Best Hikes for Fall Colors

By: Three Rivers Staff

October 14, 2019

Category: Recreation

From dazzling colors to that sound of leaves crunching under your feet, there's nothing quite like a hike in the fall. At Three Rivers, we have endless opportunities for taking in the season by foot, whether you prefer a leisurely stroll through a maple forest or a longer hike through a golden prairie.

Read on to see our staff picks for best fall hikes in Three Rivers, then head out to discover them for yourself. 

Crow-Hassan Park Reserve, Hanover

  • The Trail: 2.5 miles, turf, uneven and hilly terrain
  • Access: Park at the trailhead off of Park Drive. Directions.
  • Highlights: Restored prairie and maple forest

“From the trailhead, hike to trail marker 11 to 6 to 5 and back to the trailhead. This hike is a must for getting out into the restored prairies of Crow-Hassan Park Reserve, and 2019 marks the 50th Anniversary of the first planted prairie near trail marker 5. The start of the hike takes you through a rich, mature maple forest. Once the canopy breaks, you enter a sea of open, golden grassland. Come early for a dewy sunrise or stay late for that golden hour of sunset. Take a rest and moment for serenity at Prairie Lake as you look out across the glassy water. “

—  Angela Grill, Wildlife Biologist

A trail cuts through a golden maple forest in the fall.
The golden maple forest at Crow-Hassan Park Reserve. Photo by Angela Grill.
Golden prairie grasses stand tall in the fall against a wall of colorful oak trees.
Fall on the Crow-Hassan prairie. 

Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve, Savage

  • The Trail: 0.25-6 miles, turf, challenging and hilly
  • Access: Park at the recreation area trailhead on Murphy Lake Road near Hanrehan Lake Boulevard (near the dog off-leash area). Trails begin on the south side of the parking lot. Directions.
  • Highlights: Solitude, forest and wetland views

“The trails at Murphy-Hanrehan are fantastic in the fall because they’re quiet and minimally used. Hiking the hills and learning the terrain is a great way to anticipate and prepare for cross-country ski season.”

— Anne Jaeger, Outdoor Recreation Supervisor

“Murphy has good color later in the year. The best views are in the southern half of the park, south of Sunset Lake Road. Even though there is less forest cover here, there are several nice vistas.”

— Paul Kortebein, Senior Manager of Forestry and Horticulture. 

Trees turn color in the fall along a trail.
Colorful trees and wetland views are abundant at Murphy-Hanrehan. Photo by Andrea Breitung. 
A trail cuts through the woods on a cloudy autumn day.
Even in late fall, rusty tones make for a stunning trek. 

Fish Lake Regional Park, Maple Grove

  • The Trail: Two loops of 0.5 miles and 0.7 miles, paved, mostly flat
  • Access: Park in the main lot and walk toward the beach and pavilion. Take the paved trail in either direction. Directions.
  • Trail Highlights: Oaks, sumac, lake views

“My favorite hikes in the parks are the paved loop trails at Fish Lake. As someone with mobility issues, I love the mostly flat trail and short distance. If I’m feeling spry that day, I can do them a couple of times. If not, it’s easy to get back to start.  

My favorite part about these trails in the fall are the giant oaks. Even though they don’t have the showy colors of sugar maples, there is something majestic about their rusty tones and the crunch and smell of acorns on the trail. 

This trail also has nice views of the lake, giving you a wide-angle view of the surroundings as the leaves change.“

— Sara Harcey, Interpretive Naturalist at Baker Near-Wilderness Settlement

A paved trail cuts along the shore of a lake on a gray fall day. The image is framed by a large oak tree and colorful trees can be seen across the lake.
The paved loops at Fish Lake offer beautiful fall views, even on a cloudy day. 

Lake Rebecca Park Reserve, Rockford

  • The Trail: 1.25-mile loop, turf, moderately hilly
  • Access: Park in the southwest lot near the singletrack trailhead. The Deerwood Trail begins at the south end of the lot. Directions.
  • Highlights: Rolling hills, prairies, forest

Lake Rebecca is a gorgeous place to be any season, but hiking through the rolling hills and sweeping prairies during the fall is definitely a must. One of my favorite trails to hike is the Deerwood Trail at the southwest end of the park.

This sweet little turf trail crosses sections of the paved trail and loops through a variety of habitats, including towering maples and giant oaks, and ponds and wetlands where you might spot some trumpeter swans. The brilliant yellows of the maples and reds of the oaks and sumac stand out, especially at sunset.”

— Alyssa Schauer, Digital Marketing Assistant

A paved trail cuts through trees that are changing red and yellow in fall.
Where the paved trail meets the Deerwood Trail.
Trees around a grassy trail are tinted red during golden hour.
The Deerwood Trail glows during golden hour.

Baker Park Reserve, Maple Plain

  • The Trail: 2.4-mile loop with the option for a shorter loop, turf, easy
  • Access: Park at the trailhead parking lot on the north side of County Road 24 (across from the Near-Wilderness Settlement entrance). Directions.
  • Highlights: Maples, basswoods and wetlands

Baker Park Reserve has some spectacular views of fall color. The trails near Half Moon and Marshview group camps (just north of Country Road 24) look really nice most years. The colors around the Marshview Group Camp are actually best viewed from the road, but you can get glimpses from the paved and turf trails.”

— Paul Kortebein, Senior Manager of Forestry and Horticulture. 

landscape photo of fall trees on the horizon
Views of Marshview Trail from Country Road 24.
fall trail with branches hanging over
There's color around every corner on the Marshview Trail.

French Regional Park, Plymouth

  • The Trail: 0.7 miles, turf, flat
  • Access: Take the Lagoon Trail east from the play area. The loop will take you back where you started. Directions.
  • Highlights: Maples and wetlands. The trail is lighted in the fall.

"In the fall, the Lagoon Trail at French Regional Park takes you under a brilliant canopy of golden maple forest. It's a beautiful walk any time, but on a sunny day, it's especially spectacular. I like to take my time and listen for woodpeckers and squirrels rustling in the leaves. If you're feeling adventurous, continue on to explore all 10 miles of trails in the park."

— Erin Korsmo, Web Coordinator

Trees along a wooded trail are yellow in fall.
In the fall, the Lagoon Trail is offers an easy walk under a bright canopy of maple trees. 

Looking for more fall adventure ideas? Check out all of our parks and trails and find out what else is happening in Three Rivers this season. When you're in the parks, don't forget to share your photos using #ThreeRiversFall to enter our fall photo contest. The last winner will be chosen this Friday! 

About the Author

Three Rivers Park District logo.

Our staff members worked together to create this post. 

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