Red, orange and yellow leaves dance in the air as they twirl slowly towards the ground on a warm fall breeze. Colorful trees still edge the roads, lakes and other bodies of water in some areas during nature’s segue between summer and winter. In many areas the trees have already shed their leaves, covering trails and roads in a crunchy carpet.

Those looking to take in the beauty should hurry but be aware: this fall is not as showy as recent years in parts of Minnesota. 

“Carlton and Pine Counties are considered to be abnormally dry to moderate drought in 2021,” said Dave Anderson, CBS 3 broadcast meteorologist in Duluth. He said the Minnesota Arrowhead area was hit the hardest by drought.

The leaves are less vibrant due to the lack of rain in some areas over the summer. The recent rain and wind blew the leaves off of many trees, but there are still areas where the leaves still cling desperately to the branches, refusing to let go.

“I have noticed that West Central Minnesota is already past peak color in towns like Jacobsen where the drought is severe to extreme,” Anderson said. “Here in Duluth where we have moderate drought, I haven’t seen much difference. It seems to be on a normal timeline”. 

He enjoys drives around his home country of Ely on the Vermillion Range as well as the North Shore area.

Last year at this time the upper half of Minnesota was past peak color, while this year it is between 75-100 percent and southern Minnesota is still at 25-50 percent peak colors, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website. It explains that weather is the main component in determining fall colors. A mild drought may increase the colorful display, but a severe drought has the opposite effect and the colors are more subdued. Instead of the bright colors many people admire, extremely dry summers bring out shades of bronze, auburn and tans. And of course wind and hard rains can change the scenery quickly.

“I’ve become a big fan of Highway 23 from Fond Du Lac near Duluth down to Sandstone for colors in the last couple of years,” Anderson said.

Pack up the family, bring a picnic and enjoy the drive before autumn ends and the snowflakes start flying.

5 Great Places to view fall colors

1. Moose Lake State Park: Moose Lake State Park has pretty scenery along the Tall Pines Trail. A boat or canoe is recommended to get even better views on Echo Lake.

2. Highway 23 to Duluth: Meteorologist Dave Anderson said one of his favorite driving routes to view fall colors is along Highway 23 from Sandstone to Fond Du Lac near Duluth, traveling through Askov, Bruno, Kerrick and Duquette along the way. 

3. Banning State Park: Banning State Park is in full color as of October 2. Maples are showy with leaves of vibrant red and oranges. 

4. St. Croix Scenic Byway: The St Croix Scenic Byway’s 34.9-mile White Pines District runs from the Chisago/Pine County line near Rush City on the south to Banning State Park and Veterans Evergreen Memorial Scenic Drive on the north.

The majority of this Byway segment follows MN Hwy 361 (Old US Hwy 61), which becomes Pine Co 61 to the north of Pine City. Between Hwy I-35 at Sandstone and Banning State Park the Byway continues on Co Hwy 61, which becomes MN Hwy 23 (MN Hwy 123 through Sandstone), connecting again with MN Hwy 23 leading to the Byway’s northern terminus.

From south to north this segment passes through or near the communities of Rock Creek, Pine City, Beroun, Mission Creek, Hinckley and Sandstone. At Hinckley the entrance to St. Croix State Park can be accessed by traveling east on MN Hwy 48. From Sandstone north the Byway runs along the west edge of  Banning State Park, connecting with the Veterans Evergreen Memorial Scenic Drive and Banning State Park entrance on the north.

5. St. Croix State Park: St. Croix State Park is at 50-75 percent peak as of Thursday, Sept. 30, according to the DNR website. It states that the leaves are falling off fairly quickly and already gone off of the smaller trees, but the entrance to the park is still lined with a few colorful  trees. Throughout the park the leaves are turning yellow quickly, with few green trees left.

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