If you don’t get to an apple orchard in autumn, did the season really happen? Now in its 40th year, Minnetonka Orchards is a local treasure. Feast your eyes and your tastebuds on 40 acres of apple orchards, including U-pick varieties like Honeycrisp, Zestar, Chestnut Crab, Sweet Sixteen, McIntosh, Cortland, Haralson, Honeygold, and SweeTango. While you’re there, stock up on gourds and pumpkins at the retail barn. 6530 Cty. Rd. 26, Minnetrista, 763-479-6530, minnetonkaorchards.com
Let's Do This: Orchards
- Whistling Well Farm | 8973 St. Croix Tr. S., Hastings | 651-998-0301
- Afton Apple Orchard | 14421 S. 90th St., Hastings | 651-436-8385
- Pine Tree Apple Orchard | 450 Apple Orchard Rd., White Bear Lake | 651-429-7202
- Aamodt’s Apple Farm | 6428 Manning Ave., Stillwater | 651-439-3127
*Don't Miss: Weekend music on the hill and the petting zoo (both of which are included with admission). Grab a bite at the orchard’s brat house or donut hut.
Fall leaves on the road to Winona
We might not live in New England, but there’s no lack of colorful, scenic drives close to home. Get a taste at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Walk, bike, drive, or ride the tram through this three-mile, winding trail. The landscape has the most diverse tree collection in the state, and in the fall it comes to life in vibrant colors and textures. Watch for special events, like the Big Bugs exhibit through September. 3675 Arboretum Dr., Chaska, 952-443-1400
Let's Do This: Scenic Drives
- Winona: Located right on the Mississippi, Winona offers some spectacular views. Then grab a beer at Wenonah Brewing Company. Wenonah Brewing Company, 4065 6th St., Goodview, 507-429-0730
- Downtown Stillwater: Admire the leaves along the St. Croix River, then drive north to Marine, Copas, and then to Franconia Sculpture Park. Franconia Sculpture Park, 29836 St. Croix Tr., Shafer, 651-257-6668
- Northfield: Enjoy music at St. Olaf. Lunch at The Contented Cow. St. Olaf College, 1520 St. Olaf Ave., Northfield, 507-786-2222; The Contented Cow, 302B S. Division St., Northfield
*Fun Fact: Check out the Arboretum’s Apple House, which opens to the public in the autumn and sells a range of varieties throughout the season. This is where the Haralson and Honeycrisp apples were originally developed. Today, the Honeycrisp is one of the most popular apples in the world.
Crosby Farm Regional Park
The former farm-turned-green space Mississippi riverfront Crosby Farm Regional Park is situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. Head to the Two Rivers Overlook (off of Shepard Road) to take in the views of the rivers, Fort Snelling, and the river gorge—the only part of the Mississippi River with steep bluffs. Crosby is the largest natural park in St. Paul, with more than 700 acres of sandy shores, floodplain forests and lakes, bluffs, and prairie. The varying landscape makes it ideal for hiking, bird watching, and picnicking. Nature nerds rejoice—this place is paradise for hawks, leopard frogs, deer, and kingfishers. Identify plants like touch-me-nots, grapevines, cottonwood trees, and duckweed. Crosby Park is also a part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, which is a 72-mile-long national park in Dayton/Ramsey through Hastings. Crosby Farm Regional Park, 2595 Crosby Farm Rd., St. Paul, 651-632-5111
*Fun Fact: The confluence area between the rivers is considered a spiritual birthplace by some Dakota individuals and is called Bdóte.
Lebanon Hills Mountain Bike Trails in Eagan
Bike rides in fall are the official “last call’’ for warm weather. Soak up the summer that remains by riding through 740 acres of hilly, winding terrain at Theodore Wirth Regional Park. The trails take in views from dense forest to Minneapolis’s downtown skyline. The Luce Line Regional Trail travels nine miles west to Plymouth, where it becomes the Luce Line State Trail and travels west for more than 60 miles. Or you can veer off to Plymouth Avenue, which offers two-way bike lanes throughout North Minneapolis, and extends into Northeast. Later this year, look for new 3.2-mile and 1.5-mile loops to the north and south of Wirth, and an expanded off-road cycling trail. 1339 Theodore Wirth Pkwy., Mpls., 612-230-6400
Let’s Do This: Trails
- Dakota Rail Regional Trail: 26.5-mile paved trail from Wayzata to Mayer. threerivers
- Lebanon Hills Mountain Bike Trails: 12 miles of one-way singletrack in Eagan.
*Trail Pit Stops: Get some sun at Wirth Lake Beach or make a day of exploring the Quaking Bog and Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary.
Whitetail Woods Regional Park cabin
The Camper Cabins at Jay Cooke State Park give visitors the option to stay in the park. The cabins provide accessibility for those who may not be able to camp traditionally, are new to camping, or simply do not have camping gear. All five cabins, which sleep up to six people, have electricity, heat, a screen porch, table, and bunk beds. But glamping it ain’t. The accommodations are rustic, and it’s best to think of them as a step up from a tent versus a traditional lake cabin. 780 Hwy. 210, Carlton, 218-673-7000
Let's Do This: Camping
- Whitetail Woods Regional Park: It has the hippest camper cabins ever. 17100 Station Tr., Farmington, 952-891-7000
- Afton State Park: This park has four camper cabins and two yurts. 6959 Peller Ave. S., Afton, 651-436-5391
- Lake Maria State Park: Camp by the Cities. 11411 Clementa Ave. NW, Monticello, 763-878-2325
*Fun Fact: In the 18th century, the area that is now Jay Cooke State Park was a thriving area for the French fur trade.
