The St. Croix Valley is a go-to fall destination for Minnesotans and Wisconsinites alike, and for good reason. From the vibrant scenery to the quaint towns and festive events, the Valley is arguably at its best during the autumn months. Luckily for area residents, everything the Valley has to offer is just steps away from their own backyards. For those looking for a family-friendly staycation this fall, here are some ideas to help you make the most of this fleeting season.
Apple of My Eye
No autumn would be complete without a visit—or a few—to an apple orchard. Aamodt’s Apple Farm in Stillwater has been an area favorite since 1948, offering apple picking, hay wagon rides and other kids’ activities. In the Apple Barn Bakery, you’ll find a variety of specialty food items like apple cider, apple pie, Aamodt’s beloved cider donuts, apple brats and maple syrup. About 20 miles south of Aamodt’s is Afton Apple Orchard in Hastings, Minn. The orchard offers apple picking through the end of October, pumpkin picking from the end of September through October and raspberry picking through mid-October. For the kids, Afton Apple Orchard also has a playground, a petting zoo and a straw mountain—and don’t miss the 6-mile corn maze, which opens September 17.
For more apple and pumpkin picking, head to Fischer’s Croix Farm Orchard, also in Hastings. Along with a variety of apples to choose from, the orchard has a corn maze, friendly farm animals and wagon rides each weekend. Make a whole day of apple orchard hopping, or take your pick of the many options.
The Path Traveled
Perhaps the best autumn activity is the simplest: Go for a walk, and take in the scenery. The 6-mile Brown’s Creek Trail is a great path for a leisurely stroll or a family bike ride. About a mile of the path runs along the scenic St. Croix River, and the trail connects to the extensive Gateway Trail, which has beautiful scenery ranging from meadows to hardwood forests and wetlands.
For those looking to see fall colors on a hike, head to one of the many state parks in the Valley. William O’Brien State Park in Marine on St. Croix, Minn., is great for hiking, fishing and canoeing. A 20-minute drive north is Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, Minn., which sits on the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin and is the second-oldest state park in Minnesota. For a break from hiking, go on a Taylors Falls scenic boat tour. The 45- to 80-minute tours on the St. Croix run daily through mid-October and offer the chance to get a one-of-a-kind view of the bluffs.
Along with St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park, Afton State Park and the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center (all in Hastings), the Valley has plenty of natural spaces to explore at their most colorful. Be sure to visit the Minnesota DNR website for updates on when and where fall colors are at their peak.
Food for Thought
Packing a picnic for the day is a great way to get more time outside—and eat as you go. Along with any trail or state park, the town gazebo in Marine on St. Croix is a lovely spot for a picnic. Stop by The Marine Cafe or St. Croix Chocolate Co. to enjoy coffee and dessert.
If the family is tired of walking, but still wants to take in more scenery, try the Osceola and St. Croix Valley Railway train rides put on by the Minnesota Transportation Museum. Rides are 50 or 90 minutes and can include brunch, dinner or pizza. For added fall fun, check out the Pumpkin Express train rides offered October 21–23, which feature a trip to a pumpkin patch, face painting, balloon artists and a haunted depot.
Family Bio: The Howe Family
The Howe family of Stillwater doesn’t have to go far to enjoy all the St. Croix has to offer. Sarah Howe, her husband Nick and their two sons, Joe and Jax, enjoy picnics, family bike rides to downtown Stillwater and spending time outdoors and by the river. “Our community offers a wide variety of activities, from the orchards and apple picking to just being outside with your family,” Sarah says. “It’s such a scenic, pretty area, too, especially in the fall with the leaves changing.”
Joe, 7, and Jax, 5, particularly love to go to Aamodt’s Apple Farm for apple picking and Country Sun Farm in Lake Elmo, Minn., for the farm animals and pumpkin picking.
Sarah and Nick grew up in Stillwater and have stayed for the family-focused, inviting energy of the area. One of their favorite towns to visit as a family is Marine on St. Croix, which Sarah says they enjoy for the “friendly, small-town feel” along with the “fun and unique restaurants and little shops.” Sarah and Nick are excited to be raising their kids in the tightknit community they grew up in and love during all four seasons.
Family-friendly Fall: A handful of events to check out this autumn
Aamodt’s Apple Farm
Afton Apple Orchard
Fischer’s Croix Farm Orchard
Osceola and St. Croix Valley Railway
William O’Brien State Park
Interstate State Park Milltown Road
Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours
Gateway-Brown’s Creek Trail
Fall Color Finder