Written by Lee Hoedl; LAKESTYLE magazine - Fall 2006 Issue

Pace. For the seasoned runner, it is the mechanism and reference by which he/she is able to gauge their performance and improvement from one race to another. For the hiker, it is the process by which he/she is able to assess their ability to reach their next waypoint by sunset. For runners, hikers, walkers, kayakers and canoeists alike, it is the appropriate allocation of physical and mental resources to allow a person to go from Point A to Point B over a given amount of time. But as the Sun begins to bow its daily arc closer to the horizon and autumn approaches, time begins to slow to a standstill on the Minnesota landscape and one’s “pace” takes on a different meaning.

From the majestic stands of Minnesota’s golden-leaved white birch scattered throughout the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to the subtle oranges and yellows of the southern bluffed hardwoods, autumn is a veritable smorgasbord for the eye and spirit. And it is amidst the backdrop of these glorious hues and moods of a Minnesota autumn, you are invited to “P.A.C.E.” yourself: Ponder All Colors Everywhere.

a Minnesota autumn pace

Throughout Minnesota’s 55 state forests and 66 state parks, occupying an area of over 226,000 acres, there is a plethora of autumn trails to travel and vintage colors to behold. Whether you choose a brisk 3 mph hike or a 7 mph run through any of these treasured trails, take some time this fall season to set your P.A.C.E. and explore the writer’s 2006 selections for most scenic running and hiking trails during a Minnesota autumn.


There are very few vistas or moments that rival a fall hike or run along the Minnesota Continental Divide. Of the several state forests and parks situated atop and along side the Divide, none can compare to that of the Superior Hiking Trail and the St. Croix State Park. Maple forests cover these two regions, interspersed with stands of birch, aspen and spruce; all providing an explosion of fall colors that are literally breath-taking.

Superior Hiking Trail

Stretching just over 200 miles through an area known as Arrowhead, the Superior Hiking Trail travels north along a ridge above Lake Superior from Two Harbors, Minnesota to the Canadian border. Don’t attempt to hike or run the entire trail as trail experts state that it would take even the hardiest hiker almost 20 days to complete the entire trail. And before hiking or running any portion of the Superior Hiking Trail, be sure to contact the Superior Hiking Trail Association (see Information Contact below) for further information, maps and guides of the trail itself. As well, the Superior Hiking Trail Association has published a guidebook, Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail, which will prove helpful.

Hike: Should you prefer hiking, consider the casual 3-mile Lookout Mountain Trail located in the Cascade River State Park (9 miles south of Grand Marais and 21 miles north of Tofte on Highway 61). This particular trail encompasses dramatic waterfalls, scenic overlooks, and a wonderful breakfast/lunch/dinner location at the very top of Lookout Mountain. In autumn, the arboreal fireworks simply add to the beauty of the secluded waterfalls and wooded trail.

Run: If you are searching for a faster pace, try your shoes at running all or a portion of the 20-mile Lutsen-Temperance River portion. Stands of aspen, white birch, maple and fir cover the area and provide one of the most picturesque experiences during the autumn season, as well as a dramatic view of the Poplar River. Drive north on Highway 61 to mile marker 90.1, turn left on Ski Hill Road and drive approximately 3 miles, and park your vehicle in the visitor’s parking area near Papa Charlie’s Restaurant. The trailhead, complete with trail map information, is just west of this parking area; run as much of the trail as you would like, but be sure to freshen up after your run and treat yourself to a post-run meal at Papa Charlie’s Restaurant on the deck overlooking the panoramic fall view of the Poplar River Valley.

For those with a hardy endurance, the Superior Hiking Trail is also host to several competitive races each year: the spring Superior Trail 25K/50K, the fall Superior Trail 50-mile race, the Moose Mountain Marathon and the Superior Sawtooth 100. For more information concerning these races, visit www.superiortrailrace.com.

Directions: Situated along Highway 61 along the North Shore of Minnesota. Information Contact: Superior Hiking Trail Association, PO Box 4, 731 7th Avenue, Two Harbors, MN 55616; 218-834-2700.

St. Croix State Park

Nestled along the eastern border of Minnesota, due north of Stillwater and east of Hinckley, is a 34,000 acre playground of both wooded and river trails. While this park is popular for boating, canoeing, swimming, camping, equestrian rides and backpacking, there are plenty of trails to remove yourself from any semblance of a crowded walkway or jogging path.

