Beautiful fall view of Grand Marais Harbor.

What is your favorite thing about fall time? Is it the fall foliage? Being able to wear cozy socks and sweaters and feel the crisp, fall air? How about the nice fall hikes & enjoying your favorite hot beverage? I love fall because EVERYTHING feels better fall time- especially exploring and going on outdoor adventures. And I may be biased, but I think the Midwest is one of the most beautiful places to experience the fall season!

Whether you like to hike or prefer to drive, I want to share with you some amazing scenic byway routes (with amazing places to hike) in Minnesota! Take a beautiful day trip or consider adding some back roads to your travels to enjoy the view. Some of the scenic byways on my list I have traveled & a few others are on my bucket list. Let’s cross some of these off now!

Side note: Many of these scenic drives offer access to wonderful MN State Parks. To save time & money, I suggest purchasing a MN State Park Pass. It’s good for 1 year from the day of your purchase. You can find more information and purchase here.

*Please note, you can reverse the start destinations & also add on to any of these drives if there are towns in the area you want to see! These are drives we have taken & loved. I also added in some scenic drives that are new for us that we plan to do this fall!

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Beautiful shoreline view from Highway 61 Scenic Drive.



Horse Shoe Bay was a neat stop in Hovland from HWY 61 to take in the fall colors.

In this blog you will find the following drives:

1. Great River Road Along Mississippi River & Lake Pepin via W-35– South East MN

2. Mississippi River Valley via US 61-North– South East MN

3. Old Highway 61 Along Lake Superior– North East MN

4. New Highway 61 Along Lake Superior– North East MN

5. Apple Blossom Drive Scenic Byway– South East MN

6. St. Croix River Valley– Mid-East Along WI Border

7. Minnesota River Drive – South West MN

8. Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway– North East MN

9. Superior National Forest Scenic Byway – North East MN

10. Waters of the Dancing Sky– North Middle MN

11. Edge of Wilderness– North East MN

12. Paul Bunyan Scenic Drive– North Central MN

13. Iron Range Loop – North East MN

14. Lady Slipper Scenic Byway– Central Northern MN

15. BONUS FOR SPRING TIME: Shooting Star Wildflower and Historic Route Scenic Byway

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List of Scenic Byways for a MN Road Trip for a Fall Color Drive

1. Great River Road Along Mississippi River & Lake Pepin via W-35– South East MN

It may be controversial to call this scenic byway a “Minnesota Drive” because it also goes into Wisconsin. However, it has easily become my favorite scenic byway drive in MN so far, and offers lovely riverside and lakeside views along with STUNNING fall colors. This is an ideal day trip from the Minneapolis- St. Paul area (it takes one hour to drive from the twin cities area to Red Wing, MN).

Technically, the Great River Road starts in Headwaters, MN and goes down through 10 states until New Orleans, LA. We started our Great River Road drive in Red Wing, MN. If you have not been to Red Wing yet- it definitely makes my top 10 list of favorite, charming towns in MN. Their downtown is darling with a wonderful bakery, they have gorgeous views and hiking trails and plenty of things for kids to do like enjoy the water park or huge playground by the river.

From here (usually we stop downtown & grab coffee or a snack!), we crossed the Mississippi River over to Hager City, Wisconsin. You can drive about 250 miles of this beautiful, scenic drive along the Mississippi River & eventually Lake Pepin too!

Beautiful scenic overlook in Red Wing, MN.

There are 33 little towns located on this scenic byway by the river. They are absolutely charming & have cute places to eat & shop. Notable towns for us to check out were Maiden Rock, Alma, Pepin & Stockholm. There are many overlook areas and historical markers with interesting Native American legends along this drive (check out the story behind the historical marker in Maiden Rock!). We stayed in Pepin for 3 days in an adorable, A-frame cabin facing Lake Pepin.

Lake Pepin is a place you NEED to spend some time in! They have great food, a darling winery, coffee joint, lake activities & you can also view the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder not far from Pepin. While staying in Pepin, we took a day trip to Stockholm & of course, Wabasha.

If you are going September 8th through October 22nd, make some time to experience SeptOber Fest in Wabasha, where you can explore this neat river town and enjoy artistic displays of fall items along the river. (If you have time, swing through Lake City, another town that is great to explore).

If You Are Interested in Great River Road Drive, Check Out this Lake Pepin List of Neat Things to Do!

Fall colors from Great River Bluffs State Park in Winona, MN.

2. Mississippi River Valley via US 61-North– South East MN

I am going to take you from the Wisconsin side of the Great River Road Scenic Byway to the Minnesota side, the Mississippi River Valley via US-61 North. Ideally, you could start this route (similar to the Great River Road route going through Pepin, WI) at Itasca State Park in Park Rapids, MN, the source of the Mississippi River (headwaters). You will pass through the Twin Cities & Hastings, MN (check out Vermillion Falls and Schoolhouse Scoop here).

