Every Thursday throughout fall, people can consult the fall color finder to learn more about peak fall color (www.mndnr.gov).

This online tool comes courtesy of the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division and features:

• A map that shows peak color across Minnesota.

• A link to fall color events.

• A slideshow.

• A photo uploader that provides a great way for sharing fall photos.

“It’s that time of year again – kids are back in school, evenings are getting cooler and leaves are changing color,” said Lt. Gov. Tina Smith. “This fall, I encourage Minnesotans to get outside and enjoy fall colors in their state parks. Minnesotans can even use the DNR’s fall color finder to determine when leaves will be most vivid in every corner of the state. I hope to see you on the trail this fall.” 

Rainfall and sunshine throughout the summer months determine the depth of color each fall in Minnesota.

Kao Thao, a naturalist with Fort Snelling State Park, said that temperatures also come into play. An early freezing frost, for example, cuts short fall color.

“A light frost at the start of the color season actually helps produce vivid color,” Thao said. “During those summers when we experience a severe drought, colors are dulled somewhat, but we had plenty of rain and there’s always plenty of sunlight. So the leaf season at Fort Snelling State Park should be beautiful.”

Elsewhere the west-central and northwestern parts of the state saw less rain this summer than the metro area. Sometimes less rain, but not drought conditions, actually increase the color display.

All of the above begs a seasonal question often asked of the DNR.

Just why do those leaves change color?

Longer end-of-summer days and shorter bouts with sunshine as well as cooler nights trigger the color change. The most brilliant leaves show their hues after many warm and sunny days and cool nights.

Those shorter periods of daylight mean a closing off of the leaf veins that carry liquid sugar in and out of leaves. As a consequence, sugars in the leaf permit the red and purple colors to develop.

Purple-like and red pigments are found in the leaves of maple and oak, some varieties of ash and tall shrubs like cherry, sumac and viburnum. Yellow is always present in leaves all summer long, but the color is revealed when the green pigment in chlorophyll breaks down.

Yellow leaves, found in ash, aspen, basswood, birch, cottonwood and elm, may be short in life span due to drought conditions.

If it’s dry, not as much sugar is produced. So there isn’t as much color. Check out a state park, recreation area, state forest, trail and water trail. Each is within viewing distance of beautiful leaf color. There’s a state park within about 30 minutes of nearly every town and city in the state.

Find a state park at mndnr.gov. As a general rule, colors typically peak between mid-September and early October in the northern third of Minnesota, between late September and early October in the central third of the state and between late September and mid-October in the southern third of the state.

State park fall programs are listed in the 2017 “Programs and Events” sampler available at state parks.

For more information, contact the DNR Information Center at info.dnr@state.mn.us, or call 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources