Maplewood State Park is beautiful in autumn, and it’s especially fun for families on the two weekends of the Leaf Day Celebration.

There are great walking trails and scenic lakes, food for sale, and during Leaf Days there are free wagon rides around the park while a volunteer talks about Maplewood and answers questions. Kids and parents have fun with free activities including corn shelling, corn grinding, rope making, using an apple press, woodworking, nature art, rag dolls, early settler toys and games, nature exploration tables, using GPS to “find the maple leaves,” and other demonstrations.

This year, Leaf Days will be celebrated 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 28 -29 and Oct. 5-6.

The signature hike at Maplewood is to the top of Hallaway Hill, which was a downhill ski hill until 1971, and the trail was redone last fall, said John Nordstom, a volunteer with the Friends of Maplewood group. The trail is not as steep now and has some wonderful new views on the way up. It is a must see, he said.

When Maplewood was created in 1963, owners of more than 50 farmsteads opted to sell acreage into the park, so many of the Leaf Days activities -- like corn shelling, corn grinding, rope making and using an apple press -- celebrate that farming heritage, he said.

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Proceeds from the brats, pulled pork sandwiches, turkey legs, hot dogs, soda pop -- and other items sold during Leaf Days by the nonprofit Friends of Maplewood group, including maple syrup they make in the springtime -- goes to a good cause. “All that money goes right back into Maplewood State Park,” Nordstrom said.

Turnout for the festival depends more on sunny weather than on whether the maple leaves have turned golden.

“It is one of the most scenic autumn parks,” Nordstrom said. “Leaves have some effect on it (turnout) but people will come if the weather is nice, even if the leaves are not at peak color.”

During the warm and sunny celebration in 2016, nearly 2,000 cars rolled into Maplewood, Nordstrom said. The usual number for a weekend is perhaps 800 vehicles, he said. “If it’s raining out, we don’t get so many people,” he said.

A day pass or season park pass is needed to get into the park, and the group charges for food, but all the other activities are free, he said.

With all the new activities added since Leaf Days launched in 2002 (when volunteers basically just sold food to park visitors) the 40-50 volunteers stay pretty busy over the two weekends, Nordstrom said.

“Come on out, it’s a fun time,” he said. “People really do enjoy it, and there’s always things to do.”

Maplewood State Park is off Highway 108, eight miles east of Pelican Rapids and 20 miles west of Perham. Questions? Call the park at 218-863-8383.