Prairie Burn Music Festival
The Prairie Burn Music Festival in Hudson, Wisconsin, now in its second year, is like the family version of the more adult Eaux Claires festival. The kid-friendly concert benefits YMCA Greater Twin Cities Camps, so you can expect plenty of camping activities like a giant swing, climbing tower, archery, hayrides, campfires, and s’more kits complete with a roasting stick. General admission family camping spots are available and include brunch Sunday morning. The lineup is packed with folk and bluegrass musical acts such as Charlie Parr, Okee Dokee Brothers, and The Ericksons. And, perhaps most importantly for the parents in the audience, there will be beer from Rush River Brewing Company. Prairie Burn Music Festival, Saturday, Sept. 17, Camp St. Croix, 532 Co. Rd. F, Hudson, Wis.
Let's Do This: Music Fests
- Festival Palomino: Sept. 17, Canterbury Park
- Ramble Jam Country Music Festival: Sept. 16–17, Dakota County Fairgrounds
*Fun Fact: Some of the musicians playing attended YMCA camps when they were kids, like The Paul Chapman Crew (St. Croix), Zack Dyer (duNord), The Wailing Loons (Warren), Hamdog (Widji), and Among Elephants (St. Croix).
Grapes at Saint Croix Vineyards
Soak up autumn in the rustic landscape of Saint Croix Vineyards, where the tasting room is located in a restored, century-old barn. Sip al fresco if you’d like, preferably by the quiet pond (really, it’s like a Norman Rockwell painting out here). Its annual Grape Stomp Festival takes place September 10 and 11, and features grape-stomping competitions, live music, and free tours. Competitions are held three times a day in two different categories, so adults and kids can compete for prizes like wine, T-shirts, and candy. Pro tip: Aamodt’s Apple Farm is right next door. Saint Croix Vineyards, 6428 Manning Ave., Stillwater, 651-430-3310
Let's Do This: Vineyards
- Deardorff Orchards & Vineyards | 8282 Parley Lake Rd., Waconia | 952-442-1885
- Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery | 1179 E. Pearl St., Kasota | 507-931-0089
- Morgan Creek Vineyards | 23707 478th Ave., New Ulm | 507-947-3547
*Fun Fact: Saint Croix Vineyards is the third-oldest winery in the state, and one of the owners, Peter Hemstad, was a grape breeder at the University of Minnesota. In fact, he holds patents for the Cold Hardy La Crescent, Frontenac gris, and Marquette grape varieties.
Twin Cities Harvest Festival and Maze
Corn mazes are a rite of fall passage for kids (we adults love ’em, too). You’ll find one at Sever’s Fall Festival, in its 20th year, along with new attractions like an obstacle course. Also, don’t miss the camel and pony rides, pumpkin blasters, and a giant slide. If you’re up for a spooky challenge, bring a flashlight and experience the maze in the dark. Sever’s Fall Festival, 1100 Canterbury Rd. S., Shakopee, 952-270-6293
Let's Do This: Corn Mazes
- Afton Apple Orchard |14421 S. 90th St., Hastings | 651-436-8385
- Nathe’s 101 Market | 8980 Quantrelle Ave., Otsego | 763-441-4487
- Twin Cities Harvest Festival and Maze | 8001 109th Ave. N., Brooklyn Park | 952-992-9326
*Fun Fact: Sever’s Corn Maze & Fall Festival’s maze is the oldest in the Midwest and the second-oldest in the nation.
Bauhaus Brew Labs
What was an Oktoberfest tradition for years in Matt Schwandt’s back-yard expanded for the masses when the Schwandt brothers launched Bauhaus Brew Labs two years ago. This year marks the third annual Schwandtoberfest Extra-vaganza, taking place on October 1. Guests are encouraged to wear lederhosen while sipping beer and munching on brats and sauerkraut from vendors like Gerhard’s. Outdoor tents complete the German beer hall vibe, with classic beer festival games and music by Viva Knievel, a 10-man cover band featuring some of the Bauhaus owners. 1315 NE Tyler St., Mpls., 612-276-6911
Let's Do This: Oktoberfests
- August Schell Brewing Company | Oct. 15 | 1860 Schell Rd., New Ulm, | 507-354-5528
- Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter | Sept. 16–18, 23–25 | 8390 Lofton Ave., Stillwater | 651-439-7128
- Black Forest Inn | Sept. 23–Oct. 2 | 1 E. 26th St., Mpls. | 612-872-0812
- Minnesota Renaissance Festival | Oct. 1–2 | 12364 Chestnut Blvd., Shakopee | 952-445-7361
*Good to Know: This is Bauhaus’ only ticketed event. The first 500 tickets sold come with a 20-ounce souvenir glass with three pours.
Photo credits: Winona photo by David Bowman; Whitetail Woods, Lebanon Hills, amd TC Festival photos by Craig Bares