Hike: Situated between the St. Croix and Kettle Rivers, the Two Rivers Trail is one of the most picturesque fall views that St. Croix State Park has to offer. This four-mile trail will allow you to view a blend of hardwoods and conifers; red and white pines populate this area.

Run: A relaxing run along the River Bluff and Sundance Trail is just enough of a trail to whet your appetite. Most of these two trails line the St. Croix River and are just off the park’s main entrance roadway. Should you be interested in a longer run, try out the Willard Munger State Trail in the northeastern portion of the park – jog until your legs are tired and your spirit is rejuvenated.

As an added bonus to your autumn visit of the St. Croix State Park, take a few moments to visit and climb the observation tower within the park. The climb is worthwhile as you exit out of the forest canopy and stand above the radiant fall colors of eastern Minnesota. Remember to bring your camera.

Directions: Situated 15 miles east of Hinckley on State Highway 48. Information Contact: St. Croix State Park, Rte. 3, PO Box 450, Hinckley, MN 55037; 320-384-6591.


Itasca State Park

Touted as the birthplace of the mighty Mississippi River, Itasca State Park also is known for its extensive network of approximately 50 miles of scenic trails. The Wilderness Drive is the looped roadway system within the park and many of the trails intersect or begin from this roadway.
Hike: There are so many wonderful trails to choose from in Itasca, but it’s this writer’s preference to select the 2-mile Dr. Roberts Trail. This leisurely hike will allow you to experience the rich fall shades of Itasca, while also providing you with calming views of the east arm of Lake Itasca and secluded Lyendecker Lake. The trail is accompanied by rolling hills of tamarack, birch, red and white pine and aspen, each providing their bright hue to the fall landscape. The only item missing from this moment will be George Winston’s Forest playing in the background.

Should you be ambitious enough to tackle any of the larger hiking/walking trails within Itasca State Park, be sure to secure a trail map at any of the park’s entrances before venturing out. Any of the longer trails in the southern portion of the park will lead you directly into a rich and memorable autumn experience.

Run: If you would like to see more of Itasca State Park in a shorter amount of time, consider jogging the Deer Park Trail-DeSoto Trail loop. Access to the Deer Park Trail begins at Douglas Lodge, located near the Visitor Center. The trail loop is wide and well maintained and the scenery is scattered with oak, maple and red and white pine, for which this region is well known.

Be sure, before or following your hike or run of Itasca, to treat yourself to the state-of-the-art Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center. The Center provides a wonderful history and overview of this glorious state park. And if you arrive to the park early enough in the season (before Labor Day), be sure to sample the wonderful local cuisine at the Douglas Lodge, overlooking the east arm of Lake Itasca. But call ahead (1-866-857-2757) to see when the Lodge and its dining services close for the season.
Directions: Situated 20 miles north of Park Rapids on U.S. Highway 71. Information Contact: 36750 Main Park Drive, Park Rapids, Minnesota 56470; email: itasca.park@dnr.state.mn.us; 218-266-2100.

Maplewood State Park

One of the state’s well-kept state preserves, Maplewood State Park is a vivid remnant of the most recent ice age and a vibrant canvas for autumn’s dynamic palette. It also serves as a memorable adventure – whether you walk or run – over rolling glacial hills and through hardwood forests and sun-drenched prairies. There are 25 miles of trails draped in colorful maple and sprinkled with oak; the autumn colors will astound you enough to stop you in your tracks, whether hiking or running.

Hike and Run: Looking to burn off those breakfast and lunch calories gained along your drive to Maplewood State Park? Consider a brisk hike or jog of any of the trails that circle the park’s interior lakes: Cataract Lake, Grass Lake, Bass Lake and Cow Lake. Any and all of these trails offer a wonderful journey into the rich ecosystem of Maplewood. Any of these trails will introduce you to prairie, forest, lake and woodland settings. In addition to its colors, the park hosts approximately 150 species of birds and 50 species of mammals. Finally, regardless of whether you exit east or west from Maplewood State Park, treat yourself to a relaxing autumn drive along State Highway 108 – sometimes some of the best autumn scenery is simply roadside.

