Fall is peak time to get out in the country and explore Minnesota’s back roads, see the splendor of fall foliage, savor home-grown products at harvest time, and celebrate at seasonal festivals. A bounty of options will get you out in the country, whether you’re looking for an afternoon getaway with the kids or a romantic weekend for two.
Apple and Pumpkin Harvests with the Kids
For family fun, take a harvest-themed day trip to an apple orchard or pumpkin patch. You’ll find great pickings to eat and take home as well as entertainment and other activities to fill an afternoon.
Orchards and other farm sites offer the freshest goods. Taste and compare the many varieties of Minnesota-grown apples, as well as apple juice, preserves, baked goods and other delectable treats. Apple picking is in season from August through October, and pumpkins are available by September.
Many orchards feature music, food, petting zoos, hay rides and other activities. Corn mazes are a big draw at many sites. From intricate paths cut out of large corn fields to mini-mazes made of hay bales, the challenge is fun for all ages.
Fall Color Drives
Scenic byways and other roadways offer an especially great roadside view when the autumn foliage becomes a rainbow of amber, scarlet, chartreuse and deep green. Typically, the hues start changing in northern Minnesota in mid-September and the peak color extends southward until mid-October.
Great destinations for a fall color drive include the North Shore of Lake Superior, the southeastern bluff country along the Mississippi River, small towns along the Minnesota River Valley, the Brainerd Lakes area and the Mississippi Headwaters at Itasca State Park.
Because fall colors emerge at slightly different times each year, Explore Minnesota and the Department of Natural Resources offer weekly reports by phone, email and online.
Wineries & Breweries
For a cozy country trip for two, set out to explore Minnesota’s wineries and breweries. Locally produced chardonnays, cabernets, honey wines, ales, Oktoberfests, and other specialty beverages are worth a weekend trip.
Plan an excursion with stops at tasting rooms to sample several styles and get to know your taste preferences. In addition, look for concerts, grape stomps, seasonal release events and tours that show how these artisanal products are made. Pair your tasting trip with fine dining (sometimes offered at destination breweries and wineries) and overnight stays at unique inns and B&Bs for a romantic weekend getaway.
It’s easy to visit wineries that are clustered along a trail. The Great River Road Wine Trail features five stops from Cannon Falls to La Crescent. Don’t worry, beer lovers can get their fill along the way with stops at Tilion Brewing Company in Cannon Falls and Red Wing Brewery.
Go on a Skal Crawl in the central region with Carlos Creek Winery, Copper Trail Brewing Co. and Panther Distillery all along the way. Also in this region, you’ll find Third Street Brewhouse in Cold Spring, Goat Ridge Brewery in New London and Roundhouse Brewery in Brainerd.
Just south of Bemidji, on the edge of the Paul Bunyan State Forest, visit Forestedge Winery in Laporte and nearby Leech Lake Brewing Company in Walker.
Fall Music Festivals
Plan a getaway that includes a small-town music festival, and soak in beautiful settings, songs, and the company of family and friends.
The town of St. Peter presents the Rock Bend Folk Festival in early September at the historic Minnesota Square Park. Free performances of blues, bluegrass and jazz are featured all day Saturday and Sunday. Children’s activities, arts and crafts, and food make this a family-friendly festival that attracts thousands.
Unplugged & Birch Bark Bash presents national and local singer/songwriters in mid-September, with performances on the harbor overlooking Lake Superior in Grand Marais.
The Boats and Bluegrass Festival in late September presents dozens of musical acts on Prairie Island Park in Winona. This festival’s musical offerings are hip and eclectic, and weekend tickets include canoe trips, nature walks, and a nearby camping site that is divided into family and late-night areas.