Best Places to View the Fall Colors in the St. Cloud Area of Central Minnesota — Peter K’s Top Five
The leaves are turning colors and fall is in the air. It's a great time to take some time, stake out a place to sit and just take in autumn. Here are five spots in Central Minnesota with killer views of our fall colors.
I recommend you start your Fall Color Journey here, mostly because it’s the furthest we’ll get from St. Cloud, it’s out of the way, and semi-secluded. This is Minnesota’s smallest State Forest, but it has a lot to offer! For great fire colors you’ll find some Birch and Aspen, with the majority being Oak, Red Maple and Ironwood. There are also Spruce and Pine in spots to create a color diversity that is one of Stearns/Todd County’s closely guarded secrets. According to the DNR site, it’s one of the most intriguing because it lies in a transition zone of forested regions to prairie and it contains glacial deposits which created its hilly terrain. The park offers around 14 combined miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, including one to the highest elevation in the forest that takes you to nearly 200 feet above the lake. It gives you a chance to walk and enjoy the colors from lakeside, along the trails above you, and from a couple of good vantage points above the lake. Watch for loons, red-bellied woodpeckers and lots of hawks. Big Birch lies between Little Birch and Birch Lakes and is near Grey Eagle and Melrose. Plan to spend at least three- four hours with this one, not including your drive time. In the Summer you’ll discover a campground, hunting areas, great fishing and you’ll find a unique terraced public beach, that’s never too crowded. During the Winter, you’ll find great snow machine trails.
I know! Crazy right? But how many times have you come out of Downtown St. Cloud towards Wilson Ave and taken a quick, dangerous, heart pounding glance to your right as you cross the bridge and down the Mighty Mississippi? Well, this year, keep the rest of us safe and park your car at The Green Mill and making an evening out of it. Go in, have an appetizer and a beer- then walk across the street to the right side of the bridge. This relatively new design has four out-croppings (two on each side) specifically designed for river viewing. The new bridge has a very walk-friendly width and you’re quite safe, unlike the old DeSoto Bridge design. I like the right side (East-bound side) because you get to see all the way over to Riverside Park and almost to the University Bridge. After your peek across the Ol’ Miss, walk back and then take a quick left down to the riverwalk. It’s not a lot but it’s a good extra 10-15 minutes to the end and back again. It gives you a nice view of the NE side of the river and often-times you’ll catch a nice cool river breeze. All in all, you can spend about two-hours on this one.
The Lake Wobegon Trail is a 62-mile long, 10-foot wide, paved hike-and-bike pathway that extends through Stearns and Todd counties from St. Joseph to Osakis. The trail also has an extension on the west side of Albany heading northeast to Holdingford and the Stearns/Morrison County line. You can access the trail in several cities around us. The trail has all the right trees for spectacular color- Sugar Maple, Ash, Aspen and lots of Staghorn Sumac. This time of year is the best time to hit the trail, as well- as the bugs are at a minimum and the colors are at their peak. Unfortunately, if you live in St. Cloud, you’ll have to drive to one of the trailheads with your bikes or hiking shoes- as there are still SEVEN miles left to connect the trail to the Granite City. You can help make that happen by donating and joining their Facebook page for updates.
This hidden gem is one of our areas most-overlooked in the Stearns County Park system. With nearly 210 acres and a Mississippi River frontage of a little over a mile, you’ll discover a peaceful, well trailed and diverse spot for leaf-leering. It’s relatively flat and great for a short hike either through the woods, along a restored prairie or the river-front. There’s a boat launch if you’d like to grab a peek of the foliage from the middle of the river, plus you’ll find nice picnic areas and shelters. Grab your Frisbee, too- there’s a well thought-out disc golf course that winds you through a lot of the nicest fall colors in the park. You can spend anywhere from an hour to a whole day at this park. Once you come, be prepared to make it one of your favorites.
Any list of Fall color adventures wouldn’t be complete without props to the St. John’s Arboretum. This Central Minnesota favorite has real street (forest?)-cred: Nearly 3,000 acres of various landscapes, learning tools, flora and fauna, mark this 150+ year old learning bastion as THE spot to enjoy our state’s finest season. Usually the colors peak about the last week of September/first week in October. In fact, the Arboretum even hosts a Fall Color Tour every year. This year you can join it on Sunday October 2. Bring your camera and snap furiously- then save your best for their photo contest. There’s also a virtual tour available on the CSB/SJU website. The Arboretum isn’t the only place on campus you can get a magnificent eye-full of blazing auburns, tangerines and scarlets- take the Chapel Walk around Lake Sagatagan. You’ll start at the beach on the NW side of the lake and stroll 3 eye-catching miles to Stella Maris Chapel. The fall colors light up the edges of the crystal-clear lake as well as blaze in the canopy above you. But be careful who you take the walk with; There’s an old legend that says if you’re a Bennie taking the walk with a Johnnie, you’re gonna end up on a future date IN the Chapel, with vows to confirm and rings to exchange. This Autumn trek is good for multiple visits and you can spend hours upon hours delving into the history, the tours and the down-right sacred marvels on campus.