Should you be looking for a competitive run with similar natural terrain, be sure to participate in the Wetlands Trail Mosquito Run which occurs every late July in nearby Fergus Falls. The 5K run, 2-mile walk and 1K kids’ run are all held at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center. More information concerning these runs is posted at www.pickleevents.com/events/hoot/docs/MOSQUITORUN.HTML.

Directions: Situated seven miles east of Pelican Rapids on Highway 108. Information Contact: Maplewood State Park, Route 3, Box 422, Pelican Rapids, MN 56572; 218-863-8383.

Pillsbury State Forest

Deserving an honorable mention for dynamic autumn runs is Pillsbury State Forest, located approximately 10 miles northwest of Brainerd. Should you find yourself in this area in the fall season, take some time to lace up your running shoes and venture into the almost 30 miles of rolling trails over this 1000-acre forest reserve. Following a summer of sunny days and cool nights, this state forest comes alive with a blended color of basswood, elm, ash, oak and maple.

Directions: Situated 10 miles northwest of Brainerd. Information Contact: Crow Wing State Park, 7100 State Park Road, S.W., Brainerd, MN 56401; 218-825-3075 or 218-829-8022.


Camden State Park

Located in southwestern Minnesota, Camden State Park displays both the subtle grandeur of the Minnesota prairie and the bold richness of the Redwood River Valley. Shaded by a brilliant maple-basswood canopy, the 15 miles of park trails are a peaceful reflection on the magical transition of summer-into-autumn.

Hike: One of the local favorite autumn trails within Camden State Park is the 2-mile River Trail which straddles and then traverses the Redwood River. In the autumn, the trail way corridor comes alive with spirited glows of orange and yellow.

Run: Should you wish to increase your gait, try your hand at the network of trails on the west side of Redwood River (Bluebird, Dakota Valley or Hiking Club Trail). The well groomed trail way corridor is also lined with stands of basswood and maple and even a long jog will be completed in the blink of an eye. At the conclusion of your run, reward yourself with a warm-down at the edge of the Redwood River; its melodic current will calm your spirit even more than your run.

Directions: Situated 10 miles southwest of Marshall on Highway 23. Information Contact: Camden State Park, Rout 1, PO Box 49, Lynd, MN 55157; 507-865-4530.

Oxbow Park

Located 12 miles west of Rochester, Oxbow Park is a wonderful candidate for honorable mention in the category of casual autumn hiking or running. The park itself hosts almost 10 miles of trails through glorious maple forests and meadows. If you’re searching for a shorter hike/run, select any of the individual trails: Yeager, Zumbro, North Meadow, Nature and Maple. Before leaving the park, treat yourself to a visit of the Zollman Zoo and nature center within the park.

Directions: 12 miles west of Rochester on Highway 52. Information Contact: Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo; 507-775-2451.


Wild River State Park

If you happen to live in the Twin Cities area and are not able to take the time to venture northward to the St. Croix State Park, then check out Wild River State Park in your own backyard. Located just northeast of the Twin Cities and lining the St. Croix River, Wild River State Park is another of Minnesota’s best-kept secrets. Its 35 miles of trails provide you with the setting steeped in forests of oak and pine. And although oak and pine don’t typically lend themselves to a dynamic autumnal experience for the eye, the hypnotic sounds of the river system within the park will provide more than enough for the ear and spirit.

Hike: Sometimes a hike can be a repeated series of “walk, stop, listen, and look.” You will find yourself caught up in this pattern when you find yourself on the River Trail in the Wild River State Park. Amidst the subtle fall tint of the Wild River State Park, you will rediscover a personal peace along your walk. If you’re lucky enough, you may catch a glimpse of wildlife grazing at the river’s edge under the gentle aspen and birch.

Run: Challenge yourself by beginning your run on the River Trail, along the St. Croix River, and continue northward on the Sunrise Trail into the meadowed area of the park. Run just as far as you would like, turn around and return back to the River Trail and St. Croix River for your warm-down.

Directions: Situated 14 miles east of I-35 North on Highway 95 to Almelund, then take Country Road 12 north to the park’s entrance. Information Contact: Wild River State Park, 39755 Park Trail, Center City, MN 55102; 651-583-2125.

Afton State Park

You can never get enough of a good thing and that’s exactly what you’ll find at Afton State Park, also located on the St. Croix River just southeast of St. Paul. With almost 20 miles of intersecting trails to walk and run, your journey is never the same each time. Add to this experience the rich fall colors that emerge in this area and your experience is a one-of-a-kind.

