To celebrate Minnesota’s most colorful season, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is sharing a fall color forecast, typical timing of peak colors, ways for Minnesotans to find where colors are at their peak each week, and suggestions for where to visit to see fall colors.
Fall colors in Minnesota typically peak in mid-to-late-September through mid-October, starting in the northernmost part of the state and working southward. Peak fall color usually lasts two weeks but can vary widely depending on location and weather.
Many factors play into the timing and brilliance of the fall color season in Minnesota, such as day length, temperatures and rainfall. Weather impacts fall colors both before and during the fall season.
“Brilliant fall color occurs when late summer and early fall days are sunny, nights are chilly and there is adequate rainfall throughout the growing season,” said Brian Schwingle, Minnesota DNR forest health specialist.
Leaves change color mainly in response to the decrease of daily sunlight. Photosynthesis, or the production of sugars that depend on sunlight, begins to slow down in response to shortening days. This leads to a reduction of chlorophyll, the pigment that supports photosynthesis and gives leaves their green color. When chlorophyll is reduced, other color pigments in the leaves begin to show, like yellow and red.
Patterns of temperature, precipitation, wind, and the timing of hard freezes can impact when fall colors peak and how long they last. While a light frost might intensify colors, a hard freeze can cause trees to drop leaves early. Rain and wind can shorten the peak color period. These weather phenomena can only be predicted a week or so in advance, making a peak color forecast difficult.
Minnesota is in its third summer with drought conditions in at least part of the state. Though severe summer drought may lessen the intensity of fall colors, there has been no correlation to the timing of peak fall colors and drought.
“Temperatures in September have played a bigger role than drought in determining when peak colors form,” Schwingle said. “When September minimum temperatures are cooler than average, like we had in 2020, fall colors have been earlier.”
The Minnesota DNR’s Fall Color Finder is a way for the public to follow the annual progression of fall color change throughout the state. Minnesota DNR staff throughout the state share reports from their location each Wednesday, in time for people to make travel plans for the coming weekend. The popular webpage includes a color-coded map that shows the approximate percentage of leaves that have changed color across the state, and a slideshow of recent photos taken by staff and visitors. The public is also welcome to submit their photos from visits to state parks, forests, and trails, which might be included in online galleries, social media or newsletters.
“Fall is the perfect season to spend time outdoors, when nature puts on a beautiful show for all to see,” said Ann Pierce, Minnesota DNR Parks and Trails Division director. “From the north woods to the prairies to the lakeshores and everything in between, there are so many spots to view the stunning scenery that autumn in Minnesota brings. We invite everyone to follow along with our Fall Color Finder and get out to Minnesota state parks, trails and forests and other public lands this season.”
Next week, the Minnesota DNR launches its weekly fall color update newsletter with trip planning resources. From scenic drives to hiking, biking, paddling, birding, picnicking and more, the Minnesota DNR offers itineraries and tips to encourage Minnesotans to get out and enjoy the changing leaves. In addition, subscribers can learn more about the plants and wildlife they may encounter while chasing fall colors. To subscribe, visit the Fall Color Finder to sign up for weekly email or text updates.