Where to go: The leaves are changing very fast! Red and bur oak are quickly changing colors as are the big-tooth and quaking aspen as our second round of color reaches peak. The effects of warm, dry, sunny days and warm nights are creating muted red, gold and orange colors this fall. The understory trees and shrubs are still showing rich colors but the beauty now is in the overstory oak and aspen. A view from the fire tower or touring the park by boat on one of the parks many lakes is a great way to gain a bird's eye view of the leaves. Touring along Main Park Drive and Wilderness Drive will feature the variety of color change in the trees and shrubs. Hiking any trail, especially those passing along lakes and wetlands, will reveal the colorful autumn reflections on park lakes. The Dr. Roberts, DeSoto, Nicollet and Deer Park Trails are the "go to" trails to enjoy the oak and aspen color change.
What you'll see:
Trees: The rich muted tones of red, orange, brown and gold can be seen as the Red oak and aspen reach peak color. Pockets of red are visible as the remaining maples turn color. Various shades of gold accent the red colors as the Paper birch, aspen and Ironwood change color. A stop at Preachers Grove or a hike along the Brower Trail will reveal the stunning colors on the far shore of Lake Itasca. The soft camel-brown color of the bur oak is pronounced as these trees quickly change, however, many of the bur oak leaves are dropping. Shades of yellow-orange to burnt red are appearing the the red oaks that are also swiftly changing to peak color. The lovely autumn colors can be enjoyed along Main Park Drive and continuing onto Wilderness Drive as the branches arch over the road, creating a tunnel of color. Most Ash, located in the wetlands throughout the park, have dropped their yellow leaves. Paper birch are stunning now as the golden yellow leaves are accented against the paper-white bark. Tamaracks are beginning to change color. The stunted stand found on Lake Itasca near the Schoolcraft Trail, has changed to a deep gold. The larger trees range in color from dark green to lime-green to soft yellow. Many of the Red and Sugar maples have dropped their leaves, but there are still pockets of these trees showing lovely colors.
Shrubs: Recent wind and rain has taken down leaves in the shrub layer, particularly in the hazel. However, Dogwood species are still showing multiple colors ranging from green and violet blends to a deep wine color. Cherry trees are turning color. The Blue beech are displaying their pinkish hue. Arrowwood are a deep purple. The lovely pinkish-red leaves of the Virginia creeper are stunning as this vine winds its way up the dark bark of the White pine. A few pockets of deep red leaves remain on scattered Staghorn sumac are adding brilliant splashes of color even with this shrub past peak.
Flowers: Many of the autumn flower species are past peak. A few species of asters continue to bloom, ranging in color from white to deep purple. The most common in the pinelands is the large-leaf aster. Goldenrods are starting to finish their blooming. Those that remain are displaying a lovely rich, gold colored flowers are attracting many pollinators. The Zig-zag golden rod blooms seem to dominate the forest floor right now.
Fruits: Not all fruits are edible. Some are poisonous. Many of the plants are now at the fruiting stage. Spikenard's tiny fruits are now a deep purple and can be seen along the Dr. Roberts Trail. Here you can also see the bright red fruits of the bunchberry. Highbush cranberry and wild rose hips are beginning to ripen, both displaying reddish-yellow fruits. Many colorful mushrooms are found throughout the forest floor.
Typical Peak Color: Itasca has two main waves of color change.
Maple/Birch/Basswood/Dogwoods and other shrubs Typically peak the last week of September. These trees are just past peak, though many trees still have leaves.
Oak/Aspen Typically peak the first and second weeks of October. This year we are now at peak for these trees as we enter the month of October. Most of our hardwoods are in this group.
Tamarack Typically peak the second or third week of October.
Also of interest: The bike trail is now open! Why not enjoy the colorful autumn display by bike. Or come to a naturalist program. Check out our listing of fall programs on the park page. Saturday, October 4 is our annual North Country Hiking Fest and the Ozawindib Walk. Celebrate the lovely fall colors by taking in one of the many hiking options offered this day. Learn how to use a compass or create a colorful piece of leaf art with the park naturalist. Then join "the Voyageur" as he shares life of a fur trader. Follow that up with an evening cookout (there is a fee for the meal) and a concert by Alabaster Falls. Check out the full listing of programs on the park calendar.
Last updated: September 30, 2014
Animals: Animals are on the move! Blue-spotted and Tiger salamanders are seen crossing roadways. Adult bald eagles are busy tending to their young of the year along the shore of Lake Itasca. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are very active as the gather together, many seen along the shoulders of park roads as they feed on ants. Geese are beginning to form large flocks, many seen flying in "V" formation. Trumpeter swans and cygnets grace the park lakes, as they swim through the lovely autumn reflections. Waterfowl can be seen in the evening as they land in the wild rice beds. Watch for wood-ducks, blue-winged and green-winged teal and mallards. Ring-necked ducks are also landing on park lakes. Watch for flocks of wild turkeys as they feed along the shoulders of the park roads in early morning. Tiny toads are seen hopping along trails. Red and Gray squirrels are continuing to cut pine cones for their winter food stash. Acorns from the red and bur oak are dropping. The raccoons will usually appear in those areas to feast on the calorie packed nuts. White-tailed deer are beginning to feed on acorns. Many of the fawns have lost their spots. The adults are trading in their "summer" red coats for the duller gray "winter" coats. Male white-tails are beginning to lose the velvet on their antlers.
Canít decide between a one-day or year-round park permit? The DNR has a special offer that can help. Start by purchasing a one-day permit for $5 and visit as many state parks as possible. After visiting the state parks, trade in the one-day permit by the end of that day and get $5 off the purchase of a year-round permit. Year-round permits, which cost $25, provide unlimited access to all 76 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas for a full year from the month of purchase.
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36750 Main Park Drive
South entrance to the park is 23 miles north of Park Rapids on U.S. Highway 71. From Bemidji, the east entrance is 30 miles south on U.S. Hwy 71 and 1/10 mile north on State Hwy 200. The north entrance is 21 miles south of Bagley on State Hwy 92/State Hwy 200.
GPS device users: Lat. 47.194648 Long. -95.165012
Best time to contact the park:
September 1- October 5: Daily, 8 a.m. - 10 p.m. Beginning October 5: Daily 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.