Fall color hikes abound in Fergus Falls area
This article was submitted to the Daily Journal by author Rob Bignell. In it, he recommends many different hiking spots around the Fergus Falls area. Enjoy!
There’s no better way to experience autumn colors in the Fergus Falls area than a hike.
From the brilliant yellows, oranges and red of maples to the scarlet and russets of oaks...the crisp, fresh autumn air and the last warm rays of sunlight before winter arrives...the crunch of fallen leaves and acorns beneath your boots...stopping to enjoy a warm mug of apple cider or a caramel apple pulled from your backpack – it all calls for an afternoon on the trail.
Fortunately, there are plenty of great autumn trails around Fergus Falls to hike. Some are right out your back door, while some are a day trip that you can do in an afternoon.
Inspiration Peak State Wayside Park (Fergus Falls)
An array of autumn leaves surround the sides and plains around Rustling Leaf Mountain at Inspiration Peak State Wayside Park. A 0.5-mile trail heads up the “mountain,” rising 400 feet above the countryside. While the route up is under a canopy of harvest-hued leaves, the top is a prairie that on clear days offers a 20-mile view around. About 50 lakes, many surrounded by hardwoods, sit in that circle. From Fergus Falls, take Minn. Hwy. 210 east. Turn right/south onto County Road 5 then left/east on County Road 38. When the road curves south, go left/northeast onto 435th Avenue then right/east onto 120th Street.
Maplewood State Park (Pelican Rapids)
Day hikers can enjoy the bright splendor of a maple forest during an autumn hike at Maplewood State Park. The 4.6-mile unnamed lollipop trail – called here the Cow Lake Trail for the major waterbody it circles – is a combination of mowed grass and a wide dirt path. The maples often a variety of leaf colors while set against it are the stark white trunks of paper birch. From Pelican Rapids, take U.S. Hwy. 59 north. Turn right/east on Minn. Hwy. 108. The park entrance is in 7 miles. When the entry road, splits, go left/south. Just after the RV sanitation station, turn left/east. Follow the road toward Knoll Campground. At the turnaround for drinking water, park on the road’s side, and walk east uphill. The trailhead is in about 100 feet on the right/south.
Frikken Waterfowl Production Area (Elbow Lake)
Among the best places to find autumn colors in the prairie is near water. The Frikken Waterfowl Production Area is one such spot with a tree grove along its northern side near a pond and wetlands that attracts birds. A jeep trail runs about 0.7 miles round trip through the production area. From Elbow Lake, take U.S. Hwy. 59 north. Turn right/east onto County Road 26 then right/south onto County Road 51. In about 0.3 miles, look for a driveway on the road’s left/east side. Park off the side of the road and walk straight east to the tree grove.
Lions Park (Breckenridge)
Great displays of fall foliage are difficult to find on the prairie, but small patches of woods, especially on shorelines, usually can be located. One such spot is the Lions Park along the Otter Tail River in Breckinridge. From County Road 12 and U.S. Hwy. 75 in Breckenridge, take the latter north. The park’s entry is on the right/east side.
Chahinkapa Park (Wahpeton, N.D.)
If with kids, a nice place to enjoy autumn leaves is Chahinkapa Park. A paved walking path runs about two miles round-trip along the tree-lined Red River. A bonus is the Chahinkapa Zoo on the route, which adds about a quarter-mile to the walk. From Dakota Avenue in Wahpeton, N.D., go north on First Street. In one block, turn right/east onto Second Avenue. A parking lot is at the end of the road on the left/north with the walking path heading east.
Lake Carlos State Park (Alexandria)
Maples, basswoods and aspens in their full autumn glory can be seen at Lake Carlos State Park. The 2-mile round-trip Maple-Basswood Interpretive Trail heads through the heart of the park across gently rolling hills. From Alexandria, take Minn. Hwy. 29 north. Turn left/west onto County Road 38 and once in the park right/north onto County Road 62. When County Roads 38 and 62 split, take the former left/west. Park in the lot at the road’s end. Walk west on the trail that skirts Hidden Lake’s north shore.
Yaeger Lake Wildlife Management Area (Wadena)
Hikers can enjoy an oak woodland in an area more known for its jack pine at Yaeger Lake Wildlife Management Area. About 1.5 miles of four stacked loops heads through the oak woods on Yaegar Lake’s northeast side. From Wadena, travel north on U.S. Hwy. 71. Turn right/east onto County Road 13 then right/east onto County Road 15. In about 0.95 miles, look for a driveway on the road’s right/south side. Park in the driveway and walk south onto the stacked loops.
Buffalo River State Park (Moorhead)
Though known more for its tallgrass prairie, Buffalo River State Park also offers great autumn colors. Try the 3-mile River View Trail, which loops through a riverine forest of cottonwood, basswood, elm and ash. From Moorhead, take U.S. Hwy. 10 east. Turn right/south onto County Road 44. From the parking lot, walk south across the picnic area to the River View Trail.
North Country National Scenic Trail (Detroit Lakes)
Harvest-hued leaves mixed with conifers await on a segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail. A 5.2-mile one-way hike between 400th Avenue and County Road 26 runs through a transition area from the deciduous woods of the south and east to the boreal forests of the north. Sugar maple, basswood, aspen, birch and oak mingle with Norway and white pine on a ridge. From Detroit Lakes, take Minn. Hwy. 34 east. Turn left/north onto County Road 29, then right/east onto County Road 126, and finally left/north onto 400th Avenue. After passing West Island Drive, look for a parking lot on the left/west. Take the trail northeast and arrange for a pickup at the County Road 26 trailhead.
Rob Bignell is the author of Minnesota’s Best Autumn Hikes and six other hiking books about the Gopher State. A former newspaper and magazine editor, his journalism work has won several awards, from editorial writing to sports reporting.