Fall. Easily the greatest season there ever was. The changing leaves, fresh apples, cool hikes, warm chili, pumpkin patches and fresh air are neat and all. But I’m here for the sweaters and the pumpkin pie (note: the bigger the sweater, the more pie you can eat). No, I’m not going to list 12 family adventures that revolve around pie or sweaters, but I am just being honest. Sweaters and pie are my everything.
As Minnesotans, we are incredibly fortunate to experience all the seasons we have (even though winter tends to feel slightly longer than needed). I don’t know about you, but Fall always tends to fly by the fastest. October/November weekends feel limited and, while we’re trained to hold our breath until the first snowflake falls, I suggest you make it count and enjoy all the seconds you can of this gorgeous, colorful, crisp and cool time of year. Make a game plan, round up the family and go celebrate the season! 12 tried-and-true Fall family outings are listed below as a guide to get you started – now grab your sweater, a slice of pie, and get crackin’!
1) Spend a day in Stillwater and the St. Croix
There is not much one could say to argue the perfection of Fall in the Stillwater/St. Croix area (other than possibly the potential of crowds). Suggestions for how to embrace the area include:
For the Active:
Load up your bikes and drive to the Gateway trailhead near Sunnybrook Orchards, bike east 3.5 miles on the Gateway State Trail and grab a drink and some schnitzel or bratwurst from the Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter (open Wed-Sun – the outdoor biergarten is open in the summertime only). After you reward yourself with fab German food, head back and grab some fresh apples and caramel candy from Sunnybrook Orchards and load back in the car to scarf them down on the drive home. Want something a little simpler? Hop on the Brown’s Creek bike trail from the Stillwater Marina trailhead located downtown Stillwater with easy, free parking. Bike a short ways and turn around, allowing a trip to Candyland on Main Street or a pizza/Nutella cannoli stop (yes, I said Nutella cannoli) at Victoriano’s NY Style Pizza right off the trailhead.
For the Hearty Hikers:
Head to Main Street in Stillwater and walk the pedestrian bridge. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the bridge lift and all the boats float underneath. Maybe grab an ice cream from MN Nice Cream or Leo’s Malt Shoppe (or drive up the hills for the BIGGEST scoop you’ve ever seen from Nelson’s Ice Cream – seriously, get the child’s size. It’s bigger than your head). Hop in the car and drive north along the St. Croix River and either stop at the St. Croix Boom Site (DayTripper has a great article on this stop here) or go a little farther north to the Arcola Bluffs (check out #2 on this list from Expedition Kristin for my blurb on this hike) – both lovely spots for an awesome Fall hike. The Boom Site includes more beachy, direct-on-water walks and has the Stillwater Cave (a graffitti’ed tunnel in the sandstone that you can walk deep in to) while the Arcola Bluff is woodsy (think Fall colors) with a higher and very gorgeous view overlooking the river.
For the Super Fall Fan (and lovers of liquid):
Just off Hwy 36 on the way in to Stillwater, you will find the sort-of-commercial Aamodt’s Apple Orchard (plus St. Croix Vineyards – try the “Delaware” wine – so yummy) as well as Ziertman’s Pumpkin Patch or Country Sun Farm (where you can pay-by-the-attraction for hay rides, gem mining, corn pits, inflatables, a silly string zone, the corn maze and more). After you’ve exhausted the kids, drive 5 minutes east and enjoy a bevy at Lift Bridge Brewing Company. EVERYTHING they sell makes me happy, but I’m a huge fan of their Mango Blonde, Elevated Amber and Short Stack (think pancakes in a can).
2) Mankato, Mankahto (like Potato, Potahto…get it?)
Mankato is certainly a bit of a drive so keep that in mind if this is a route you decide to take, but the Fall colors are very beautiful and the nature is always reliable. While you could spice up your drive a little bit by stopping at Wagner Bros. Apple Orchard, Minnesota Harvest Orchard or Emma Krumbee’s Orchard (all right along Hwy 169), when we do Mankato, we like to just DO Mankato. Power through the drive and then enjoy the waterfalls, bison and playgrounds.