Overlook view from the Mississippi River.

Similar to the Great River Road that takes you to Pepin, WI, we start again in Red Wing, MN (read my highlights of Red Wing under the Great River Road). Fifteen minutes from Red Wing, MN is Frotenac State Park. I highly encourage you to make a stop here on your drive. Frotenac State Park offers stunning views of Lake Pepin, over 7 miles of cross country skiing and 13 hiking trails. It’s also nearby the Mississippi River and is famous for it’s birdwatching activities, being over to over 260 species of birds. There is also the infamous landmark, In Yan Teopa, a giant rock on the edge of the bluff, which is considered to be sacred to Native Americans.

Next, we passed through Lake City, MN, a small town on the Mississippi River. A few highlights of this area are Falling Creek Falls, Halpatter Brewing Company and various art shops and paint & sips. You will still pass through Wabasha, MN (known for National Eagle Center), then continue to Winona, MN. Winona is a town I could highlight all on it’s own- there is a lot to see and do here! Great River Bluffs offers stunning views and beautiful trails- especially in the fall! You can also enjoy the falls colors on a Winona boat tour.

Walking towards the bluffs by the Mississippi River.

3. Old Highway 61 Along Lake Superior– North East MN

Many people traveling the North Shore of Minnesota take Highway 61- but they are missing out on so much by not cruising Old Highway 61, which runs right beside Lake Superior. This road starts in northern Duluth & runs through French River, Knife River and Larsmont before ending up in Two Harbors. In the fall time, this scenic byway is filled with wonderful fall colors reflecting off the lake- and you have a front seat to all of it! There are also cute gift shops, locally owned restaurants and coffee shops along the route (PLEASE do me a solid and check out Mocha Moose- it’s an incredible place).

You can view a historical maker where you can pull into the parking lot, go down the stairs & sit on the rocks for an up close view at the endless Lake Superior. This is also a neat spot to watch the ships head to Duluth. This is one of the shorter scenic byway drives (36 miles), but it’s well forth it for all you see! Also, this does not deter your drive by any means to the rest of the North Shore. The Old Highway 61 runs right alongside the new one- it just comes with waterfront views! You will still get to Two Harbors or Duluth just fine.

If You Want to Explore the North Shore Along Lake Superior, Check Out These Posts for More Details! View by clicking your choice below!

4. New Highway 61 Along Lake Superior– North East MN

I had to split the Old & New Highway 61 up to highlight the original route. Eventually, you can follow Old Highway 61 to Two Harbors (or Duluth) and you will have the option to merge onto the New Highway 61. Highway 61 from Two Harbors to Grand Portage is one I know very well! And yes- the more north you go, the more gorgeous everything gets. Not to mention how breath taking lake towns look wrapped up in the falls colors. The towns we like to explore on this beautiful fall drive are Two Harbors, Silver Bay, Schroeder, Tofte, Lutsen, Grand Marais, Colvill and Grand Portage.

A cute photo stop along Highway 61 on the North Shore.
Highway 61 views. Truly is beautiful during any season.

If you want to explore these lovely lakeside towns, here are some brief highlights regarding places to eat, beautiful views and hikes to immerse yourself in those fall colors:

  • Two Harbors: Great places to eat here are Betty’s Pies, Vanilla Bean, 5th Street Malt Shoppe, the Rustic Inn (closer to Castle Danger). Neat places to see in the area are the Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast Inn, Sonju Trail, Iona Beach and Two Harbors Break wall. Gooseberry Falls State Park is located 13 miles north of Two Harbors.
  • Silver Bay: For food, check out try Cove Point Crossing, Lemon Wolf Cafe and Tracks N Racks (Beaver Bay area, south of Silver Bay). Neat scenic areas are Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, hiking trails to Bean and Bear Lake, Silver Bay Marina, Black Beach and a few miles north is Palisade Head (a MUST see for fall time), Tettegouche State Park and Illgen Falls.
  • Schroeder/Tofte: One of my favorite places on the North Shore to eat is the Coho Cafe. There is also Schroeder Baking Company & Bluefin Grill. Some lovely places to see are Sugarloaf Cove, Taconite Harbors, Father Baragas Cross and Temperance River State Park.
  • Lutsen: Checkout Cascade Restaurant and Pub, as well as Fika Coffee. Places to see is Cascade River State Park and Lutsen Mountain and Ski Resort.
  • Grand Marais: This area is plentiful when it comes to food. Some of our favorites are Java Moose, World’s Best Donuts, Hungry Hippie Tacos, Angry Trout, The Fisherman’s Daughter & Dockside Market, Sydney’s Frozen Custard, North Shore Winery and My Sister’s Place. Make sure to checkout the downtown area by the harbor to walk the break wall and Gunflint Trail to Pincushion Mountain.
  • Colvill: While Colvill is more of a town that’s died out, it’s known for it’s lovely strip of cabins along Colvill Road and Colvill Paradise Beach. This is also a nice spot to view Kadunce River and hike to Kadunce Canyon. A few miles north of here is also Judge C.R. Magney State Park, home of the Devil’s Kettle.
  • Grand Portage: Try the Naniboujou dining area, especially if you are around for a Sunday brunch. There also is the Chicago Bay Marketplace & Bakery. Check out Susie Island Overlook & High Rise Falls at Grand Portage State Park.
Apple Blossom Scenic Byway Drive. Photo credit to