Hike: Have time after a bustling autumn day at the office? Then soothe your spirit by meandering slowly along the River and Bluff Trail, which follows the St. Croix River in a three-mile loop. You will be treated to stands of cottonwood, aspen, birch, oak and black cherry trees – just the cure for a weary worker or an exploring outdoor enthusiast. Whether walking or running through this park gem, take a moment to stop by the visitor center which overlooks the St. Croix River.

Run: This particular state park is one of the best parks in which to kick up your heels; the trails are wide, well-groomed, and scenic. This writer has spent many an afternoon and weekend enjoying training runs and relaxing hikes among the bluff top and prairie trails that Afton State Park has to offer. A personal favorite is the three-mile North River Loop which will provide you with some of autumn’s most scenic overlooks, as well as a journey through sections of junipers and spruce and a relaxing prairie landscape.

Interested in a fun and challenging trail run? Then consider signing up for the Afton 25K or 50K Trail Races. Held each year at the beginning of July, these races are run on Afton trails which are praised by Runner’s World magazine as “One of 50 of the country’s greatest running trails…” For more information on the races and where to register, go to www.aftontrailrun.com.

Directions: Situated east of the Twin Cities, the park is located approximately seven miles south of I-94 on County Road 15 and three miles east on County Road 20. Information Contact: Afton State Park, 6959 Peller Avenue S., Hastings, MN 56096; 651-436-5391.

As with any travel into the natural setting of Minnesota, be sure to include the following list of necessary supplies:

• Trail and highway maps – One of the greatest pleasures in life is getting lost in your adventure; just be sure not to also lose your way while “getting lost” in the moment. Secure all relevant trail maps before striking out on any adventure. For Minnesota state park information, contact the Minnesota DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or toll free 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367). As well, visit the Minnesota state parks homepage at www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/index.html.

• Water and food/snack supplies – A number of state parks and forests are considered “remote,” with limited to no opportunities for readily accessible food, refreshments or water. Carry enough food and water so as to replenish yourself after any run or hike. Although it’s fall and the temperatures are cooler, be sure to keep yourself hydrated. And take the time, after your park/forest visit, to also patronize the local establishments nearby– the local cuisine and characters may pleasantly surprise you.

• Appropriate clothing – Autumn weather in Minnesota can often times be unpredictable, so be sure to pack cool and warm clothing. Check the weather forecast for the area you are hiking or running prior to your departure. Also consider bringing both trail and running shoes as often times, some of the trails may be damp and slippery from the autumn moisture.

• Sunscreen/insect repellent – Although fall brings cooler temperatures to the Minnesota region, it’s best to be prepared with both sunscreen and insect repellent. The reason that Minnesota trails are so beautiful is that they are located in some rather remote and wooded areas, which remains the main haven for Minnesota insects.

• First aid kit – Twisted ankles, bruised bones and abrasions can be just a few of memories you’ll also bring back from a lively hike or run through a Minnesota trail, so be prepared with at least a basic first aid kit. Be sure to include a few instant ice packs in your kit.

• Stretching – Regardless of the speed of your gait, be sure to fully stretch before and after a healthy trail hike or run. There is nothing worse than stiffening up on the ride home from such a wonderful autumn experience.

• State park permits/rules – Before striking out on any state trail, be sure to explore and secure the necessary daily or annual permit. As well, be familiar with the hours of operation of those state parks you are planning to visit. Finally, be aware of the rules concerning pets on the trails within each specific state park.

• Trail races – Interested in discovering more of Minnesota’s trail runs during the calendar year? Much more information is posted online at www.mntrailrunning.com.

This autumn, whether your rhythm is fast or slow, be sure to visit one of these state parks/forests above or one of your own favorites… but just remember to pause long enough to choose your own personal Minnesota P.A.C.E.

MN fall colors

Cascade River State Park

Cascade River State Park

Cascade River State Park

Itasca State Park

MN fall colors

MN fall colors

MN fall colors

Lutsen fall colors

MN fall colors

MN fall river

MN fall river

Poplar River Valley

Poplar River Valley

St. Croix Observation Tower

St. Croix State Park

St. Croix State Park

Superior Hiking Trail

Photography by Lee Hoedl

Copyright 2006

Copyright 2006, Lee Hoedl, leehoedl@yahoo.com