Our first stop has got to be the Bison Viewing Area at Minneopa State Park. The bison tend to be more active earlier in the day before the heat comes and I have yet to be there when it’s busy. This is a basic drive through a field area with fenced-in spaces for the bison to roam with no promise of them coming close to your vehicle or even within eyesight sometimes. But if they do…it’s SO cool and they’re SO big. Note that the drive is closed on Wednesdays but open every other day of the week, and also – a tip – the quieter you are, the closer they may come.
When done with the Bison Drive, shoot across the street to the Minneopa State Park. Park in the big lot and take the short path to see Minneopa Falls. We always continue on the path to the steps that take you down to the lower falls. It’s quite an adventure (and even more so with colorful leaves) hiking through a canopied forest (and also, no bugs in the Fall – yay!). Definitely a peaceful way to spend an hour or two.
Still have energy for more sight-seeing? Head 8 minutes east for a walk through Rasmussen Woods. There’s a floating bridge, which the kids will love, and it’s a relatively short walk filled with deer and other little wildlife critters. If you ask me, especially if the leaves are changing, this stop is a must for the little runners in your life who appreciate a lovely woods walk.
Finally, make a stop at Sibley Park, a farm-themed playground with a pond, walking trails, lovely picnicking spots, and yes – a FARM! Sibley Farm has real live animals which typically include alpacas, calves, goats, peacocks, horses, lambs, and chicks. Koi fish are in the pond. Keep in mind, the farm portion is only open mid-spring through early fall so maybe give them a call before promising your kids a koi sighting.
Then – OH MY GOSH – don’t forget that every adventure should end with sugar (is that just a rule in our family? Oh well, to each their own). Don’t forget on the drive home to hit up Le Sueur’s sweetshop called Froggy’s Cotton Candy Bar, located on Main Street and open Thursday-Sunday only. This place has over 100 flavors of cotton candy (you read that right) – and in the Fall, they include flavors like pumpkin latte, salted caramel, and candy corn. Sign. Me. Up.
3) Book a Spontaneous Airbnb Stay
By now, we all know of this gloriously life-changing website called Airbnb, right? My husband eat, sleeps and dreams Airbnb and is constantly looking for unique stays both near and far – sometimes it’s fun to just peruse. But if you have the Fall itch and want to get away for a short weekend (or even just one night), set your price range in the search and find a home away from home to escape from it all. For funzies, click the “Unique Stays” or “Outdoor Getaways” buttons on the Airbnb homepage. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find a farm with animals, a treehouse, a tiny house (can you imagine 5 of us in one of those things?!), or even a grain bin to stay in for the night.
I know this adventure has a heftier price tag than others, but it’s a cool idea to surprise your kids with if you can manage it!
4) The Arboretum Shrub Maze and AppleHouse
You know who does Fall flawlessly? The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska. The Arb is open by reservation only right now so be sure to get online and grab tickets before heading out. Kids 15 and under are free and adults are $15, so it could make for a nice cheap day if you’re outnumbered kids to adults. The Arboretum is 1,200 acres of perfectly maintained gardens and trails that you can walk or drive through (be sure to make stops along the way…it’s a 3 mile loop). While flowers and trees might not sound like something that would hold the attention of your children, it really IS beautiful and they just might enjoy some of the exhibits (and the wide open spaces). During normal times, there is a Green Play Yard and Bee Center for kids (think natural playground and interactive activities) but unfortunately, those are not yet open for safety reasons. The Fall, however, still hosts a funky scarecrow display (open through Halloween).
Our favorite stops of this drive include the bog, the Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden, the sensory garden and – our must-do every time – the Maze Garden, which is a literal shrub labyrinth that has a start and a finish and is actually quite complicated to get through. But SO fun for the kids (and parents, you can stand on the tower at the end to see where they are, which relieves some maternal anxiety).
Looking for an activity Halloween day? Maybe spend it here at the ArBOOretum in costume to take in the scarecrow and pumpkin displays and do some trick-or-treating. Reservations are required for this event.
As if that wasn’t “Fall” enough, plan a short stop at the Arboretum AppleHouse for a variety of in-season apples, mini donuts, mums, pumpkins and more.