5. Apple Blossom Drive Scenic Byway– South East MN

I debated on adding this drive because the real beauty is to see the rolling hills covered in apple blossoms in the late spring/summer time. However, this area is home to plenty of Apple Orchards where you can stop to get some freshly picked apples, fresh cider, pumpkins and other fall items during your drive.

It’s also close to the Great River Road & Mississippi Valley on the Wisconsin and Minnesota side. This short drive would be an easy addition to either route. This route goes through Highway 29 and is 17 miles, starting in Nodine and ending up in La Crescent. The Great River Bluffs State Park is not far from here. Also nearby (off I-90) is White Water State Park and Carley State Park.

6. St. Croix River Valley– Mid-East Along WI Border

For this scenic drive, you take HWY 95 from the Taylor Falls area to Afton ( you can also start in Sandstone if desired). This drive follows the St. Croix River and features plenty of wooded areas with beautiful fall colors and cliffs with lovely overlooks. This route also goes through some neat towns and state parks as well. I would encourage you to make a stop at the birthplace of the state of Minnesota: Stillwater!

This is one of my favorite little towns & the downtown area is nestled along the banks of the St. Croix River. It also features the St. Croix boom site 5 minutes from the downtown area where you can hike to waterfalls, swim (if you are brave in the fall time) and have access to the river. I have a blog post that highlights all the amazing things to do in Stillwater. I will post the link below. There’s just too many amazing things to do in Stillwater, so a brief highlight won’t do it justice!

St. Croix River

For state parks, starting in the Taylor Falls area is perfect for exploring the views from Interstate State Park. You will also go through Wild River State Park, William O’Brien State Park and end up at Afton State Park, well known for it’s skiing alps and during warm weathers, it’s lovely beach on the St. Croix River.

If you want to explore Stillwater and also find neat places to hike all over Minnesota, check out these posts below!

7. Minnesota River Drive – South West MN

I love the Minnesota River Drive. I went to college in the Mankato area & have so many great memories with my dad on this drive. It truly is a beautiful area in Western Minnesota & also features unique state parks with features you will not see in other parts of Minnesota. This drive is 35 minutes & starts in Le Seur, goes through St. Peter and New Ulm, ending in the Mankato area on US-169.

If desired, you can also extend this drive to Redwood, MN. Redwood is home to one of the most beautiful family parks, Ramsey park, that features great hiking trails, camping areas, a zoo & waterfall. Of course, you can always start in Mankato & work your way up to the Le Suer area. All towns have adorable riverside parks with adorable downtowns that has something for everyone.

I especially love New Ulm because it has a quaint German feel to it. Some neat nature stops along this route are Flandrau State Park featuring Big Cottonwood River & Riverside Environmental Learning Center.

Wading towards Minneopa Falls in Mankato.

The Mankato area is home to Minneopa State Park where you can drive through to see the free range bison and hike down to Minneopa Falls. There is also Minnemishinona Falls, a scenic overlook, Sibley Park (famous for it’s free Christmas light display) and Land of Memories Park, home of the annual Pow Wow for the Native American Community across the country.

Pincushion Mountain Scenic Overlook of Lake Superior.
Pincushion Mountain Overlook of Superior National Forest.

Gunflint Trail is one of the scenic byways located in National Lake Superior Forest. When we went, we started in Grand Marais & actually stopped to hike to the Pincushion Mountain Over8. Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway– North East MNlook. In total, it’s 57 miles from Grand Marais to Trail’s End Campground. Your fall drive will be an endless array of autumn colors and pine trees mixed with with gorgeous lakes along the way.

9. Superior National Forest Scenic Byway – North East MN

This 61 mile (about an hour long) scenic byway, Forest HWY 11, runs from Silver Bay on the North Shore to the Iron Range communities, ending in Aurora. If you want to be “away from it all” this would be the drive for you as you will drive through a lot of unbroken forest.

If you want a prime view of the fall colors, consider Skibo Vista Overlook, where you can view the forest for miles on end, located in Hoyt Lakes. We have done part of this drive, but not all of it. Some highlights of this drive are Splitrock Lighthouse, Palisade Head and Tettegouche State Park in Silver Bay, various National Forest trails along the drive and visiting the Bavarian town of Biwabik.

