Fargo-Moorhead and the Comstock legacy while ogling the home’s unchanged details. Tours are available Fridays and Saturdays through October 1.

Hang glider



You’re always chasing the next escapade; you’re the explorer often at the helm of the bunch, leading the way on new paths and even off-road. But you need a bit more than a woodsy walk to satiate your craving for autumnal adventure. That means bows and arrows, backwoods biking, primitive camping, or simply shifting your perspective on the landscape. Read on for ways to induce adrenaline and Insta-worthy weekends this fall.

  • Peep Minnesota’s patchwork like a pilot on an hour-long helicopter tour. Get a bird’s-eye view of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers and their rows of cascading bluffs, splattered in fall’s signature palette.
  • Stone Creek Farm, a stone fruit farm outside Taylors Falls, is home to a handful of yurts and campsites. We’re talking true camping here (like, drinking water available via a hose). The owners host farm-to-table cooking classes and will even let you help with harvesting. 
  • Level up your tented travels with the yurts at Glendalough State Park. The catch: They aren’t vehicle accessible. This is an invitation to pack light. 
  • Itching to paint the sky? Take to the clouds for hang gliding. Cruise solo over Lake Pepin and the surrounding bluffs and land in the water, thanks to a floaty system attached to the sail. Lake City,
  • Calling all birders and lovers of Halloween vibes! For an adventure that turns heads: Owl Prowls with the International Owl Center in Houston. The night includes learning to identify owls by sound and roadside stops for owl calling (surely some hoot-worthy jokes!). Owl Prowls restart in October, dates TBA at press time. 
The Apostle Supper Club, Duluth

The Apostle Supper Club


Yes, fall is all about pumpkin carving and tromping through corn, but it’s also for embarking on new bevvy adventures and pairing your flannel with heels for an adults-only outing. These destinations are leveling up (some, literally!) your basic fall itinerary.

  • In the former JJ Astor, The Apostle Supper Club is a vintage Palm Springs-style rotating restaurant crowning the Radisson Hotel Duluth. (Think: Beverly Hills Hotel — but not quite on an ocean.) A St. Paul sister is also coming soon, eek! Duluth, 
  • Satisfying a craving for modern digs right on Detroit Lake, Hub 41 does it right with clean lines, wood slat accents, a ground-level patio with an outdoor bar, and a rooftop deck with a glass railing that doesn’t spoil the view. Seems like they know Minnesotan tastes with gouda pickles and totchos on the menu. And is it even a rooftop without string lights? Come on. 
Junkyard Brewing Company, Fargo-Moorhead

Junkyard Brewing Company / Visit Fargo-Moorhead

  • Sneak in at the end of the season and savor the final moments of the fall waves washing over the landscape at The Raven’s Nest at Gunflint Tavern. Only open May through October, the Gunflint Tavern’s rooftop has an indoor space with garage doors, an outdoor deck, and fan-freakin’-tastic views of the harbor and its cornerstone lighthouse. Best part: It’s pup friendly.
  • Atop bougie Italian restaurant Terza, H3 Rooftop has just a year under its belt. Laced in string-light glow, this cocktail lounge tucked into downtown Rochester next to the Zumbro River offers views of the city as it explodes in a sunset-hued palette. 
  • While neighboring Moorhead residents Sol Ave. Kitchen and Junkyard Brewing Co. don’t have rooftops, they do have rockin’ indoor-outdoor spaces thanks to huge garage doors. Bright colors and good vibes are the hallmark at Sol, with approachable global eats and lots of plants. Sol’s longtime friends, Junkyard specializes in experimental beers (Minnesotans call them “interesting”) like the Wicked Awesome Slurry hazy IPA. 
Aurora Borealis in Gooseberry Falls State Park, Two Harbors

Aurora Borealis in Gooseberry Falls State Park, Two Harbors / Travis Novitsky


This one’s for the full-on flannel folks. Fill your cup with warm pumpkin spice for a quintessential fall pastime and “leaf” the cities behind with these unique ways of taking in the season’s shades. Beyond standard foliage gawking, this is leaf peeping like a pro.

  • Trek through technicolor trees on a guided hike of Jay Cooke State Park or Oberg and Leveaux Mountains along the North Shore. This one will earn ya a hole-punch in your MN Card on Sept. 17 and Oct. 1
  • For a plethora of tree types, Bemidji’s Fall Color Tours are the move: five routes spanning from Itasca State Park to the Paul Bunyan State Forest to Lake Bemidji.
  • Amp up your “I spy” game through a camera lens at a Day and Night Photography Workshop. During peak season (Sept. 30-Oct. 2), snap up the North Shore’s captivating landscape and watch as the night sky comes to life, photographing the Milky Way and maybe aurora borealis. 
  • Catch Minnesota’s painterly foliage Lewis-and-Clark-style — this is the land of all the lakes, after all. A Fall Colors Paddle on Oct. 1 starts at Hidden Falls Regional Park and follows the Mississippi to Harriet Island. 
Giant's Ridge chairlift

The Scenic Fall Colors Chairlift Ride at Giants Ridge / Old Saw Media

  • Putting the out in workout: A self-guided 8-mile paddle should take about two hours on the Cannon River, from Cannon Falls to Miesville Ravine Park. You can canoe or kayak this bad boy.
  • If you’re out of the school stage, September isn’t the end of summer-adjacent lake time. Open weekends in September, Boulder Dam Canoe and Kayak Rental has your lake life on deck. Make waves — or at least little ripples — in a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard on Lake Zumbro or the Zumbro River.
  • Lanesboro’s Root River Canoe Co. offers canoe rentals and shuttle service for a 7-mile paddle suitable for beginners. Also along the extensive Root River Trail system, Driftless Trading Post rents tubes, canoes, and kayaks for river riding. What you really came for: locally raised and smoked meats, cheese, gelato, and a Minnesota-proud roundup of beer and wine. 
  • Bird’s-eye view, anyone? Cruise over the tinted treetops at Giants Ridge with its Scenic Fall Colors Chairlift Rides. Biwabik,