Depending on where home is, maybe take the 10 minute north trek for an Adele’s Frozen Custard (open through Fall). Then, if the sun is shining, take your ice cream and head to Excelsior Commons and the public beach for some sand-in-your-toes playground time. By then, if the kids aren’t tired, I’m fresh out of ideas.
5) Have a Chili, Cookie, and Pie-Making Day
Some adventures can just be chill, done in your pajamas on a lazy Saturday when going out is just OUT of the question. But you can still make it feel like Fall in your house via the way to many kids’ hearts – FOOD. More specifically, chili, cookies, and pie. Warm foods will warm your house and a warm house makes you feel like wearing a sweater, and we all know how I feel about sweaters (see paragraph one).
I know everyone has their own preferred Fall food go-tos, but here are some of our family favorites that even my pickiest child will eat (and they aren’t hard to make either).
PS. If you want Nate’s mom’s secret caramel corn recipe, he says you can reach out to him and politely ask. I can’t guarantee his sincerity, but it’s just so good – the world should enjoy it!
- Creamy Cheesy White Chicken Chili (from Yammie’s Noshery)
- Crockpot Taco Chili (from Eating on a Dime)
- Instant Pot Chili (from Dinner at the Zoo)
- Hillbilly Chili (from Chef Alli)
- Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies (from Pinch of Yum)
- 3-Ingredient Shortbread Cookies (from Chew Out Loud)
- Potato Chip Chocolate Chip Cookies (from Hip Foodie Mom)
- Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies (from Nellie Bellie)
- Chicken Pot Pie (from Dizzy, Busy and Hungry)
- The Best Easy Peanut Butter Pie (from Pinch of Yum)
- Pumpkin Gingersnap Pie (Nellie Bellie)
- Easy Homemade Apple Pie (from Cake Whiz)
6) Enjoy Jordan, Sugar and Ninjaerobics
Yes, I made up the word “Ninjaerobics” but I rather like it. Our kids definitely love “Jordan Days” for so many reasons…mostly because they know it’ll involve candy and treats, but also because there’s always plenty to do in and around the area and you can hit so many stops because of the proximity to one another.
Jordan is a a short drive south of the Twin Cities and is chock full of kid-friendliness. When we go, we make it count – this is how we do it:
The same Fall stops as the ones on the way to Mankato fit this trip (see Wagner Bros. Orchard and Emma Krumbees) but the one we tend to do most often is Minnesota Harvest Orchard. Here you have to buy a bag of apples (per person…was $50 for our family of 5) and included is the full bags of apples you pick, the corn maze, the sunflower fields, a playground and some farm animals. The apple cannon, pizza, cider and snacks all cost extra. You could spend a solid hour here.
After the orchard, we move on to the one and only Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. This is right across Hwy 169 and is a GIANT yellow barn. You literally cannot miss it. They sell apples too, but the one thing we NEED to buy there every time is their warm caramel apple pie. We usually give the kids either a quantity limit or a cost limit and let them go to town. This stop takes almost as long as the orchard (due to indecisiveness and overwhelmingness).
Now the kids are happy and sugared up so what better activity than a Ninja Park!? The new Grassman Park is a challenge course with options for older and younger children. It’s timed and challenging enough and is the perfect stop to actively spend some family time together out of the car.
Finally, if the kids aren’t exhausted yet, Lagoon Park is another one of our go-tos. In the summer, they have a splash pad and playground, but in the Fall it is a nice spot to fish directly off the pier at Mill Pond. There’s small falls to walk to and trails to walk.
And there you have a day in Jordan. I’m tired just writing about it.
7) Farm Animals and Mini Golf
If you’re really IN it to win it, this is the day for you. Like, if you want to really NAIL Fall and have your kids looooove you, this is a super fun adventure day that’ll be talked about for awhile. Head out west to the Minnetonka/Minnetrista area and try these outings:
Start the morning at Gale Woods Farm, a real working farm with chickens, sheep, cows, dogs, cats and pigs. Gale Woods hosts events nearly every day in the Fall and only during those events (Fall Wagon Rides, Preschooler days, and more) can you go IN to the barn. But the outside farm is open daily to the public for free. While you’re there, you can head walk the 3 miles of hiking trails through the pastures and hang out with the animals outside.
