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Spectacular fall color season predicted at Itasca, across state

With favorable weather conditions this year Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials are predicting a spectacular fall color season shown here a previous year in Itasca State Park and across the state. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Above average precipitation and favorable weather conditions this year are likely to create a beautiful fall color season, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials predict.

Travelers across the state will have the opportunity to witness fall colors in full splendor and the DNR created online tools to track the best viewing areas, including locally at Itasca State Park.

To help travelers plan their fall hikes, bike rides, paddling trips and scenic drives to coincide as closely as possible with peak color, staff at Minnesota state parks and recreation areas will update an online fall color at www.mndnr.gov/fallcolor each week this fall.

This online trip planning tool includes a map showing where to find peak color across the state, a link to fall color programs and special events, a slideshow and a photo uploader that provides an easy way for people to share their favorite fall color images.

“Current weather conditions indicate we’re on track for a great fall color year,” said Patricia Arndt, communications and outreach manager for the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails Division. “With the exception of dry weather in northeastern Minnesota, most of the state has had close to or above-average precipitation, making for healthy, green trees going into fall. If we continue to have adequate rainfall as nights become longer, the autumn display should be spectacular.”

Itasca State Park

Small pockets of color are appearing throughout the park, with the slow color change this fall. A few sugar and red maples are changing along Main Park Drive. Best locations to see the maples are between Peace Pipe Vista and the campground registration, according to information provided by the park.

More pronounced are changes in the shrub layer, with pockets of color throughout the park. The East and South Entrance roads have some nice color in the shrubs. Boating on Lake Itasca, Mary and Elk Lake will offer views of the changing Ash trees. You are always guaranteed views of color along the bike trail.

Trees: Look for more color change in the ash and balsam poplar in the moist areas as they display shades of yellow and tan. More basswoods are starting to change, displaying a lemon yellow. Pockets of red and orange are appearing as random red and sugar maples start to change. Look for color in the tops of the maples. Paper birch leaves are beginning to change yellow, the leaves falling shortly after. A few tamaracks are already turning gold.

Shrubs/ground cover: The shrub layer is now displaying the most color change. Rich shades of purple are visible in the dogwoods. Hazel are turning a pale yellow. Leaves on cherry trees are turning a soft pinkish/yellow.

Blood-red sumac leaves add a colorful pop to the understory. Bracken ferns are beginning to turn brown as they dry up. Spreading dogbane and other perennial plants are displaying lemon-yellow leaves.

Flowers: The fall flowers are wrapping up for the season. A variety of asters (over 16 species in the park) are now peaking, ranging in color from white to deep purple. Zig-zag goldenrods are blooming in full-force; their lovely rich, gold colored flowers are attracting many pollinators. Along the lake shores a few bright yellow blossom remain on the tall sunflowers. The orange spotted touch-me-nots are past their peak, the few remaining nectar-rich blooms are still visible along small ponds along hiking trails.

Fruits: Not all fruits are edible. Some are poisonous. Many of the plants are now at the fruiting stage. Spikenard, with its tiny fruits in shades of pink to deep purple, 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. Large red fruits are developing on the Jack-in-the-pulpit—be careful this plant contains calcium oxalate.

Itasca State Park and the DNR offer other tips to enjoy the fall colors, including taking a ride along the bike trail.

Animals: Red squirrels are continuing to cut white and red pine cones and acorns from the bur oak for their winter food stash. Watch out along the roadways as the squirrels and chipmunks dash across park roads with their harvest of pine cones. The coats of deer are beginning to turn grey. The white spotted coats on the fawns are beginning to fade. The bucks have shed the velvet from their antlers. Yellow-shafted flickers can be seen along roadways throughout the day as they prepare to migrate. The last hummingbird was seen at a park feeder on Monday, Sept. 14 (this is the typical last sighting date). Flocks of night hawks are seen feeding on insects at dusk over Floating Bog Bay (near Bear Paw campground) on Lake Itasca. Tiny gray tree frogs are seen in the early morning on windows of buildings, having fed on the insects attracted to the night lights. They can be heard calling after rain showers. Watch for beavers on ponds and lakes at dusk as they begin to build up their winter food cache. Acorns from the bur and red oak are continuing to drop, making a loud clatter. Watch for deer and raccoons as they feast on these nuts. The juvenile common loons continue to call their mournful wail at night from park lakes.

Typical Peak:

Maple/Basswood: the last 2 weeks of September

Oak/Aspen: the last week of September into early October

Tamarack: early to mid-October.

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, and between late September and mid-October in the southern third (which includes the Twin Cities). Peak fall color typically lasts about two weeks, but that can vary widely, depending on location, elevation and weather. Trees at higher elevations are the earliest to show color change.

For smart phone and tablet users, the DNR offers fall colors “to go” on a mobile fall color finder integrated with Google maps. To access the mobile version, scan the QR code at http://mndnr.gov/mobile or visit www.mndnr.gov/mobile/fall_colors and bookmark the site.

For more information, contact the DNR Information Center by sending an email to info.dnr@state.mn.us or by calling 888-646 6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

A vehicle permit is required for entrance to Minnesota state parks and recreation areas. Anyone who purchases a $5 one-day permit can exchange it for $5 off a year-round permit later the same day. Year-round permits, $25, provide unlimited access to all 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas for a full year from the month of purchase.

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