Minnesota in the fall is a sight to behold, and there’s no better way to experience the burst of vibrant colors than by embarking on a memorable road trip. There are 5 road trips for fall colors in Minnesota I highly recommend. As a born and raised Minnesota girl I can say that will appreciate the beauty and diversity of my home state’s autumn landscapes.
The vast array of beautiful colors is just stunning. But, if you are not quick you will miss all that these trees offer you in the fall.
So, buckle up and lets get into the 5 road trips for fall colors in Minnesota. All complete with directions, compelling reasons to take each route, and the stunning sights you can expect to encounter along the way.
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1. North Shore Scenic Drive – Most Popular Road Trip for Fall Colors in Minnesota
This is a must if you live in Minnesota or are planning a visit for leaf season. It is by far the most popular fall drive and for that, patience must be a good virtue. ( kidding not kidding )
Driving along a 2 lane highway that for the most part is narrow. Lots of vehicles drive this road year round, but during fall colors the numbers are way higher. For this reason it’s best to plan ahead, have plenty of time, snacks and water and map your route.
- Directions: Begin your journey in Duluth and follow the picturesque Highway 61 along the northern shore of Lake Superior.
- Why You Should Go: The North Shore Scenic Drive is an iconic route that offers the perfect blend of breathtaking lake vistas and the fiery hues of birch and maple trees in the fall.
- What to See: Don’t miss Gooseberry Falls State Park, where you’ll witness cascading waterfalls framed by the vivid colors of autumn. Further along, you’ll encounter Split Rock Lighthouse, a historic gem set against the backdrop of the lake, making for unforgettable photo opportunities.
Duluth and Two Harbors offer a nice array of places to stay so you can relax and spend a few days seeing the fall colors. Click here to book Two Harbors lodging or check out the map.
Must See Stops Along Your Hwy 61 Road Trip
The top fall color road trip on my list is the North Shore Scenic Drive. This scenic route is famous for its natural beauty. A stop at a state park is always a nice way to stretch the legs, get fresh air and really soak in the fall colors.
Here’s a list of some state parks and waterfalls you can explore along the way with their addresses:
- Gooseberry Falls State Park
- Address: 3206 MN-61, Two Harbors, MN 55616
- Waterfalls: Lower, Middle, and Upper Gooseberry Falls.
- Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
- Address: 3755 Split Rock Lighthouse Rd, Two Harbors, MN 55616
- Notable Attraction: Split Rock Lighthouse overlooking Lake Superior.
- Tettegouche State Park
- Address: 5702 MN-61, Silver Bay, MN 55614
- Waterfall: High Falls, one of Minnesota’s tallest waterfalls.
- Palisade Head
- Address: Palisade Head Rd, Silver Bay, MN 55614
- Notable Attraction: Stunning cliffs overlooking Lake Superior.
- George H. Crosby Manitou State Park
- Address: 7603 MN-61, Silver Bay, MN 55614
- Known for its remote wilderness and hiking trails.
- Cascade River State Park
- Address: 3481 W Hwy 61, Lutsen, MN 55612
- Waterfall: Cascade Falls along the Cascade River.
- Judge C.R. Magney State Park
- Address: 4051 MN-61, Grand Marais, MN 55604
- Waterfall: Devil’s Kettle Falls, a unique and mysterious waterfall.
- Grand Portage State Park
- Address: 9393 E Hwy 61, Grand Portage, MN 55605
- Notable Attraction: Grand Portage National Monument.
These parks and landmarks offer a mix of stunning natural beauty and historical significance, making your journey along Highway 61 in Minnesota a memorable one. Enjoy your road trip and the breathtaking scenery! If you’d like any specific recommendations or opinions about these places, feel free to ask.
2. Gunflint Trail
For a more secluded experience, venture up the Gunflint Trail. This scenic byway cuts through the Superior National Forest, providing a breathtaking backdrop of aspen and pine trees ablaze with fall hues. Keep an eye out for moose and other wildlife along the way.
- Directions: Commence your journey in Grand Marais and head north along the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway (County Road 12).
- Why You Should Go: If you seek serenity and a deep connection with nature, this route through the Superior National Forest is perfect. It’s a canvas of aspen and pine trees ablaze with autumn colors.
- What to See: Keep an eagle eye out for moose, deer, and other wildlife along the way. A detour to Poplar Lake offers serene reflections of the surrounding forest in its crystal-clear waters, a perfect spot for quiet contemplation.
- Dining: Stop by the Windigo Lodge for a bite to eat and to stretch your legs and take in the beauty.
Looking to stay the night along your road trip? Click here to book your lodging or check out the map.
Best Dining Along Hwy 61
Traveling from Duluth to Grand Marais on Highway 61 is a beautiful journey with some fantastic dining options along the way. There is a little something for everyone. If it’s fresh fish you like, burgers and fries or even sweets, you can get it all along the North Shore.