After you’re animal’ed out, it’s time for some mini golf – have you been to Big Stone Mini Golf? It is one whopping minute away from Gale Woods Farm and it. is. epic! This is not just your run-of-the-mill mini golf course. It’s actually a sculpture garden as well with 14 artist-created and ever-so-clever golf holes built from natural rolling hills, metals, water, and everything else you can imagine. It’s one-of-a-kind for sure! Oh, and they have horses and cows as well. Just sayin’. Big Stone Mini Golf only accepts cash and check (no credit cards) and they’re open through the month of October. Adults are $12 and kids (8 and under) are $10.
When golf is done (and maybe a picnic lunch in there somewhere?), you can spend some time at either Minnetonka Orchards for some Fall apple fun or head to Minnetonka Regional Park for a nice, gigundo playground that all ages should enjoy. Keep in mind, the orchard charges admission but they do have LOTS of activities on the weekends.
Then to end the day – if you’re feeling kid-activitied out, sit on the huge patio at Back Channel Brewing and have a beer (or a craft soda). You’ve earned it.
8) All Hail Halloween!
If you celebrate Halloween, it’s a pretty easy and entertaining way to keep kids amused during the Fall – there’s certainly no shortage of events centered around it. Just pick a couple and have a spooky (or not spooky) good time. Some ideas to get in the “spirit” are:
Visit the “Halloween Capital of the World”, the city of Anoka (how it got that title is beyond me, but let’s roll with it). The city obviously hosts a big ol’ party through the month of October and most events are cost-free. Their full event calendar includes coloring contests, movie nights, scavenger hunts, Bingo night, carving contests, bonfires, the big parade, and more!
Pick a pumpkin from a patch. While there aren’t a ton of pumpkin patches to choose from, we definitely love Dehn’s Pumpkins. Located in Dayton (out by Maple Grove), it has 20 acres of ‘patch’ and is open 7 days a week and has a wristband flat fee payment which includes corn maze, corn pit, inflatables, hay ride and straw bales and ranges from $6-10/person (depending on the day of the week you go). You can always just go, skip the wristband, and pick out some pumpkins and go home to carve them.
Other great pumpkin patches are Pinehaven Farm in Wyoming, Pine Tree Orchard in White Bear Lake, and Barten Pumpkins in New Prague. Family Fun Twin Cities has a great list listed by location on their website here.
Know what gives my kids an adrenaline rush (and an occasional nightmare)? They beg to go in to every time we see a Halloween Express or Spirit Halloween pop-up store. It feels like they are literally everywhere in October and some are bigger and scarier than others. I remember taking my son into the one in Rosedale Mall a few years ago and, he may talk a big game but he certainly clung closely to his mother. Use your best discretion though, and if the scary animatronics aren’t your kid’s jam, you can just go and look at the costumes.
Do you have mountain bikers in your family? Our kids absolutely loved the Bethel Haunted Forest bike trail in East Bethel, MN. It’s an easy/intermediate singletrack dirt trail that has “haunted” in the name, but it’s not scary. I promise. There’s a small section in the middle that has some rundown buildings and a shredded tarp canopy you can bike through, and then there’s some unique obstacles (like the hood of a car), but other than those elements, it’s really just a pretty – slightly strange – ride through the woods.
Then of course there’s all the classic Halloween stuff, right? The Jack-o-lantern Spectacular at the Zoo, Valleyscare, trunk-or-treats, nature center events, pumpkin train rides, and various haunted trails (some scarier than others).
9) Hastings and Highways and Hiking, Oh My!
Some road trips are not worth the time in the car – but heading south down the Mississippi to the Hastings area is always a welcomed adventure with our littles. There is SO much to do, and when you add Fall colors and a sparkling river (or three) into the equation? That’s a win!
