Best Places To See Autumn Leaves In Minnesota

October 6, 2012 7:00 AM

(credit: CBS)

The leaves may be turning early this year but metro-area residents can still see Minnesota’s change of seasons at Lake Mille Lacs. Drive a little further to Brainerd or around the Cuyuna Lakes area and you can be back home in five or six hours on a tank of gas. There is so much to see and do nearby that you can enjoy a fun-filled day or two at very little cost. Stay overnight at an affordable spot and the morning sun’s glint on red and yellow leaves during your drive home is free.
tara paul fall colors Best Places To See Autumn Leaves In Minnesota

(credit: Tina Jensen)

Getting There

Exit I-94 onto Highway 101 north and it becomes MN-169 as you cross US-10. The next hour’s drive north is therapeutic. Wooded countryside lines the highway and tensions dissipate as crowded urban areas disappear in the rear-view mirror. Once you pass by Onamia, the highway winds around the western edge of a 200-square-mile lake left by a glacier from 10,000 years ago. After Garrison, a turnoff on MN-18 takes you west to Brainerd. Hardy travelers can make the grand round northeast on 210 to the Cuyuna Range and back south on MN-6 to Garrison.

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(credit: Jupiter Images)

Where To Stay

Eddy’s Lake Mille Lacs Resort
41334 Shakopee Lake Road
Onamia, MN 56359
(320) 532-3657

The walleyes have been biting this year and fishing is usually better in the fall. Call ahead to reserve one of Eddy’s 79 rooms in a package rate that includes a spin around the lake from its launch. A part of Grand Casino, shuttles will take you to the casino three miles away.

Grand Casino Mille Lacs
777 Grand Ave.
Onamia, MN 56359
(800) 626-5825

Grand Casino Mille Lacs is a great place to stay, but call ahead because it is under construction this fall and the rooms regularly sell out. Grand Casino is nestled away from the highway overlooking the lake. Check out the website for upcoming entertainment and food specials at its five restaurants.

Related: Getaway Guide: Weekend Trip To Bemidji

Twin Pines Resort, Motel & Restaurant
7827 U.S. Highway 169
Garrison, MN 56450
(320) 692-4413

Twin Pines got its start in 1940. Years ago, this place got its kitschy name from “two tall pine trees that stood towards the lake from the original wood-frame lodge building.” The landmarks are gone but the walleyes are still biting. You can stay overnight, take a launch for $35 or just eat at Twin Pines’ full-service restaurant. The launch ran until October 15th last year and just depends on how the weather holds up this fall.

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(credit: Jupiter Images)

What To See

Brainerd, MN

Brainerd is the focal point for grand family resorts, restaurants, golf courses, fishing, shopping and even SCCA Trans AM racing. Bikers can immerse themselves in the splendor of fall on the Paul Bunyan—a 112-mile paved bike trail connected to several other paved trails meandering through the north woods of Minnesota. Be sure to browse the website in advance for more ideas on fall color tours.

Crosby, Ironton and Deerwood, MN
Served by the Cuyuna Lakes Chamber Of Commerce
Located in the Wells Fargo Building
221 4th St.
Ironton, MN 56455
(218) 546-8131

It is worth the extra time to drive around the picturesque lakes of historic Cuyuna iron range where rich iron ore was mined from 1910 until the early 1980s. These pits are filled with clear water, stocked with trout and teaming with other fish. The Crosby/Ironton main streets are lined with little shops for a fun break where you can stretch your legs and poke through the treasures. Be sure to go south from Deerwood on MN-6 by Bay Lake for more fall colors.

Related: Getaway Guide: One-Tank Trip to Stillwater, MN

Robin Johnson was born in Annandale, Minn. and graduated from the University of Minnesota where he studied Political Science, Business and Industrial Relations. A writer for, he also consults with a variety of organizations and individuals helping them develop and grow. His work can be found at

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