Here’s a list of places to eat, along with their addresses and top foods to order.
- Northern Waters Restaurant
Address: 1602 Woodland Ave, Duluth, MN 55803
Top Food to Order: Try their smoked fish sandwiches or fish tacos. They source their fish locally, making it incredibly fresh.
- New Scenic Cafe
Address: 5461 North Shore Dr, Duluth, MN 55804
Top Food to Order: Enjoy their renowned wild mushroom strudel or any of their daily specials. The lake view is a bonus!
- Rustic Inn Cafe
Address: 2773 Highway 61, Two Harbors, MN 55616
Top Food to Order: Savor their classic walleye sandwich or homemade pies for dessert.
- Ledge Rock Grille
Address: 596 Larsmont Way, Two Harbors, MN 55616
Top Food to Order: Don’t miss their North Shore-inspired dishes like Lake Superior whitefish or bison burgers.
- Dockside Fish Market
Address: 415 W Highway 61, Grand Marais, MN 55604
Top Food to Order: Fresh-caught Lake Superior fish is a must-try. Go for the fish and chips or their seafood chowder.
- World’s Best Donuts
Address: 10 Wisconsin St, Grand Marais, MN 55604
Top Food to Order: As the name suggests, their donuts are a hit. Try a variety of flavors; they’re perfect for breakfast.
- Angry Trout Cafe
Address: 408 W Highway 61, Grand Marais, MN 55604
Top Food to Order: Enjoy sustainable seafood options like the smoked lake trout or their catch of the day.
- Betty’s Pies
Address: 1633 Highway 61, Two Harbors, MN 55616
Top Foods to Try: Pie, of course! Betty’s Pies is famous for its delicious assortment of pies.
Fisherman’s Platter – It features a mix of battered and fried Lake Superior fish, shrimp, and scallops.
Hot Beef Sandwich – This hearty sandwich is perfect if you’re looking for a savory comfort food option.
3. River Road Scenic Byway
Meandering alongside the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota, the River Road Scenic Byway is a hidden gem. The bluffs overlooking the river come alive with vibrant foliage in autumn. Be sure to explore the charming towns of Red Wing and Wabasha along the route.
- Directions: Start your adventure in Red Wing and follow Highway 61 as it meanders along the Mississippi River.
- Why You Should Go: This road trip provides the best of both worlds: captivating river views and charming towns, making it ideal for those who appreciate a mix of natural beauty and cultural experiences.
- What to See: Explore the historic town of Red Wing with its beautiful downtown area and unique shops. As you continue your journey, make a stop in Wabasha, home to the National Eagle Center, where you can learn about these majestic birds up close.
Stay at one of these Red Wing hotels so you can really relax and enjoy the fall colors.
4. Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway – Road Trips for Fall Colors in Minnesota
Follow the winding course of the Minnesota River as it flows through the heart of the state. This route offers a mix of prairie and woodland landscapes, making it a unique spot to see the changing leaves. Stop by the Jeffers Petroglyphs to learn about the region’s Native American history.
- Directions: Kick off your road trip in New Ulm and follow County Road 21 for a picturesque drive.
- Why You Should Go: This byway offers a unique blend of prairies and woodlands, making it perfect for history buffs and those interested in Native American culture.
- What to See: Stop at the Jeffers Petroglyphs to marvel at ancient Native American rock carvings and gain insight into the region’s rich history. For outdoor enthusiasts, Flandrau State Park offers hiking trails and serene picnicking spots.
If you are looking for a place to stay while taking the best road trips for all colors in Minnesota click here. Or, check out the map.
5. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
If you’re up for a more adventurous road trip, head to Ely and enter the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. While this area is famous for its waterways, the surrounding forests explode with autumn colors. Paddle through the pristine lakes or hike along the scenic trails.
- Directions: Begin your adventure in Ely, and from there, venture deep into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
- Why You Should Go: If you’re an adventure seeker, this road trip is a must-do. The wilderness surrounding the waterways provides a unique setting for experiencing fall foliage, and it’s a prime location for combining hiking and paddling.
- What to See: Paddle through pristine lakes, and keep an eye out for beavers, loons, and other wildlife that call this area home. Hike along the Basswood Falls Trail for breathtaking views of the wilderness.
5 Road Trips for Fall Colors in Minnesota Final Thoughts
Now, armed with directions, compelling reasons to explore each route, and a glimpse of the natural wonders you’ll encounter along the way, you’re ready to embark on an unforgettable Minnesota fall road trip. Whether you’re chasing waterfalls, seeking solitude in the forest, or delving into history and culture, these road trips promise an enriching and visually stunning experience. So, grab your camera, a map, and a sense of adventure, and let the beauty of fall in Minnesota take your breath away! 🍂🌲📷