Hastings is the center for lots of cool stops. If you start on the west side of the Mississippi, you could hit up Schaar’s Bluff Trail and do some gorgeous hiking and river-overlooking (yes, that’s a verb). It’s a nice partly-paved trail through the woods (but again, Fall has few bugs) and it’s certainly not a long or strenuous trek. Kids can handle it easily.
Then you could head into the city of Hastings to visit the cute toy store or video game/comic shop on 2nd Street and walk down towards the river to play the outdoor instruments in Levee Park. This is all sitting adjacent to the Mississippi River Regional Trail, so if biking is an option for you, this is a wonderful trail to do just that. And don’t forget to take the 5-minute drive to Vermilion Falls where you can hike down stairs, get your pic in front of the waterfall, and cross the bridge over the Vermilion River (which is covered in padlocks – my kids thought this was super odd and intriguing). Another option for great views is Old Mill Park which overlooks Vermilion River. Here’s a great post from Day Tripper about Vermilion and Old Mill.
If you have more energy in you, I suggest going all in on the Fall front and crossing the Mississippi to hit up either Afton Apple Orchard or Whistling Wells Farm – both under a 15 minute drive from downtown Hastings. Afton is far more busy/commercial/activity-centric and Whistling Well is super basic with a few animals and apples and pumpkins to purchase…so it depends on your mood and budget, I guess.
If you’re around the Carpenter Nature Center area, they host an Apple Fest in October every year that looks adorable too – see that info here. That side of the river has St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park which will give you – yes, yet again – stunning scenic views of the St. Croix River. So many rivers, so many bluffs, so little time.
As far as the sugar cap on the day, I have yet to find something super tasty in the Hastings area but Emily’s Bakery is probably your best bet. Good breads, good brownies, and apple or pumpkin bars that’ll make you wish Fall lasted all year long.
10) Go inside. It’s not against Fall rules.
There are cold days in the Fall, whether we choose to believe it or not. Some days are even rainy. Some days, we just don’t have the drive to be outside in the air and be one with nature. Those days, we can stick to some of the awesome indoor adventures available to us (but don’t use them all up – remember…winter is long). Some of our family favorites include:
- REM5 Virtual Reality Lab (St. Louis Park)
REM5 brings a premium virtual reality experience to its visitors. Every aspect of REM5 is built upon our passion for knocking down the existing accessibility barriers and allowing everyone a chance to play, explore, learn, and create in VR. My kids fell in love with the games and wanted to go back immediately after our first visit. It’s a hard adventure to explain but rather is something that needs to be experienced. It. Is. Amazing.
- Minneapolis Bouldering Project (Minneapolis)
Our family thought this indoor rock climbing adventure was unique and so fun that we booked our son’s birthday party here. With a separate kids area, and offerings of youth camps and parents nights out, MBP is perfect for building strength, burning energy and bringing the family together to do something challenging.
- The Crayola Experience (Bloomington)
If you haven’t been to The Crayola Experience in the Mall of America yet, it is a very enjoyable place for kids of all ages. There are hands-on creative displays everywhere – some virtual, some take-home, from paint to melting crayons to puppet-building, this is a place where young artists can truly shine.
- Urban Air (Coon Rapids or Plymouth)
With two Twin Cities locations, this “trampoline park” is is an exceptional variety of attractions including ropes courses, a sky ride, climbing walls, warrior courses and more. It’s not the cheapest day out there, but it IS really really fun.
- Millz House (Apple Valley)
This is a showroom space for basketball courts and wooden swing sets, but it offers Pay-to-Play options for kids to come in and use the equipment for the price of $6, but keep in mind, Millz House Open Play is only open limited hours and not at all on weekends.
- Playground Plaza (Maple Grove)
One of our favorite indoor play places, this playground is well-kept and family-owned and there is soooo much room for the kids to run, kick balls, climb, build blocks, and jump on the giant inflatable pillow (which is, let’s be honest, where our kids spend 90% of their time).
- Rainbow Play Systems (Bloomington)
For $8/kid for 2 hours (open weekdays only), kids can play on all the Rainbow Playground equipment in the showroom. It’s a smaller, but safe and energy-burning spot for young kids.
