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Fall colors: See 'em while they last

This road in Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge was paved with gold, as well as reds, greens, purples, browns and yellows, during a visit Thursday. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)1 / 2
Foliage is turning in the Tamarac Wildlife Refuge. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)2 / 2

They may be late in coming, but the colors are starting to appear in trees and underbrush around the area.

Some of the best color in the area is north of Detroit Lakes, in the Tamarac National Wild Life refuge, according to Cleone Stewart, tourism director with the Detroit Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

She was among about 100 people who took an 88-mile ride along the Lake Country Scenic Byway on Tuesday. Two coach buses took the group along the byway from Detroit Lakes to Park Rapids to Walker to Itasca State Park.

"We had more colors here than the Park Rapids area," Stewart said. "But I don't think we're at the peak -- it's later than it normally it is."

She said Richwood Road (County Road 21) and roads in the vicinity of Tamarac were among the best in the area.

DNR Forester Dave Johnson said the next few weeks are traditionally the peak color period for the area. "The peak is usually around mid-October," he said. "By November we're pretty much leaf-less."

He said highways 59 and 34 are showing a lot of color now. "The maples are showing their colors right now -- it's quite nice," he said.

For those thinking about planting or transplanting trees, now is a good time to see their autumn colors in the wild, he said.

It's also a good time to spot and remove buckthorn, an invasive species that leafs out early and keeps its leaves late into the fall, creating dense shade that helps it to out-compete many native plants.

"Once the leaves have dropped, there's going to be one plant that still has its leaves, they're green almost into the snow -- buckthorn," he said.

While a warm September slowed the fall transformation, recent hard frosts and shorter, cooler autumn days have led to an acceleration in the developing fall colors.

According to the DNR, most areas are now reported to be at 50-75 percent peak fall color, with bright red, maroon, rust, orange, yellow, peach and purple leaves adorning trees and shrubs.

Peak and near peak conditions can be found at state parks throughout Minnesota.

Some of the best parks for leaf-peeping in the area include:

Maplewood State Park near Pelican Rapids

Amid the farmlands that surround the park, Maplewood sits on a series of high, tree-covered hills that provide visitors with striking vistas of small, clear lakes nestled in deep valleys.

The park is located in a transition area between the western prairies and the eastern forests and contains plants and animals found in both landscapes.

Maplewood is known for its hardwood trees including sugar maple, basswood, and oak. These same trees provide a stunning display of fall colors each year. In addition, red cedar and tamarack are found in the park.

Wildflower lovers will find flowers and grasses representative of both the prairies and forests. Spring through fall, the park is "dressed" with displays of trillium, hepatica, bloodroot, yellow lady's slipper, wild onion, prairie rose, and showy milkweed.

Itasca State Park north of Park Rapids

There is a 75-100 percent change in the park foliage. Beautiful and abundant fall colors mixed with the cool crisp air creates the perfect autumn experience.

Every shade of yellow and gold can be found in the trees, and the sugar and red maples are at peak shades of yellow, orange, peach and red.

Some tree and shrub species are adding deep purple, crimson and pinkish-peach to the mix.

The red oaks are just beginning to turn deep shades of red. Strong winds have brought down many of the leaves.

Wilderness Drive, and the margins of the lakes, ponds and wetlands, offer the best fall color at this time.

The bike trails and Main Park Drive are also recommended. The maples between Preacher's Grove and the University of Minnesota Biological Station are stunning.

The Dr. Roberts Trail is full of lemon-yellow ash and aspen trees, and a hike on the Deer Park trail offers beautiful fall color in the maples and paper birch.

Peak fall color typically occurs in the maples, basswoods and ash trees the last week of September, however the peak for the maples was expected to occur around the beginning of October this year, due to the late arrival of frost.

Peak fall color in the birch, aspen and oak usually occurs roughly one week later, and the tamaracks are most colorful in early to mid-October.

Glendalough State Park near Battle Lake

The park foliage is approximately halfway to peak fall color. The maples, wild grapes and sumac are bright orange and red. The ash and cottonwood trees are turning yellow. The prairie grasses are at peak, and show various shades of red, purple, pink, and orange.

The best fall color is near the lodge and in the wetland areas. Change should accelerate with the overnight freezing temperatures forecasted for the next few nights.