Fall color hikes abound in area

Posted 9/15/21

Trails cross Mississippi River bluffs, apple orchard, ravines, islands Author, “Minnesota’s Best Autumn Hikes” There’s no better way to experience autumn colors in the Hastings area than a …

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Fall color hikes abound in area


Trails cross Mississippi River bluffs, apple orchard, ravines, islands

Author, “Minnesota’s Best Autumn Hikes”

There’s no better way to experience autumn colors in the Hastings area than a hike.

From the brilliant yellows, oranges and red of maples to the scarlet and russets of oaks…the crisp, fresh autumn air and the last warm rays of sunlight before winter arrives…the crunch of fallen leaves and acorns beneath your boots…stopping to enjoy a warm mug of apple cider or a caramel apple pulled from your backpack – it all calls for an afternoon on the trail.

Fortunately, there are plenty of great autumn trails around Hastings to hike. Some are right out your back door, while some are a day trip that you can do in an afternoon.

Spring Lake Park Reserve (Hastings) Maple and ash trees along with some quite large oaks await hikers at Spring Lake Park Reserve. A 3-mile trail loops through a woods atop a bluff on the Mississippi River. Moss-covered rocks and birch accent the mostly maple forest. From Hastings, take Second Street west. When the street splits, go right/northwest onto Niniger Road, which naturally becomes 132nd Street East. Turn right/north onto Idell Avenue, which becomes 127th Street East when it curves west. Head right/ north onto the park entry road and leave your vehicle in the lot for the playground. The connector trail heads east from the parking lot.

Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center (Hastings) Day hikers can enjoy a walk down a bluff to the St. Croix River shrouded in colorful hardwoods and then through an apple orchard at the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center. The South River Bluff Trail and a paved trail connecting it to the visitor center runs about 0.95-miles round trip to the shores of the St. Croix. Thirteen types of apples grow at the center; you’ll be able to purchase most of them in mid-September. From U.S. Hwy. 10 between Hastings and Prescott, Wis., take Minn. Hwy. 21 (aka as St. Croix Trail) north and watch for the signs; the center is on the right/east in about two miles. Once on the center entry road, park in the northern lot.

Kinnickinnic State Park (Prescott) Hikers can walk through a rare old growth oak forest on the Purple Trail at Kinnickinnic State Park. The 1.2-mile loop sits near the confluence of the St. Croix and Kinnickinnic rivers. Pioneers and 19th century logging companies cut most of the trees in this part of Wisconsin, but the trail passes through one of the few woodlands to escape the ax. The oaks are majestic, especially when their leaves turn tan, orange and brown in autumn. The trail includes a deck overlooking the confluence where eagles can be spotted. From Prescott, take Wis. Hwy. 29 east then turn left/north County Road F north. Turn left/west onto 820th Avenue then left/south into the park; follow the entry road west all of the way to its end and park in the St. Croix Picnic Area Lot.

Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park (Cottage Grove) Day hikers can explore wooded gorges that run near the Mississippi River in Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park. Because of the varied hardwood trees – ash, aspen, birch and maple – the 2-mile packed turf Ravine Trail makes for a pretty autumn walk. From U.S. Hwy. 61 in Cottage Grove, go northeast on County Road 19 then right/southeast onto E. Point Douglas Road. The park service road is a left/northeast turn. Head to the second parking lot located where the entry road loops back on itself then walk northeast on the far-right trail.

Vermillion Highlands Wildlife Management Area (Rosemount) Gold aspen and russet oak leaves await hikers at Vermillion Highlands Wildlife Management Area. The 4.6mile Wetland and Pine Loop largely stays in the woods while circling a wetlands that drains into the Vermillion River. The wildlife area covers more than 2800 acres. From County Road 42 and Minn. Hwy. 3 in Rosemount, take the latter south. Turn left/east onto County Road 46 then right/south onto Clayton Avenue. A parking lot for the trailhead is on the right/west.

Fort Snelling State Park

(St. Paul) Two rivers reflect fall colors as you pass beneath a harvest-hued canopy at Fort Snelling State Park. The 3-mile Pike Island Trail loops around the isle at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers with historic Fort Snelling on the bluff above. Cottonwood, silver maple, ash, and willow trees all thrive on the island. From the junction of Minn. Hwy. 5 and Post Road near Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, take the latter southeast. Turn left/northeast onto Snelling Lake Road. Park in the lot when the road runs out. Head northeast on Snelling Lake Trail and at the first junction go right/southeast onto Pike Island Trail.

Barn Bluff (Red Wing)

Yellow, orange and red maples with tan and russet oaks await hikers on Barn Bluff, a Red Wing icon. The 1.66-mile round trip South Trail heads through the wooded portion of the sandstone bluff and via the Kiwanis Stairway takes you to the top. The East Scenic Overlook offers a view of the surrounding river valley from 30 stories up. From U.S. Hwy. 61 in downtown Red Wing, go southeast onto Plum Street. Next, head left/ northeast onto Fifth Street. When the road crosses under Hwy. 61, find a parking spot along the street. The trailhead is on the road’s left/ northwest side.

Rob Bignell is the author of Minnesota’s Best Autumn Hikes and six other hiking books about the Gopher State. A former newspaper and magazine editor, his journalism work has won several awards, from editorial writing to sports reporting.