Minnesota is a beautiful place to live all year long (excluding, perhaps, February), but the stunning riot of red, orange, and yellow that spreads across our woodlands in the fall make this a truly special time of year to explore nature in our fair state.
If you’re like us, then you’ll agree: Nothing complements the colors of autumn better than a sturdy pint of the good stuff. That’s why we put together this list of great drinking destinations for all of our leaf-peepers, tree-huggers, and beer-hikers. Grab your flannels and let’s hit the road!
Driftless Region – Sylvan Brewing Company
A criminally underrated gem of venerable, towering bluffs and serpentine river valleys in Southeastern Minnesota, the Driftless Region is something of a geological marvel unspoiled by glacial influence. We recommend parking the car in the quaint yet artsy town of Lanesboro and spending the day canoeing or kayaking the gentle waters of the Root River, or pedaling along its banks on the scenic Root River State Trail. Birdwatchers should make a stop at the nearby Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, which features over 9 miles of hiking trails and the opportunity to glimpse a majestic bald eagle soaring over the river.
Once you’ve worked up a powerful thirst, head back into Lanesboro and sidle up to the bar at Sylvan Brewing. Housed in a historic (and extremely photogenic) old grain mill building, Sylvan divides their tap list into “crafty” beers for enthusiasts and “comfy” brews for less adventurous palettes. This weekend, they’ll be debuting a new pale ale on taps in honor of the Filthy 50 gravel bike race that Lanesboro is hosting.
Cuyuna Iron Range – Cuyuna Brewing Co.
Nestled into the rolling red hills of Crow Wing County, Crosby is a hub for hikers and all manner of outdoor enthusiasts, but it’s the miles and miles of world-class mountain biking trails that have truly put this part of Minnesota on the map. Situated at the southwestern gateway to Minnesota’s storied Iron Range, Crosby and the neighboring towns of Cuyuna and Ironton turn a beautiful dappled gold during early October as the leaves change, contrasting perfectly with the rusty tones of the area’s characteristic red dirt.
If the idea of hurtling down twisting singletrack trails on a bike sounds terrifying to you, fear not. The expansive Cuyuna County State Recreation area has still got plenty of docile paved trails with great views. Paddlers should consider taking a spin through one of the area’s many mining lakes, which offer jewel-like clarity down to their considerable depths.
Located on East Main Street in Crosby in a historic storefront space, Cuyuna Brewing Co. has recently begun an expansion that will add extra space to its taproom, and eventually, a satellite location of a restaurant called Burritos California. Cuyuna’s flagship beer lineup includes a nice mix of classic recipes, and the brewery has also shown a knack for fun infusions and big, dark beers like their Bootlegger Bourbon Barrel Quad.
Mississippi River Headwaters – Bemidji Brewing
“Old Man River” looms large in our collective consciousness in Minnesota, which makes visiting the Mississippi’s headwaters in Itasca State Park something of a pilgrimage for our state’s outdoors enthusiasts. There probably isn’t a better time to visit than during the fall, when brash oranges and yellows jostle with sturdy evergreens for dominance over your eyeballs around every turn.
In addition to Itasca, lovely golden birch leaves can be found nearby at Lake Bemidji State Park, and both parks contain great bike and hiking trail systems for visitors. Three protected forests also sit nearby for folks searching for a more solitary form of nature exploration: Buena Vista State Forrest, Paul Bunyan State Forrest, and Chippewa National Forrest.
Back in town, Bemidji Brewing is a great place to take a load off and settle in for a snack and a couple of pints. Centered around straightforward recipes mercifully devoid of gimmicks, Bemidji’s tap list is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. We recommend ordering a Turtle River Pasty and washing it down with a pint of their recently tapped Autumn IPA, which balances a full-bodied malt bill and a piney-hop zing.
Otter Tail County – Fergus Brewing Co.
Dotted with wooded hills, sprawling lakes, and farmlands, Otter Tail County is another hidden gem for Minnesotans heading northwest from the Twin Cities towards Fargo. The area is home to Glendalough State Park, which is known as a haven for fishing and paddling enthusiasts thanks to its stunningly clear 335-acre “Heritage Fishery,” Annie Battle Lake. The park also contains miles of paved trails dotted with observation decks to enjoy the beautiful mix of hardwood forest and rolling prairie grasses. On your way back into town, stop by Phelps Mill Park to see some of the area’s frontier history on display.
With an indoor-outdoor taproom that features an expansive patio and deck area with generous views of the Otter Tail River Reservoir, Fergus Brewing is a relatively new addition to the area that already won the hearts of locals and visitors alike. Their tap list features a fun mix of accessible styles and bigger swings like a kveik IPA, a barrel-aged Russian Imperial, and a s’mores stout that they’ll be celebrating with a s’mores-making party this Friday evening.
Minnesota River – August Schell Brewing Company
You didn’t think we’d miss an opportunity to sneak one of Minnesota’s most scenic breweries onto this list, did ya? The historic campus of August Schell Brewing Company is situated on the corner of New Ulm’s Cottonwood River and Flandrau State Park, and features impressive gardens and grounds hemmed in by forests, making the centuries-old brewery eye-poppingly pretty during the Autumn. There’s a chance you might even see some wildlife while sipping your beer, as deer often visit Schell’s grounds and the brewery’s owners also keep pet peacocks that strut around the premises. Nearby in New Ulm, there’s plenty of wonderful opportunities for observing fall colors along the Minnesota River from riverside parks or blufftop overlooks.
This weekend, Schell’s will be hosting their annual Oktoberfest celebration, which is an absolute must for fans of German beer and culture. The festivities kick off at 11 am with the tapping of the first keg and continue throughout the day. Enjoy Schells’ classic Marzen Oktoberfest recipe as well as their new spin on the classic Festbier style, which will be debuting in the Schell’s Bier Halle this weekend.