Waters of the Dancing Sky scenic drive- Photo credit to

10. Waters of the Dancing Sky– North Middle MN

This may be Minnesota’s northernmost scenic byway closest to Canada. We have not yet went on this drive, but plan to do part of it because we want to visit Voyaguer National Park & go to the Boundary Waters. This is one of the longer scenic byways, totalling 191 miles (4-5 hours) from Karlstad to International Falls. Again, this is a lovely drive fall, spring or summer.

In the spring/summer time, there are tons of wildflowers along the byway as well as Lady Slippers. Fall time, you get Minnesota’s fall colors at their best. This drive starts out from Voyagauers National Park. Voyaguers National Park is over 218,000 acres of rock ridges, cliffs, wetlands, lakes, streams, forests and not to mention the wildlife that calls it home. It’s also known as a prime spot to see the Northern Lights. International Falls is known for Wester Falls & Mcguillivray Falls.

Read more about Voyaguer National Park here.

Fall colors on Wilderness Scenic Drive. Photo credit to

11. Edge of Wilderness– North East MN

During fall time, this drive offers brilliant views of oak, maple, aspen and birch trees. Edge of Wilderness has a variety of landscapes including swamps, forest, lakes, rolling hills and the Mississippi River. The byway stretches 47 miles from Grand Rapids (home of Judy Garland from Wizard of Oz) to Effie, MN. This byway is convenient to drive any time of year, as it offers prime fishing areas and swimming areas in Lake Winnibigoshish, Lake Cass and Leech Lake.

Chippewa National Forest is also nearby an offers countless hiking trails. Highlights of Grand Rapids area are the Judy Garland Museum, Tioga Mine Pit (well known for it’s crystal clear blue waters) and Hale Lake. Effie, MN is home to McCarthy Beach State Park, Vince Schute Wildlife Sanctuary and Eagle Nest Lodge. They also have the cute little Effie Cafe -stop in for some tea, coffee and food!

Paul Bunyan Scenic Drive. Photo credit to

12. Paul Bunyan Scenic Drive– North Central MN

Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway wraps 54 miles through the north central lakes and woods of Minnesota. This byway itself is beyond beautiful in the fall, but hard to describe because it’s composed of three loops, all connected by HWY 371, which is not considered part of the byway. All three loops are country roads mostly located in Crow and only a few miles goes into Cass County. Highlights from these loops are Perqout Lake, Breezy Point, Cross Lake, Manhattan Beach and Pine River. This area is also known as a good fishing spot featuring rainbow trout.

Photo credit to

13. Iron Range Loop – North East MN

This drive is a new one to me, but I have spent a lot of time researching it. I have heard the fall colors are brilliant here and you can see defunct and active mines as well. I am going to keep this one shorter, because there are so many ways to customize this depending on where you are coming from. The route we are looking at starts on HWY 169 in Tower, MN to Virginia, MN ( a 30 minute drive).

We are also planning to add an hour to our drive, ending our road trip in Ely, MN. Some things we want to see along the way are Mesabi Trail, Leonidas Overlook and Ely Lake. In Tower, we definitely want to check out Lake Vermillion! Ely has A LOT of neat things to do, which is why we want to end our drive here & spend a few days to explore. Some highlights are International Wolf Center, North American Bear Center, Dorothy Multer Museum, Trezona Trailhead, Shagawa Lake, Miners Lake- just to name a few! We have visited Ely before, but drove her from the North Shore area.

Lady Slipper Scenic Byway. Photo credit to

14. Lady Slipper Scenic Byway– Central Northern MN

Lady Slipper Scenic Byway is located in Chippewa National Forest and is a 28 mile drive. This is a drive we have yet to take but would like to during various seasons. It features the Mississippi River and a collection of fall colors in the central northern MN forest. While this is a beautiful fall drive, it could also be a lovely spring drive. This scenic byway is famous for the Lady’s Slipper, the Minnesota State flower, which blooms alongside the byway in late June. This is a short drive, but I think it’d be a unique one, spring or fall!

Shooting Star Wildflower Scenic Drive is the first official route built around wildflowers. Photo credit to

15. BONUS FOR SPRING TIME: Shooting Star Wildflower and Historic Route Scenic Byway

This is going to be a bonus entry because it’s a prime spring drive. If you love wildflowers, this one is for you! Shooting Star Wildflower Route is Minnesota’s FIRST wildflower route ever. It passes through small rural towns and agricultural areas, with Lake Louise State Park on the route. Shooting Star Wildflower route goes along the border of Iowa and is a 32 mile drive along HWY 56. It starts east of LeRoy, MN and ends by I-90 in Nicolville.

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