Fall color, crisp air and the blissful ditching of summer bug spray make late September and October one of Minnesota’s most coveted seasons. Regional and state parks, from prairie to forest, amp up colors and beckon with lakes, rivers and the rich soundtrack of flocks of birds gathering for migration. Grab a bike, paddle, running shoes or hiking boots to enjoy the stellar scenery before ski-skate-snowshoe season arrives. Of course, if you want a deal on winter gear, now also is the time for fall equipment swaps. Here’s a sampling of what’s ahead:

This month

Take a bison tour (beginning Saturday)

The deepening color of grasses and the region’s pink quartzite provide a scenic backdrop for Blue Mound State Park’s Prairie and Bison Tours near Luverne in southwest Minnesota. Ninety-minute tours in an open-sided vehicle are offered three times a day Saturday and Sunday through Oct. 21. Tours are also offered Oct. 19. Children 4 and older can participate but need a booster seat until age 9. (1-507-283-6050; mndnr.gov)

Take a hike (Saturday and Oct. 6)

Enjoy a guided hike led by the Superior Hiking Trail Association that covers 6.8 miles from Hwy. 1 to Lake County Road 6 north of Silver Bay. The trek includes inland lakes and geologic features named Lemon Squeezer and Sawmill Dome. A 3.5-mile Spirit Mountain loop Oct. 6 in Duluth is the last guided hike for the year. Both start at 10 a.m. (superiorhiking.org)

Paddle on (Sunday)

See fall colors (and their reflections on the water) with a Wilderness Inquiry paddle along the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities. The outing, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., includes instructions for canoeing, two hours of paddling and a picnic (bring your own lunch). Another paddle is set for Oct. 13. The organization also leads a two-night women’s trip on the Superior Hiking Trail, near Lutsen, with local lodging Oct. 5-7. (wildernessinquiry.org)


Help marathon weekend (Oct. 5-6)

Consider joining the 4,000 volunteers needed to welcome athletes from around the world to the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, in its 37th year (tcmevents.org/support/volunteer). Everyone is also welcome to seek inspiration at the free Health and Fitness Expo at St. Paul’s RiverCentre. More than 100 vendors will have hands-on exhibits, massages and seminars. (tcmevents.org)

Attend a ski swap (Oct. 5-7)

Look for deals at one of the Midwest’s largest ski and snowboard swaps, and enjoy an autumn outing at Afton Alps. Attendees can take free chair lift rides, jump on hayrides, and enjoy live music and movie screenings starting at dusk Friday. The event continues Oct. 12-14. (aftonalps.com)

Attend a fall festival (Oct. 6)

Fall Festival attendees at Lake Carlos State Park near Alexandria can try archery (ages 8 and older), learn about cooking with Dutch ovens, try making butter and explore beekeeping with demonstrations from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (mndnr.gov/lakecarlos) Join a guided hike and climb up the Aiton Heights Fire Tower for a bird’s-eye view of Itasca State Park north of Park Rapids. Stick around for a Music Under the Pines concert.

Get a high view (Oct. 12-13)

Enjoy riding the ski lift above the fall colors of Bloomington’s Mount Gilboa at Hyland Hills, one of the highest vistas in Hennepin County. Rides will be offered both days, along with activities, such as lawn games, campfires for roasting s’mores and a sunset concert. (763-694-7800; threeriversparks.org)

Get on red dirt (Oct. 6)

Be ready to hit the red dirt with Ironton’s Teravail Oremageddon mountain bike race. with 12-, 25- and 50-mile loops through the Cuyuna Country Recreational Area. (cuyunalakesmtb.com)

Paddle and portage (Oct. 13)

Grab a paddle and be ready to carry a canoe, kayak or paddleboard through a 10-mile course across Minneapolis’ Chain of Lakes and tributaries for the Red Bull Urban Portage. (redbull.com/urbanportage)

Pedal and go (Oct. 20)

Rumble through forested trails in the Sawtooth Mountain Challenge, northeast Minnesota’s oldest mountain bike race. Participants can choose 8-, 15- and 22-mile routes, which climb 650 feet at Pincushion Mountain near Grand Marais. The race raises up to $5,000 for the Superior Cycling Association’s trail maintenance fund. Grand Marais also hosts the Moose Madness Family Festival that weekend. (superiorcycling.org/sawtooth-mountain-challenge)

Costumed dash (Oct. 27)

Blend the goofy costume fun of a Halloween party with the workout of a half-marathon, 10-kilometer or 5-kilometer run at St. Paul’s annual Monster Dash based at CHS Field in downtown St. Paul. (minnesotamonster.com)


Search for swans (Nov. 17)

Look for migrating flocks of tundra swans on a bus tour that leaves Winona at 9 a.m. and heads to Weaver Bottoms and the Brownsville Overlook. Friends of the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge will have binoculars, spotting scopes and box lunches. (1-507-454-7351)

Pre-turkey ramble (Nov. 22)

With the option to join several 5K and 10K walks and runs throughout the state (St. Paul’s Turkey Trot, Minneapolis’ Drumstick Dash and Duluth’s Gobble Gallop to name a few), there’s a guilt-free way to earn extra Thanksgiving pie or mashed potatoes and gravy.


Hit the trails (Dec. 8)

Elm Creek Reserve celebrates the “Minnesota Nordic Ski Opener” from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Maple Grove. Families can rent equipment for free and take free mini-lessons for all ages and abilities. The event includes a Nordic Ski Expo with ski suppliers, resorts, retailers and clubs. The first 2,000 visitors get a free Buff for keeping necks and heads warmer. (threeriversparks.org/NordicSkiOpener)

Lisa Meyers McClintick (@lisamcclintick) is a St. Cloud-based freelance travel writer. She is the author of the books “Day Trips From the Twin Cities” and “The Dakotas Off the Beaten Path.”