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Finding fall foliage: Leaf-peeping season coming soon

Sep 10, 2019 12:02PM ● By Editor
Photo:  Visit Cook County

By Bria Barton of the Bemidji Pioneer - September 8, 2019

Chilly mornings have begun to signal fall is in the air, and although the season for ghouls and pumpkin spice doesn’t officially start until Sept. 23, Mother Nature is already showing promise for autumnal foliage chasers planning their getaways.

Leaf-peeping, the aesthetically pleasing and somewhat wacky -- we are, after all, talking about leaves basically starving to death -- subgenre of tourism dedicated to scouting fall foliage and photographing it, can be a guessing game without proper resources.

To help alleviate confusion and keep leaf peepers up-to-date, the Minnesota DNR has renewed its popular Fall Color Finder map, which includes color-coded approximations of the percentage of leaves that have changed color in an area. 

And starting Thursday, Sept. 12., Explore Minnesota and the Minnesota DNR will also be offering weekly fall color updates through email subscription, which give more detailed information on color changing activity throughout the state. 

“Minnesota is a top destination to experience the fall colors at parks and trails across the state," said Explore Minnesota director/CEO John Edman in a press release. "With weekly statewide fall color reports, we're able to help travelers make the most of this special season."

Leaf peepers should be aware of some inconsistent fall foliage patterns with the Fall Color Finder map before planning an excursion, however.

Currently, the only sign of activity on the map is in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area, including Fort Snelling State Park, which has been closed due to clean up from significant spring flooding. 

The map appears to show the Twin Cities already reaching 10 to 25 percent peak -- activity that typically occurs in more northern pockets of the state around this time.

Val Cervenka, a forest health program consultant in the DNR's Forestry Division, says there is a probable explanation for the early changing of leaves.

“The color report came from Fort Snelling State Park, which has been underwater for most of the season,” Cervenka said. “If they have changing colors, it’s probably due to the standing water there. The rest of the Twin Cities is not, by any stretch, 25 percent color change.”

Peak fall color typically lasts about two weeks, but can vary widely depending on location, elevation and, in Fort Snelling’s case, weather. Trees at higher elevations are also the earliest to show color change.

As a general rule, colors typically peak between mid-September and early October in the northern third of Minnesota, between late September and early October in the central third of the state, and between late September and mid-October in the southern third, according to the Minnesota DNR.

Along with New England, the Upper Midwest is renowned for its extensive and diverse autumn foliage. In fact, fall travel in Minnesota accounts for 25 percent of its $15.3 billion tourism industry, making it the second-largest travel season. 

After conducting a poll on the upcoming season, Explore Minnesota found that the outlook for fall travel was optimistic with a larger majority of respondents expecting revenue to be up along with increased occupancy.

"(2019) has been a successful year for Minnesota tourism, and we hope the momentum will continue during Minnesota's second-busiest travel season," Edman said.

Here are some tips for a successful leaf peeping excursion:

  1. Prepare. When you’re at nature’s discretion, it’s probably best to do your research. Don’t be afraid to call DNR, and regularly check the Fall Color Finder map. If you’re also leaf peeping in another state, check out this handy Fall Foliage Prediction Map for the U.S. 

  2. Monitor the weather. No leaf peeper wants to show up to a soggy spot of land with bare trees. Before you waste the gas, make sure a tornado didn’t just blow through.

  3. Take advantage of the golden hour. If you’re looking to capture Instagram-worthy photos, try leaf peeping an hour before sunset or an hour after sunrise.

  4. Pick a base, but don’t be afraid to wander. You’ve done your research on the area, so explore it beyond the main highway. Some of the best fall colors are down side roads.

  5. Bring snacks. Who wants to look at leaves while they’re starving? Pack a picnic to bring along, and you’ve got a meal with an exceptionally pretty view.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
(Minnesota Department of Natural Resources)

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