- Grand Slam Sports Zone (Coon Rapids and Burnsville)
With two locations, Grand Slam is a great place for all ages, older kids included. Their attractions include batting cages, video arcade, laser tag, extreme trampoline, mini golf and more. You can pay by attraction or purchase a package.
- MiniSota Play Cafe (Maple Grove)
It’s like a miniature Minnesota with a tiny pretend hair salon, post office, a log cabin, pretend lake, doctors office, restaurant and a real-life coffee shop for moms and dads to enjoy while their kids use their imaginations and immerse themselves in creative play.
- At-home Crafting (um, your house, duh)
So many Fall crafts, so little time. As a pretty pathetic “crafter,” there are some basics I can really get in to. Check these out:
11) Practice Your Mountain Biking
If you’re the adventurous, outdoorsy type, getting the kids involved in mountain biking is something you’ll never regret. Such a peaceful yet exhilarating way to spend an afternoon or – what our family is doing over MEA – an entire weekend. If the idea of barreling over logs and rocks right away frightens you like it frightens me, take the family out to one of these amazing practice courses. I enjoy them as much as my kiddos do and it’s super good for their (and my) confidence.
Carver Lake Bike Park in Woodbury has my favorite practice course. With ups and downs and sharp corners, it’s not so hard that our 5-year old can’t handle it, but it’s challenging enough that our 12-year old can practice jumps and speed on it. Plus there’s some great beginner and intermediate trails in the park if you advance past the practice park.
Cottage Grove’s Bike Park is a bit bigger than Carver and has way more big (adult) challenges, but there is a kid area with a couple large donut loops and some wooden planks. We like this one a lot too, but there were no actual “trails” in the area to go on (only paved).
Lebanon Hills in Eagan is the most basic practice track of them all, but probably has the best of these three as far as actual trails goes. We’ve only visited Lebanon once because the challenges were outgrown quickly by our kids, but for the very beginner, this is an ideal choice.
12) Canyons at Crosby
One of the prettiest hikes I’ve ever gone on (and we’ve gone on a LOT of hikes….12 billion, if you ask the kids) was at Crosby Farm Regional Park in St. Paul. Maybe it was the Fall sunshine, maybe it was the happy kids, maybe it was the chill in the air but the warmth in my heart, maybe it was the super kick-a$$ slot canyon we found at the end…but something made this one so stinkin’ memorable. I HAD to include it here.
Crosby Farm Park it really just another regional Minnesota park, but we were on a mission to find this hidden slot canyon carved out from the rocks. From the parking lot to the canyon is only about a mile so the walk is completely doable. And on the way, you walk through woods, a beach, you can climb trees, play by the water (or in our case, walk on the ice…it was a cold Fall in 2020), and walk a floating boardwalk among the wildflowers. Right along Crosby Lake you will encounter a well-hidden canyon that you can shimmy into, opening up to a nice tall divide in the earth. It really was a pretty awesome sight and I’m so happy we made the trek. Need help finding the canyon? We followed this pin on Google maps and it took us straight there: https://goo.gl/maps/mim6jSmR5v7wzmteA
Crosby Farm Park is a part of a huge chunk of the land that surrounds the Mississippi River, so if you are still itching for more fresh air after this, consider a 5-minute drive to Hidden Falls to find the waterfall or walk along Minnehaha Creek to see more falls or hang out at Wabun Playground and get the last of the wiggles out.
If you head through St. Paul on your way back home, there is no shortage of snack stops – some of my favorites are Tom’s Popcorn, A Baker’s Wife Pastry Shop, Mel-O-Glaze Bakery, or Angel Food Baker & Donut Bar. I have no shame in loving sweets the way I do. You only live once, am I right?
So there you have it. 12 Family Fun Adventures to get you through the Fall – not that getting through the Fall is a difficult thing to do in Minnesota. It’s just so endlessly beautiful, you can’t go wrong. Worst comes to worse, pack the family up and just take a drive. Make the kids absorb the colors and really take in the power of our state’s changing seasons. It might be the shortest season of all, so pack it in and make it count.
Now make like a tree and get outta here! You’ve got Fall memories to make.