Rob Bignell: Fall color hikes abound in Crookston area
There’s no better way to experience autumn colors in the Crookston 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 Crookston to hike. Some are right out your back door, while some are a day trip that you can do in an afternoon.
Thorson Waterfowl Production Area-Polk County (Crookston)
An aspen-oak woodland awaits hikers during autumn at Thorson Waterfowl Production Area-Polk County. A 0.95-mile round trip jeep trail runs between County Road 41 and Burnham Creek (the road north of the creek is on private land). In addition to harvest colors, watch for deer, waterfowl, and prairie chickens that call the production area home. From U.S. Hwy. 2 just east of Crookston, take Minn. Hwy. 9 south. Turn left/southeast onto County Road 109 then right/west onto County Road 41. The jeep trail heads north from the road in about a mile.
Old Mill State Park (Middle River)
Bur oak, aspen and cottonwood light up Old Mill State Park in harvest hues each autumn. The 1.25-mile round trip Painted Turtle Trail walks under this canopy of fall colors on the Middle River’s west side. From Middle River, take Minn. Hwy. 32 south. Turn right/west onto 330th Street NW/County Road 28; continue left-straight/west on 330th Street NW when Hwy. 28 splits. Go right/northwest onto 240th Avenue NW/County Road 128 then left/west into the park on County Road 40. From the parking lot, head southwest to the Stone Bridge on the Middle River.
Greenwood Trails Recreation Area (Thief River Falls)
Autumn leaves can be enjoyed at the wooded Greenwood Trails Recreation Area. A 0.8-mile round trip paved trail runs between Greenwood Street and Pennington Avenue/County Road 17, but a variety of other footpaths wind through the nearly 50-acre park along the Red Lake River. In Thief River Falls, from the junction of Minn. Hwy. 32 and Greenwood Street, take the latter east. After crossing the river, turn right/south into a parking lot for the park.
Warren Lake State Wildlife Management Area (Twin Valley)
A small woodland of oak, maple and aspen light up in harvest colors each autumn at Warren Lake State Wildlife Management Area. A 1-mile round trip trail winds through the heart of the woods, which borders Warren Lake. Deer and forest upland birds inhabit the wildlife area. From Twin Valley, take Minn. Hwy. 32 north. Turn right/east onto Minn. Hwy. 200, then Mahnomen County Road 2 left/north, and lastly Hwy. T47 right/west. Park off the side of the road about 100 feet before the first driveway. The trail is on the road’s left/north side.
Prairie Smoke Dunes Scientific and Natural Area (Twin Valley)
While known more for its namesake flower, Prairie Smoke Dunes Scientific and Natural Area also is an excellent place to see autumn leaves. The natural area’s north side sports basswood and green ash in a particularly dense forest for the prairie. Bur oak dots the surrounding savanna. About 4.7 miles (round trip) of old jeep trails wind through the natural area. From Twin Valley, take Minn. Hwy. 32 north. Turn left/west onto County Road 7. In about 0.66 miles is jeep trail entrance on the right/north; park there.
Greenway (Grand Forks)
The best place to see autumn leaves in Grand Forks is the Greenway, a 2,200-acre band of natural open space in the city and neighboring East Grand Forks. A walking path runs through the Greenway along the Red River. Try the 5.3-mile round trip segment of the walkway from the Demers Avenue bridge to the Grand Forks County Historical Society museum. Leave your vehicle at a parking space northwest of Demers Avenue just before crossing the bridge into Minnesota then walk south.
North Country National Scenic Trail (Bagley)
Autumn colors usually peak the last week of September in Clearwater County. One great spot to experience them is via the North Country National Scenic Trail heading west to an overlook atop 1,797-foot Tim-Don-Del Hill. A sea of hardwoods in harvest colors stretches south for up to 18 miles on sunny days. The trail runs 2.2 miles round trip and can be steep at spots. From Bagley, go south on Minn. Hwy. 92 then straight/south on Minn. Hwy. 200. Turn right/south onto County Road 39 then left/east onto Cox Lake Road. Go left/east onto Anchor Hill Road then right/south onto Anchor Matson Road. A parking lot is at the 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.