10 Minnesota Hikes to Try this Fall with your Dog
Today is the first official day of fall and, at least here in Ely, it definitely is beginning to feel it. The nights are cold, the sun is setting earlier and earlier, and the leaves are beginning to turn. We’re counting down the days to winter dog sport season now, but fall is a wonderful time of year to get out and enjoy nature. It’s also an incredible time to get out hiking with your dog, especially the northern breeds with thick fur who struggle to stay cool during the summer. Looking for places to get out and enjoy with your dog this fall? Here’s a list of some of the best places to hike no matter where you are in Minnesota. Many of the places I list below are in the state parks which hold some of the best scenery in the state. However, if you’re looking for more solitude, check out the state forests. There are millions of acres to explore. And if you need something a little less rugged, look for any of the hundreds of miles of state trails. It’s amazing how many different adventures are just around the corner for you and your dog(s).
1)Upper Sioux Agency State Park: As much as the bright red and golden leaves are a sure sign of fall, the amber hues of the prairie grasses headed for dormancy are beautiful in the autumn sun. Take your dog hiking along the rolling ridges and experience the wind across the prairie. I enjoyed the ridgetop trails nearest the historical sites, but this park also has a wide variety of scenery as you descend down towards the Minnesota River. There’s also a backpacking/watercraft campsite along the river if you plan on taking a longer stay.
2)Nerstrand Big Woods: This park is a classic in any guide to Minnesota fall colors so it almost seems unfair to include it, but this park is a destination for a reason. Hidden Falls is probably the most popular site at this park, but there are plenty of winding trails through the Big Woods for you and your dog to enjoy. I personally love the trails south of the road which are quieter than the areas closer to the campground or near the waterfall.
3)Beaver Creek Valley State Park: This park down in the SE corner of the state amongst the driftless region has always been one of my favorite State Parks in Minnesota. The deep valleys hold amazing forests, clear water, and wondrous wildflowers in the spring. In the fall, the steep ridges frame in amazing autumn leaves. The terrain of the driftless region also allows for wide-ranging hiking opportunities. The trails close to parking offer plenty to see and do while longer trails stretch out towards the parks northern and southern ends for longer day adventures or short overnights.
4)Frontenac State Park: For expansive views of the Mississippi bluffland, look no further than Frontenac State Park. Explore the expansive overlooks above Lake Pepin and the rolling prairie ridges. Hike to the southern end of the park for a little more quiet as you enjoy the fall breezes across the ridge tops. Also, keep an eye out for migrating birds as they fly down the Mississippi corridor towards wintering grounds further south.
5)St Croix State Park/Chegwatana State Forest/ St Croix State Forest: Along the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin sits a maze of creeks and rivers which flow through St Croix State Park. There are enough trails here to keep you and your dog occupied for multiple days exploring the overlooks and valleys throughout the park. And, if you are in search of even more space to roam, there is state forest land to the north and south of the park for plenty more space for you and your dog to enjoy.
6)Mille Lacs Kathio: Located on the western shore of Lake Mille Lacs, this park provides a wonderful destination any time of the year. As fall colors start lighting up the forests around the lake, this park becomes truly special. The fire tower provides amazing views, but for hiking with your dog, head for the Glacial Ridge trail which provides beautiful fall colors. Or, for a bigger adventure, take any of the longer trails into the park’s interior as gentle ridges slope towards the Rum River.
7)Big Bog State Recreation Area:For a totally different take on autumn, head to Big Bog State Recreation Area adjacent to the largest peat bog in the state. As autumn colors begin to fade, one of the very last species to turn ignites in golden hues. Tamarack trees are the state’s only deciduous species of deciduous conifer and are common in Big Bog. Also come to check out the colors as the whole ecosystem makes its turn towards winter. Walk the mile-long boardwalk trail and explore all the sites (and smells) that the Big Bog has to offer.
8)Grand Portage State Park: Up into the very far upper reaches of the state along the Canadian Border sits the Grand Portage. The state park is jointly managed between the tribe and the state to preserve space around the state’s tallest waterfall. This far north, the colors begin to change sooner than places further south in our state. Watch for the golden hues of birch trees to turn first along the trail to the falls. And for an extended adventure, take the rugged hike along the Pigeon River to Middle Falls or follow the historic Grand Portage to see more of what this special corner of the state has to offer.
9) Superior Hiking Trail: Every fall, thousands of people flock to the north shore to places like Lutsen and the state parks as the hills erupt in color around the regions magnificent lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. Many of the state parks are connected via the Superior Hiking Trail. Take a day hike or head out for a multiple night backpacking trip with your dog. Many of the best overlooks are extremely popular, but as you head further away from roads and parking areas you’ll find more solitude. Some of the best views for fall include Oberg Mountain, Bean and Bear, Gooseberry Falls, Tettegouche, the Cascade River, Pincusshion Mountain, the Kadunce River, and the 270 Overlook at the northern terminus. There is so much scenery to be seen along this stretch of trail. Explore it yourself to find your favorite destinations!
10) Border Route Trail: For an even more rugged experience, one of this state’s most scenic trails connects off the end of the Superior Hiking Trail and extends 65 miles to Gunflint Lake. The Border Route climbs up and over many of the highest inland cliffs in the state and expansive views are the reward for the effort. There are day trip options, but the border route is best explored in an overnight. Shorter loops are available west of Clearwater Lake while the stretch to the east see far less traffic. If you choose to check out the Border Route with your dog, make sure your dog is trained and under control. Safety and planning are important for wilderness trips. For those who choose to bring a dog with them, the rewards of a wilderness adventure are priceless.
Fall is a magnificent time in Minnesota and, for those who own dogs, an awesome season to get out and explore. Be conscious that fall is also hunting season. Whether hunting with your dog or simply out hiking, it’s important that your dogs are wearing bright colors (jackets, collars, and booties) for safety as hunters get out in the woods. As leaves begin to change, take your dog(s) out hiking this fall and see what incredible destinations you can explore together!