Buttercup yellows surround Highway 23 outside of New London on a crisp fall day, signaling you to roll your windows down and turn up The Lumineeers as you drive down the highway.
By Bailey Hovland
Sailing down the sun-kissed county road, the asphalt warm from the gentle fall rays of sunshine, you drive through recently harvested fields and lazy herds of cattle enjoying the beautiful autumn day. A fall breeze moves across the prairie, looking just like rolling waves on the ocean. It’s September in the Willmar Lakes Area, and for a moment, everything seems right with the world.
The scenery is second to none out in the country, where the prairie grass climbs the rising and falling hills, giving way to sparkling lakes and groves of trees. And these trees, in the fall weather, have begun to change. The chlorophyll in each leaf has begun to break down, causing the treetops to transform from the lively greens of summer to the honeyed color tones of fall. Iron reds, buttercup yellows, and tangerine oranges line the horizon, shuddering in the wind and dropping the colorful leaves below.
Minnesota is a four-season state, but some of its most breathtaking scenery happens in the autumn. And in the Willmar Lakes Area, you get to see the changing of the leaves reflected on the surface of crystal clear lakes and contrasted against the golden prairie grass. Explore Minnesota provides a weekly color update on areas across the state to make sure you get the best fall foliage views, featuring Sibley State Park as one of the destinations to keep an eye on.
Bold crimson leaves show the range of fall foliage, spanning from playful yellow to blood-red hues, in the Willmar Lakes Area.
This week’s report focuses on Sibley’s big bluestem and Indian grasses transitioning into rich shades of reddish purple and gold, with the little bluestem yet to peak. The Pond View Trail is ideal for taking in both the prairie and woodland colors, giving visitors the opportunity to hike in both terrains. Keep an eye out for white-tailed deer making their way across the terrain and ring-necked pheasants hiding in the brush, just two of the innumerable wildlife species that can be found at this state park. If you’re hoping for an elevated view, you can hike the Mount Tom Trail and climb its lookout “for a panoramic view of Sibley and beyond.” Sibley also has year-round camper cabins available, so if you’re looking for more than a day hike across the prairie, you can spend a few days in a rustic cabin fully immersed in the transition to fall.
A duck soaks up the autumn sunshine on a lake, taking a moment of leisure under the changing leaves of the shoreline’s trees.
Prime fall color usually comes between late September and early October in the Willmar Lakes Area. The unseasonably warm temperatures from last week slightly stalled the fall color development, but with the classic autumn weather we’ve seen this week, central Minnesota is well on its way to perfect fall color conditions. So as you roll down the windows of your car to take a deep breath of the autumn air, sweet with the smell of hay and upturned soil, take a moment to ground yourself. Reflect on the warm summer days that are slowly coming to an end, and look forward to the beauty of fall. Then you can start planning your next excursion around the Willmar Lakes Area to see the unveiling of yet another remarkable Minnesotan fall.