If there is a year to get a kink in your neck from gazing upward at trees, this is it. Conditions are ripe for an extraordinary autumn display.

"This will be the best fall in the last 10 years," said Jana Albers, a forest health specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Last week, she toured the state's northern tier and found a few early turning maples brightening up the woods. "Healthy trees make good colors."

After enduring eight years of drought conditions, Minnesota's trees have rebounded with the ample rain of the past two years, rebuilding crowns and sending moisture to foliage. When nights turn nippy, the green pigment in leaves breaks down, which allows other pigments to shine. Drought-ridden trees have few pigment-producing chemicals, which is why some areas have seen underwhelming fall color in recent years. The richly hydrated leaves this year will burst with a range of hues, from yellow and orange to burgundy and purple.

Albers said the flashiest foliage will be found wherever there are hills and valleys, which tend to host maples and birches: the North Shore, Grand Rapids, Brainerd and the Southeast. But everywhere, radiant glows will be easy to spot. "We have so many different plant communities [in Minnesota], and they are right next to each other. Drive through them, and you have thrill after thrill."