Autumn is quite spectacular on the North Shore. Maples line the ridges and hillsides rising up from Lake Superior and running inland. Vast undeveloped tracts of land allow for breathtaking vistas of fall color. You can access these vistas via car and / or walking / hiking.
Maples are the first to peak, most often the last week of September into the first week of October. Following that, the poplar and birch leaves turn golden bringing a second season of color, which typically runs from the end of the first week of October through the third week. Rainfall and temps affect both when the colors occur and how long they last, so it is variable each year.
Below I list a number of wonderful tours. In addition every Thursday in September and October I publish a Fall Color Report and include a suggested tour or two.
You will find most colors inland 2-8 miles from Highway 61 from Finland [about 60 miles NE of Duluth] to the Canadian border [140 mi from Duluth]. The maples are 50% to peak, the underbrush is changing, the small aspen are yellow, autumn wildflowers and mushrooms abound.
Drive the backroads! [see info below] Heartbreak Ridge is great 16-mile loop from Schroeder/Tofte, drive The Grade from the Sawbill to the Caribou Trail or continue all the way to Grand Marais. Hike Britton Peak & Carlton Peak out of Tofte and include a Tram ride at Lutsen Mountains!
This route explores the backcountry including northern hardwood forests of oak, maple and basswood and boreal forests of pine, spruce, cedar, aspen and birch.
30 miles + 24 mile return to Two Harbors
Consider leaving a car at Gooseberry Falls for this 9.1-mile stunning hike. The trail runs north of Castle Danger to Gooseberry State Park. Highlights include overlooks at Wolf Rock, Crow Creek Valley and Mike’s Rock. The upper reach area of the Gooseberry River is particularly gorgeous. The round trip hike to the Crow Creek Overlook and back is 2 1/2 miles.
Winding up the east bank of the Gooseberry River, this 1 1/2 mile loop passes the upper Falls as it leads to the Fifth Falls. Not as spectacular as further inland, but an enjoyable autumn stroll with great vistas.
Similar backcountry terrain as route from Two Harbors to Beaver Bay. Watch for deer and moose on this narrow winding road. A good picnic spot is along Lax Lake, about 7 miles into the tour. As an option, head north and follow MN Hwy 1 to Isabella or Ely.
The upstream portion of this superb trail sits 50 feet above the river along a rocky ledge. On the downstream, eastern leg, you will be treated to overlooks of the river valley, and, as you head inland, you can look out to Lake Superior.
Hike through boreal forests before climbing maple ridges that showcase magnificent fall colors and imposing sheer rock outcrops. Head in either direction from the trailhead.
** Note this route will not be open until Nov 2015; the bridge on the 600 Rd is being replaced.
Make this fall color tour number one your list. It is breathtaking. The short drive leads you down one of the prettiest maple canopied drives along Minnesota’s North Shore. A roadside plaque explains how Heartbreak Ridge was named.
Massive blocks of resistant gray anorthosite form Carlton’s Peak. This heady peak gives bird’s eye views of the maple forests you will cross to reach the summit. A nearby overlook has panoramas of Lake Superior, Tofte and the Temperance River Valley.
A steep half-mile grade leads to Britton’s Peak and views of Superior, adjacent hardwood forests and Carlton’s Peak to the west.
This drive is pretty anytime of the year. As you travel through conifers and hardwoods and past eight lakes, keep an eye out for moose.
Oberg is the trail to hike during the early maple colors of autumn. This maple hillside will surpass all expectations. Hike includes seven overlooks, so don’t forget your camera!
Hike is 2.25 miles with some steep climbs.
Treat yourself to a beautiful gondola ride over the Poplar River Valley and up Moose Mountain. Opt for the gondola ride back or return on the moderately difficult 3.6-mile trail through maples back to the main chalet or Caribou Highlands lodge. Very nice!
The Gunflint Trail climbs 1000 feet in the first few miles to a maple ridge line. The Pincushion Mountain and Devil Track River Trails lead through these maples to overlooks of Lake Superior, the maple forests and falls and gorges of the Devil Track River. Admire the view from the overlook or stroll along the cross-country ski trails.
The picturesque Maple Hill Church sits center stage surrounded by maples – this is a great early season drive.
The tower overlooks sugar maples, quaking aspens and conifers, making it a good drive and hike all fall color season long. This is a good wildlife viewing spot.
The Trout Lake Road / Co Rd 60 loop is a lovely 32.5-mile drive, that is especially pretty, featuring beautiful sugar maples.
A pretty, quiet backwoods drive, that can include a 1-mile hike to the top of Lima Mountain where a fire lookout tower once stood, full-circle panoramas show the golden autumn tones of the backcountry. 65.3 miles for the entire loop.
The pullover to Lima Mountain is approximately 5 miles south on Lima Grade, if you come to USFS 152, you’ve gone about a half mile too far.
A more difficult half mile climb up Honeymoon Bluff showcases the fall colors circling Hungry Jack Lake’s perimeter.