Compiled by Bob Timmons and Mackenzie Lobby Havey
Alex McKinney, 33, Plymouth
Day job: Recreation supervisor, Three Rivers Park District
Nothing is better to me than fall in Minnesota. The cool breezes, vivid colors and lack of mosquitoes make it the best time to be outdoors. There are some great areas to explore either alone, with friends or, like me, with your children. There are some great paddle opportunities just 30 minutes west of the Twin Cities. Whale Tail Lake in Minnetrista can be accessed on the northwest end of the lake from a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources boat launch. The lake is fairly undeveloped and has some great fishing opportunities from a canoe. You will paddle along maple forests full of color and rolling hills. The lake is separated into two sections: the whale (north end) and the tail (south end). The tail portion is generally quieter and less windy. While paddling to the south end you can take out and stop at Gale Woods Farm (about a half-mile hike). The educational, working farm has different programs and hiking opportunities.
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The Crow River is one of the few rivers in Minnesota that flows north to the Mississippi. I recommend putting in at Lake Rebecca Park Reserve and paddling north. You have options. You can take out in Rockford, Hanover or Dayton (at the confluence of the Mississippi River). You also can do a variation of these, such as putting in at Hanover and paddling to the Mississippi. The south fork of the Crow River at Lake Rebecca is small and winding and surrounded by big woods. The river opens up as it joins with the north fork, and you paddle through river communities and a variety of nature viewing. The river is known for eagles, osprey, deer and ducks. It is also a great migratory place during fall. The paddle consists of gentle currents with some Class I rapids that create small, fun waves.
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Lake Rebecca, located just outside of Rockford, is completely surrounded by park reserve and consists of big woods and maple forests. The lake itself is known for muskie and bass fishing. You may see the occasional boater, but you will not feel the pressure of a congested metro lake. Also, the colors are second to none. It is a great place to take in wild and scenic beauty close to home. Too, this is a great spot with children. The park has a play area and places to have picnics.
Jared Wiklund, 29, Forest Lake
Day job: Public relations specialist, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever
As an avid upland bird hunter and big-game enthusiast, I see a return to my Minnesota roots and long-standing hunting traditions in my family in the lengthy shadows of autumn. Some of my most vivid childhood memories were formed while walking alongside my father in pursuit of ruffed grouse, or sharing hot cocoa while patiently waiting high above the floor of the Superior National Forest, hoping to catch the movement of a whitetailed deer. My passion for the outdoor life has only grown with age and responsibility, and I look forward to sharing the fall bounty with my wife and daughter. We are a Minnesota hunting family.
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Particularly in fall, Minnesota offers limitless opportunities for anyone interested in the outdoors, whether it be hunting alone, with good friends, or introducing new participants to the traditions. As a returning resident to Minnesota, I am looking forward to exploring new (and virtually untouched) wildlife management areas and state forest acquisitions in the central region that might contain exciting hunting opportunities. Stretches of 50-degree daytime temperatures are common throughout the end of September and early October, and the changing leaves offer an unparalleled backdrop for outdoor endeavors — perfect conditions for me, my hunting dog and our family.
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Stoking my anticipation for the fall hunting season is the conversations I’ve had with total strangers over the past several weeks while working a booth for Pheasants Forever both at the Minnesota State Fair and Game Fair in Ramsey.
Claire Gahler, 30, Richfield
Day job: Information officer, Ecological and Water Resources Division, Minnesota DNR
I first started geocaching years ago when Minnesota state parks were promoting their Geocaching Wildlife Safari. The goal was to find a hidden cache and collect a wildlife card from each of Minnesota’s state parks. It took a few epic adventures (ask me about crossing into Canada to visit Garden Island State Recreation Area), but I completed the challenge in 2009 and found all 72 caches. The Call of the Wildflowers is the theme of the current geocaching challenge at Minnesota state parks and trails. I’ve found a few of the caches already, and I’ll be out finding more this fall. Plus, there’s really no better place to see Minnesota’s fall colors than at a state park.
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I love a good road trip and always plan a few geocaching stops along the route. It’s the perfect excuse to get out of the car and stretch my legs. A fall road trip through bluff country in southeastern Minnesota is a must. There are wineries and breweries (’tis the season for pumpkin ales), apple orchards, and trails that pass panoramic views of the Mississippi River. I’m ready to go right now!
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For me, geocaching is a social activity. My husband and I find geocaches when we’re out walking the dog. Or, if I’m on vacation with girlfriends, we’ll use geocaching as an excuse to explore a new city. I hid a geocache in front of my parents’ house, and my dad always wanders outside to talk with folks who drop by to find it. The Minnesota Geocaching Association is hosting its fall event Oct. 10 at the Weaver Lake Pavilion in Maple Grove. It’s the perfect excuse to chat with fellow cachers, find some clever geocaches and enjoy Minnesota in the fall.
Sharon Stiteler, 41, Minneapolis (Writer/blogger, birdchick.com)
Day job: Park ranger, Mississippi National River & Recreation Area
Hawk Ridge, Duluth: Most people like the big numbers of broad-winged hawks in mid-September, but October brings you the bigger, sexier raptors like northern goshawk, rough-legged hawk and maybe even a gyrfalcon.
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Big Sit, Minneapolis: In October, you pick a spot and write down every bird species you see and hear in a 24-hour period. We do a light version at Coldwater Spring that lasts sunrise to sundown Oct. 17.
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Tundra swans, Brownsville, Minn: From September to December, the Mississippi River is chock full of all manner of ducks, but it gets next-level bananas at Brownsville when about 10,000 tundra swans stop to fuel up on wild celery on their way to Chesapeake Bay for the winter.
Meghan Cosgrove, 36, Minneapolis
(Wilderness Inquiry trail guide, Quetico Superior Foundation board)
Day job: Director of individual and family philanthropy, YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities
I love the warm days, cool nights, starry skies and the general lack of bugs in the fall. Even though I’m a big fan of winter and winter sports, I think it’s the knowledge that colder, darker days are looming that motivates me to maximize my days in fall. Whether it’s an overnight camping trip, a long bike ride or a walk by the river, I can’t get enough of the sights and smells of fall.
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The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is exceptional this time of year. The crowds are gone and it’s possible to witness distinct changes in the leaves overnight. There’s something magical about bundling up around a campfire at night with good company, a warm beverage, and eyes and ears open to the natural world.
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This year I’m planning to spend a weekend on the North Shore doing some day hikes on the Superior Hiking Trail with my family. There’s something humbling about watching the moon rise over Lake Superior that reminds me of a world much greater than myself. I also plan to chip away at some local hikes in the metro area, utilizing our incredible park systems. Some of my favorite spots will remain a secret, but I love Theo Wirth, the Minnehaha Dog Park, and Fort Snelling State Park to name a few. As for camping trips, I’m hoping to start exploring more of our state parks. If everything works out, I’ll do some white-water canoeing at Banning or Jay Cooke before the snow flies.
Barry Shillingford, 56, Eagan
(Minnesota Rovers Club president)
Day job: Channel solution consultant, Siemens PLM Software
The nice thing about hiking in the fall is that it’s a lot cooler and there are a lot fewer bugs. I love hiking when it is below 50 degrees. October in Minnesota is often the best time to hike because we usually have a lot of sunny, clear days. You also realize winter is just around the corner, so it’s a good time to make the most of the weather. Another plus for me is that the fall is a good time for finding wild mushrooms.
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For hiking in the fall, it’s great to be somewhere there are nice fall colors, so heavily wooded areas with some good viewpoints is ideal. Hiking on steep and rocky places is more difficult, but that is also where the best scenery is. On the Superior Hiking Trail, there are heavily wooded areas with occasional openings that offer nice views of Lake Superior and the interior valleys. There are also areas where there are bare rock outcroppings.
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Nowhere is better than the Superior Hiking Trail if you want to do some serious hiking in Minnesota. If you want to do shorter hikes, then any of the Minnesota state parks are great. Lebanon Hills Regional Park is a great place to hike from where I’m located.
Chris Lundstrom, 39, Minneapolis
(Elite trail runner, charter member of Team USA Minnesota, 2:17 marathoner)
Day job: Coach, University of Minnesota kinesiology department instructor
People always talk about the colors changing in the fall, which is of course very pretty and everything, but also the smells change and the sounds change. You hear the leaves crunching underfoot, and that dry, crisp air just feels so good. I also think it’s the anticipation of winter. Knowing that the access to trails will be much more limited in the months ahead is a strong motivator to get out there.
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My favorite place to train is probably anywhere along the river. There are some great little out-of-the-way trails that don’t get a lot of use. I try to get on the dirt and leaves as much as possible before the snow flies, so really anywhere with a nice soft surface is a favorite.
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I love the Surly Trail Loppet (Saturday in Minneapolis; loppet.org/events/trailloppet/). They have a few different distances, and it really brings a lot of people out to experience some great trails that are located right in the heart of the city. There are some great hills and lots of sharp turns and changes in footing, so the course is really engaging and interesting.
Martha Flynn, 50, St. Paul
(Crank Sisters director)
Day job: Senior project manager at Allina Health
By the time September rolls around I’m ready for summer to be over. It’s great to layer up for some riding and feel that cool breeze. It’s easier to stay hydrated in the fall, and I don’t get eaten by mosquitoes if I have to stop to change a flat tire or fix my bike. It is also fabulous to be out this time of year because the trails change. The colors go from green to yellow, gold and red, of course, but the trail itself changes, too. It may be covered with dry leaves that crackle under your tires, or may have areas of damp leaves that make it challenging to stay upright on the corners. That variety is nice.
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The Cuyuna Lakes trails near Brainerd are some of my favorite to ride in the fall. The trails are challenging and fun, and the views can’t be beat from the top of some of the climbs, where you can look over beautiful, blue mine lakes and autumn leaves. I have to force myself to stop riding and enjoy the views, although it’s actually nice to take a break and catch my breath.
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My favorite mountain bike races to watch in the fall are all of the Minnesota High School Cycling League races. They are held throughout Minnesota and with five different categories of races from middle school through high school varsity, we will see about 750 racers each race day. I love watching the wide range of abilities and personalities of the student athletes. The fall race I’m most looking forward to participating in is the Salsa Oremageddon. This is a 50-mile mountain bike race in Cuyuna. (There also are 25- and 12-mile races.) It will be challenging because of the terrain, the distance and the time of year — a time when I really have to focus to keep training. The community in the Cuyuna Lakes area is so welcoming to mountain bike racers. That vibe, coupled with fall and potentially great weather, makes for a spectacular time.