A gorgeous fall leaf color tour is waiting for you in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Maple trees are blaze red and aspen display golden yellow leaves. The “Northwoods in Autumn” portrait is nearly complete. For an impressive dose of fall color head up Highway 38 on The Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway through the Chippewa National Forest.
How and Why Leaves Change Color
Do you ever wonder why leaves change color? They don’t wait for the calendar to tell them it’s fall. Instead, leaves change due to air temperature and the amount of sunlight that touches them. These factors affect three leaf pigments: chlorophyll, cartenoid, and anthocyanin (the same pigments responsible for colorful broccoli, corn, pumpkin, and apple).
In the spring, leaves burst out and begin to use chlorophyll to produce sugar. Chlorophyll is the green, light absorbing pigment that takes in carbon and uses it to create oxygen (which is released) and sugar (which is utilized by the tree). This process is photosynthesis.
After a summer of production, changes occur in each leaf when the tree forms a barrier between itself and the leaf stalk. This cuts off the leaf’s water supply and allows sugar to accumulate. Chlorophyll production slows at the same time. This simple process, occurring in leaves around the Grand Rapids area, results in two pigment related events.
First, shades of yellow and orange (caroteniod pigments) are revealed as the green chlorophyll breaks down and fades away. Second, accumulated sugar causes a reaction between anthocyanin and an organic compound, resulting in the color red. Maple leaves are mostly red and birch leaves are yellow due to varying amounts of pigment in each tree species.
Seasonal weather plays a big role in the color change. Sudden, low air temperatures destroy chlorophyll to reveal yellow and orange. Sunny days encourage sugar production, causing anthocyanin to show itself in vibrant burgundy.
View the Best Fall Colors in Grand Rapids
Take an evening drive up Scenic 38 or choose your own special trail through the woods. The sun sets earlier than it did last week and in the fading light you can admire a beautiful forest full of color. If you need ideas for your fall color trip to Grand Rapids, MN, click the image below to download our free scenic drive maps that feature lookouts, restaurants and gas stops along the best fall color routes: