Fall Foliage Guide
Autumn foliage in Minnesota provide a colorful display, artfully painting the diversity of species that thrive in the northern climate. However, in Koochiching County, it’s not just the variety of tree species, but also the diverse ways to enjoy the colors of this transitional season. Plan to park your car and explore via ATV, bicycle, motorcycle, boat, canoe, kayak, paddle board, horseback or trail.
Here are some great places to begin your journey into the season’s abundant color:
Voyageurs National Park Rainy Lake Visitor Center offers miles of hiking trails into diverse woodlands, with occasional vistas from which you can view Rainy Lake. A well-maintained paved bicycle trail creates another unique opportunity to take in the colors of the park. Reserve a place on the Voyageur, VNP’s tour boat, providing colorful tours through the end of September.
Drive 40 miles from International Falls along the shores of the Rainy River to Franz-Jevne State park. Well-maintained, the park offers lovely, rustic camp sites and hiking trails, as well as boat access to Rainy River. Launch your canoe or kayak here for a quiet and colorful afternoon of paddling the international water of Rainy River.
Minnesota’s largest state forest, Pine Island is an off-the-beaten-path destination busting with fall color. With multiple public access points within 30-40 miles of International Falls, the area offers nearly 880,000 square miles of opportunity to view enough fall foliage to keep you coming back for generations.
With color change taking place from North to South, Minnesota is a great state for chasing the transition. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources provides an annual Fall Color Finder map as well as specific location updates. Motorcyclists can download this map to enjoy the sights.
Where is your favorite place to view the colorful autumn leaves? Tell us in the comments below.
Guide to the Rocks of Rainy Lake
The natural beauty of Rainy Lake – the deep navy water, multi-hued pines and active wildlife – draws people from across the globe to her shores. One of the area’s most distinguishing features is its unique rock features, which include some of North America’s oldest examples. In fact, when you gaze upon the exposed rock of Rainy’s shores and islands, you’re seeing the creation of North America.
A Long, Long Time Ago
Voyageurs National Park, which is made up of four lakes – Rainy, Kabetogama, Sand and Namakan – is situated at the southern side of the Canadian shield, a huge rock basement that features an impressive selection of Precambrian rocks that are between 2.5 to 4.5 billion years old. In addition to the park, these rocks can only be seen in Wyoming, Greenland and some areas of Canada.
Precambrian rocks were formed by tectonic plate processes in the continental crust. The Precambrian period is divided into the Archean period, which dates from around 3,800 – 2.5 million years ago, and the Proterozoic, which is from 2,500 to 540 million years ago. Most rocks in Voyageurs are metamorphic and igneous rocks from the Archean age that formed by layers of ash and lava that underwent uplifting, folding, pressure and superheating.
Over time, erosion wore down the volcanic mountain range, and the ice ages brought glaciers. The area of Rainy Lake went through at least four different glaciation periods, starting around 190,000 years ago.
The glaciers scooped out lake basins, scraped rock surfaces and dragged loose rocks across surfaces. This action exposed the roots of the ancient mountains, the granite, migmatite, and biotite schist you see today. As the glaciers receded, torrents of melted water filled low-lying areas, creating the current landscape: a varied, rugged topography, including rolling hills, slopes and bedrock outcrops amidst beaver ponds, bogs, islands, swamps and lakes.
What to Look For
Evidence of this activity can be seen in glacial erratics and striations. Erratics are round boulders that were carried by the glaciers (ice rafted) and then deposited after melting and can range in size from pebbles to small cars. A good example of this can be seen in Cranberry Bay. The huge, white rock is aptly named the Cranberry Bay Erratic.
Glacial striations look like vertical rocks standing end-on-end. In Voyageurs National Park, striations point south, south by southwest, and southwest in conjunction with glacier movements. Look for examples of striation on Bushy Head and Little American islands.
While you are exploring and learning about the rocks of Rainy Lake, remember that you’re not allowed to remove rocks or other natural materials from Voyageurs park.
While fishing, boating and other water activities are often the main attraction on Rainy Lake, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the area by bike. A 12-mile paved trail runs adjacent to Highway 11 from International Falls to the Voyageurs National Park Visitors Center and offers diversions such as ice cream stops, wildlife viewing and even a dip in the lake!
The trail is located just east of the Convention and Visitors Bureau office (301 2nd Avenue), roughly where highway 53 meets highway 11/71 in downtown International Falls. You can park there to begin your eastward journey. This area of the trail features river views on your left, which overlook the community of Fort Frances, Ontario. Note the paper mill at the falls, as well as the wood chips and logs that are piled along the highway before being sent to the mill. Make a stop at the Voyageurs National Park Headquarters (360 Highway 11), where you can enjoy the river views.
Approximately 3 miles west of International Falls is the community of Ranier, marked by a 25-foot statue affectionately known as “Big Vic.” Plan to take time for a detour here. Ranier is a charming village with restaurants, a bar and brewery, as well as an ice cream shop. Chances are good you will see a train, as the Canadian National Railway border crossing in Ranier sees the most railroad cars of any crossing between the U.S. and Canada. This is also where the Rainy Lake flows into the Rainy River, which you can see from the Spruce Street dock. From here, you can either head back to the highway, or bike along County Road 20, which wends through a residential area and past City Beach, where you can cool off with a swim or enjoy a picnic.
Here the bike trail merges with highway 11 for a few miles, while the landscape begins to change. You’ll see some of the only farmland – watch for cranes, geese and deer – as well as an unobstructed view of Rainy Lake at the Jackfish Bay Wayside Park. The trail then turns left at County Road 103 to become enveloped in the wooded landscape.
This part of the trail crosses Tilson Bay, where you can see wild rice growing in the wetlands on the right and Rainy Lake to the left. Stop here to rest on the dock or get in some cross training with a trek on the hiking trail.
Here the trail is on the shoulder of Highway 11, which challenges bikers with a long, gradual uphill climb before again turning to the left and into the woods. Gradual hills make for a fun, not-too-hard ride, while grouse are known to peak out from the underbrush. At the end of the trail, cross Highway 11 to the Rainy Lake Recreation Trail, a wide, paved path that welcomes runners, walkers and bicyclists. Leading to the entrance of Rainy Lake Visitor Center the 1.75-miles include benches for taking a breather while taking in the views of Rainy Lake.