Fall Color Finder
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Updated September 16, 2020
Where to go
Zing! Came the frost. Pop! Go the colors! Color is advancing throughout the park after recent frosts last week. All varieties of Itasca’s trees are showing some signs of color change, unusual for this time in September. From the typical ash, basswoods and maple to birch, oak and tamarack. We are quickly moving into the 25 to 30% color change from the understory thru the shrub layer and to the tree tops.
Driving Main Park Drive will show the advancing change in the red and sugar maples, ash and basswood. Continue on around Wilderness Drive to see some small pockets of stunning blazing red maples and glowing sugar maples, basswood and black ash. The South and East Entrance roads also offer some small pockets of colorful maples, bass and ash.
Hiking along the shores of Mary Lake along the Mary Lake Trail, look across the lake to see the tamaracks turning gold in the floating bog on the south end of the lake, while color appears on the west shore in the maples and ash. Anywhere there is a clearing, including small lakes and ponds, near roadways or hiking trails or the bike trail will offer views of the transition in color. Hiking in deeply wooded areas, the colors will still be quite green.
Weekdays are a good time to visit to enjoy the colors at a leisurely pace. Early to mid-morning and later afternoon are good times with the angle of the sun accenting the colors.
What you’ll see
Trees: Through-out the park notice color in the Black Ash, quickly turning a soft shade of yellow, and American Basswood (also known as American Linden) are also turning a pale yellow color. The Balsam Poplar, are reaching a peak with a dark yellow to khaki green color.
More and more Red Maples are flashing their stunning color–entire trees quickly turning to a blazing scarlet red. Both small and large Sugar Maples are showing more peach-yellow glow to the color scene, especially at the tops of the trees working down. Individual deep gold leaves are appearing on the Paper Birch, Elm and Ironwood. Bur Oak are starting to turn a soft yellow color and some Red Oaks are starting to turn shades of burnt red, shining brown and even a deep burgundy hue.
Some of the small to mid-sized Tamaracks (American Larch) are beginning to turn a rich golden-orange color on the edges of floating bogs on park lakes. This color change is typical for this conifer, as it sheds its needles each fall. However, the majority of Tamarack will typically change in October.
Shrubs: Blue beech are turning a lovely rosy salmon-pink color. Speckled alder are turning yellow in the moist areas along ponds, lakes and water drainages. Willow species are turning yellow, with some shrub clusters entirely yellow. Look for the deep red, velvety fruits of the Staghorn Sumac and the dark rose to blood red leaves. Arrow-wood leaves are turning a purple-wine color. The leaves of the Gray Dogwood are a deep purple-red. Look for their remaining whitish-green fruit offset by the bright red cluster stalks. Random Chokecherry trees are beginning to turn a pale red. Beaked Hazel are turning a yellow-gold color and American Hazel are displaying a rose-dark green color as the leaves start to change. Gooseberry bush leaves are a pretty rose-yellow-green color.
Ground Cover: Understory plants continue to show signs of fall die-back. Leaves on the various Salomon Seals are turning gold. Poison Ivy leaves are turning a lovely blend of rose/peach/yellow (look but don’t touch!). Look for the brilliant blood-red to dull purple-green color of the Virginia Creeper clinging to the trunks of trees, shrubs and fences. Bracken Ferns are drying, turning a soft camel-brown color while other ferns are beginning to turn a brighter butter yellow. Rich purple hues are seen in the Big Bluestem, while other grasses and sedges are yellowing. Spreading Dogbane are turning yellow and Sarsaprilla are turning gold/violet. Although it is subtle for each individual species, added together amongst all the different plants, the yellows, tans, golds and reds are becoming more visible.
Nature Notes: Asters and Zig-zag Goldenrods are the predominant flowers now. Sunflowers are found both deep in the woods and along shorelines. Look for remnant pockets of Beggars Ticks and Spotted Touch-Me-Not along lakeshores. The dry white flowers and silvery-green leaves of Pearly Everlasting are found in open edges. Look (but don’t eat) for the red fruits on Salomon Seals and Canada dogwood, blue fruits of the Blue-bead Lily, and nutlets on the alders. White Pine cones are opening, their seeds drifting out in the breezes. Acorns are dropping, so watch for raccoons and deer feeding on these seeds. White-tailed Deer are active early to mid-morning and early evening. The buck’s antlers are shedding their velvet. The spots on the fawns are fading, with only a few spots on their hind quarters barely visible, and the adult coats are turning darker gray. Various hawks are seen soaring overhead. Listen for Bald Eagles calling along the shores of Lake Itasca. Watch for young Trumpeter Swans (cygnets) as they patrol the lakes with their adult parents. Their grey color differs from the adults stunning white. Northern Flickers and Pileated Woodpeckers are seen along roadside edges feeding on ants. Flocks of Canada Geese are seen flying overhead. Red Squirrels are cutting pine cones for their winter stores. Eastern Chipmunks are seen scurrying across park roads, their cheeks packed with seeds. Watch for Tiger and Blue-spotted Salamanders as they move to wintering areas.
Maple/Basswood/Paper Birch: the last 2 weeks of September.
Oak/Aspen: the last week of September into early October.
Tamarack: early to mid-October.