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Minnesota Fall Train Rides: Chug Through Autumn's Colorful Canopy

Last revised: December 31, 2023

By: Adam Burns

If you're interested in catching a train ride in Minnesota to view the fall foliage you really need to visit the North Shore Scenic Railroad in Duluth.  They host trips specifically designed to view the autumn colors.  In fact, their trip, which runs along the north shore of Lake Superior, has been rated has one of the best fall foliage rides in the nation!

Minnesota's wide range of landscapes, from rolling hills to dense forests, provides a stunning backdrop for the season's rich fall colors. The peak time to view the foliage typically occurs from mid-September to mid-October, although it can vary depending on weather conditions and the location within the state. In northern Minnesota, peak fall colors usually occur earlier in the season, around late September to early October, while in southern Minnesota, peak colors may occur a bit later, around mid-October.

The state's notable trees to see include Sugar Maples (which turn shades of red, orange and yellow, their leaves often stay on the tree longer than other deciduous trees), Red Maples, various oaks, birch, and tamarack.

Other Fall Foliage Attractions

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a pristine wilderness area located in the northeastern part of Minnesota. This untouched landscape is the perfect location for a canoe trip, and during the fall, the forests come alive with vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Take a leisurely paddle along the lakes and rivers while taking in the breathtaking views of the changing leaves.

North Shore Scenic Drive

The North Shore Scenic Drive is one of Minnesota's most popular destinations, and for good reason. Located along Lake Superior, the North Shore offers breathtaking views of the lake and surrounding forests. The area is known for its vibrant fall colors, which can be seen in full display along the Superior Hiking Trail. The trail offers hikers stunning views of the lake, as well as access to several state parks and waterfalls.

Itasca State Park

Itasca State Park is one of Minnesota's oldest and most beloved state parks. Home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park offers visitors the chance to witness the fall foliage in a unique setting. The park's 32,000 acres are filled with lakes, forests, and wetlands, all of which provide a stunning backdrop for the changing leaves.

Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park is located in northern Minnesota and offers visitors a unique opportunity to view the fall foliage from a boat. The park is home to four large lakes and several smaller ones, all of which can be navigated by boat. The park's fall colors are particularly stunning when reflected in the calm waters of the lakes.

Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is located just outside of the Twin Cities and offers visitors a chance to view the fall foliage in a more urban setting. The refuge is home to several hiking trails, including the Minnesota Valley State Trail, which winds through wooded areas and offers views of the Minnesota River.

Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area

Located in the south-central part of the state, the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area is home to more than 5,000 acres of rolling hills, forests, and wetlands. The park is located along the Minnesota River, and during the fall, the trees lining the riverbanks burst into shades of gold, red, and orange. Take a hike on one of the many trails or rent a kayak to explore the river up close.

The Gunflint Trail

The Gunflint Trail is a scenic drive that winds through northern Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The trail offers visitors stunning views of the fall foliage and access to several hiking trails and lakes. The area is known for its vibrant fall colors, which are particularly striking against the backdrop of the wilderness.

Overview

North Shore Scenic Railroad

(Duluth):  Based in Duluth and part of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum this excursion hosts a wide range of special trains throughout the year along a 27-mile route that features both steam and diesel locomotives. 

Beginning in late September it offers the Fall Colors Tour which, "CNN named the... 'Top 5 of the Top 10 in America!'"  Indeed, this trip cannot be missed if you want to experience one of the best fall foliage train rides in the nation. 

Beyond the colors, the ride is spectacular as the train skirts the shores of Lake Superior along the old Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range between Two Harbors and Duluth.  Once out of town you are immersed in beautiful scenes of trees and woodland with occasional glimpses of the lake. 

At the community of Knife River you will cross waterway for which it is named as you continue north towards Two Harbors where the trip concludes.  Here you can see massive ore docks and preserved locomotives, notably DM&IR 2-8-8-4 #229.


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