With the year’s most-colorful scenery, most-crisp weather and last gasps of pre-mittens outdoor fun, fall offers a little of everything. Here’s your guide on where to go for birding, pitching in at parks, runs and rides, and new ways to appreciate Minnesota’s landscapes. For fall color updates, go to dnr.state.mn.us or exploreminnesota.com.
Soar above the trees (throughout fall)
Children 10 and older and adults can test their courage and put Minnesota River Valley scenery on fast-forward with 14 zip lines near Henderson, Minn., southwest of the Twin Cities. The company also runs seven zip lines in Brainerd at Mount Ski Gull. (ziplinemn.com)
Watch for gathering birds (various dates)
Enjoy the trained eyes and knowledge of an expert with a guided bird-watching trek from 8 to 10:30 a.m. at the Bass Ponds Trailhead, 2501 86th St. E, in Bloomington. The Minnesota River National Wildlife Refuge will have additional treks to see birds gathering and migrating along the flyway on Oct. 1, 9 and 28. (952-854-5900; fws.gov/refuge/Minnesota_Valley)
Pitch in on public lands (Sept. 30)
Join a nationwide day of service for parks and wildlife refuges on National Public Lands Day. Pipestone (Minn.) National Monument has free admission and invites visitors to help collect tallgrass prairie seeds (1-507-825-5464; nps.gov/pipe). In the Twin Cities, volunteers are helping restore historic Coldwater Spring by planting from 9 a.m. to noon at the area along the Mississippi River, between Minnehaha Falls and Fort Snelling (651-293-0200). Check with local wildlife refuges or regional parks to join other restoration projects like plantings or removing buckthorn.
Watch for refuge wildlife (Sept. 30)
For its Wildlife Festival, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Zimmerman brings in raptors from Audubon Center of the Northwoods, demonstrations from wildlife painter Gary Moss, and offers wagon rides, hikes and other activities from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The refuge also hosts its popular sandhill crane tours 6 to 9 a.m. Oct. 14-15, but reservations are required and can fill quickly. (763-389-3323; fws.gov)
Grab a chairlift at Hyland (Oct. 6-7)
Hyland Park Reserve will take leaf-peepers up the ski hill chairlift to admire fall colors from one of the highest elevations in Hennepin County. Additional activities include a spotting scope aimed at downtown Minneapolis, a live raptor, lawn games, s’mores by a campfire, a lantern-lit trail and live folk music: Pig’s Eye Landing on Friday, The Moonlight Duo on Saturday. (763-694-7687; threeriversparks.org)
Fall Fair previews ski season (Oct. 6-8)
An annual ski and snowboard swap anchors the Afton Alps Fall Fair weekend, which includes a Friday night movie on the slopes, plus weekend hayrides, inflatables, discounted season tickets (including access to a dozen Rocky Mountain ski resorts), and trips up the chairlift to enjoy fall colors in the St. Croix River Valley. Afton’s warm-weather recreation includes golf, footgolf, disc golf and mountain biking. Fall Fair activities repeat Oct. 13-15. (651-436-5245; aftonalps.com)
Ride along Mankato rivers (Oct. 8)
Bike riders of every ability can choose a just-right route at Mankato’s River Ramble with options ranging from 12 to 50 miles. Sponsored by the Bike Alliance of Minnesota, the four loops begin at Land of Memories Park. The destinations include a “Pie Run” — yes, there is pie — to Rapidan Dam Rest Stop and longer routes that dip into river valleys and follow rural roads to the city of Good Thunder. (bikeriverramble.org)
St. Croix park pothole tour
Meet at the Interstate State Park visitors center for tours of glacial potholes put there by lakes of lava and thundering glacial waters that carved and scoured The Dalles of the St. Croix River in Taylors Falls. Tours also offered Oct. 14, 15 and 21. (651-465-5711, dnr.state.mn.us)
Trek through North Country (Oct. 14)
Head north of Park Rapids to take a guided 2-mile hike through Itasca State Park from 12:30 to 3 p.m. in the glacial hills along the Red Pine, Crossover and Ozaawindib trails. The route overlaps with the North Country National Scenic Trail, which will eventually stretch from New York to North Dakota. (1-218-699-7251; dnr.state.mn.us)
Climb a fire tower (Oct. 21)
Soak up Southern Minnesota’s vibrant hardwoods with a trek to Whitewater State Park. Meet at 1 p.m. at the visitor center for a program on the Elba Fire Tower before driving to the historic structure 3 miles south of Elba. The 772-step climb to the top offers an eagle-view of the forest. Other fall events at Whitewater include bird-banding, a candlelight cemetery tour, ghost walk and bluegrass concert. The park’s new Minneiska campground replaced one prone to flooding, and opened in late August across from Hwy. 74. (1-507-312-2300; dnr.state.mn.us)
Monster Dash Half-Marathon (Oct. 28)
This annual race blends the costume fun of a Halloween party with the workout of a half-marathon, 10-kilometer race or 5K, starting at Upper Landing Park in St. Paul. (minnesotamonster.com)
Embrace storm season (Nov. 10-11)
Several events offer a nod to the thundering waves and icy winds of Lake Superior’s famed storm season. Split Rock Lighthouse will be lit Nov. 10, the anniversary of the 1975 wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a freighter. There will be costumed interpreters on site from 11 to 6 p.m. The event offers a rare chance to climb the lighthouse after dark and watch the light sweep across the lake (mnhs.org). The Lake Superior Storm Festival runs all weekend in Grand Marais and Lutsen with historic talks, a fundraising dash into the lake, a fashion show featuring cold-weather gear, and music that includes Gordon Lightfoot’s revered song commemorating the Fitzgerald (visitcookcounty.com).
Lisa Meyers McClintick is a freelance writer from St. Cloud.