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Fall Colors MN North Shore + Tours

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.

See Tours by category, too: Drives, Hikes, Take Your Breath Away, and All By Myself

Two Harbors to Little Marais

Two Harbors to Beaver Bay
Two Harbors to Beaver Bay

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

fall colors highway 61

see directions
From Hwy 61, drive north on Co. Rd. 3 for 28 miles to the Lax Lake Rd (Co. Rd. 4), then south on Co. Rd. 4 for 2 miles to Beaver Bay; this triangular route uses Hwy 61 as the third, returning leg. Click on map to enlarge.
Castle Danger to Gooseberry Falls
Castle Danger to Gooseberry Falls

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.

 

map | see directions
From Hwy 61 just past Mile Marker 36, drive north on Co. Rd. 106 (which turns into Silver Creek 617) to parking on right. Click on map to enlarge.
Gooseberry Fifth Falls Tour
Gooseberry Fifth Falls Tour

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.

fall colors highway 61  fall maples at gooseberry fall colors gooseberry

map | see directions
Gooseberry Falls State Park, Mile Marker 39.5 on Hwy 61
3206 Highway 61 East
Click on map to enlarge
Beaver Bay to Illgen City
Beaver Bay to Illgen City

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.

golden fall colors north shore fall colors mn hwy 1

see directions
From mile marker 50.9 on Hwy 61 in Beaver Bay, turn north on the Lax Lake Road/Co Rd 4 for 3.2 miles, when the road comes to a T, turn left to stay on the Lax Lake Road/Co Rd 4/Scenic Hwy 11 for 2.0 miles, turn right on Lax Lake Rd for 6.7 miles. Return to Hwy 61 via MN Hwy 1 by turning south/making a right for 4.3 miles. Turn southwest on Hwy 61 for 8.6 miles to return to your starting spot.

Option – Head north to Finland MN and return to Hwy 61 in Little Marais. When you reach Hwy 1 from the Lax Lake Rd, turn north/left for 1.7 miles to Co Rd 6. Turn south/right on Co Rd for 7 miles to Hwy 61. It is 14.4 miles back to Beaver Bay. Overall trip is 35 miles.

Click on map to enlarge.
Mic Mac, Nipisquit and the Old Tettegouche Camp

Hike through the woods and along inland lakes with spectacular views the back side of the ridge that rises out of Lake Superior. Park on the Lax Lake Road [parallels Hwy 61 to the north] and follow the service road into the forest, taking the first hiking trail around Tettegouche Lake. Hike to the Old Tettegouche Camp, four cabins and lodge built in the early 1900s, sitting on the shores of Mic Mac Lake. Return south around Mic Mac, where an overlook gives way to the maple hillsides, and Nipisquit lakes, and return along the hiking/ski trails to the service road. This trail system has options for spurs or continuing on over the High Falls of the Baptism River to MN Hwy 1.

inland tettegouche fall colors

see directions
At mile marker 54.0, turn north on Outer Drive, go 1.1 miles where the road becomes Penn Blvd/Co Rd 11. Continue on and Co Rd 11 also becomes Lax Lake Rd. However after 4.4 miles [5.5 miles from Hwy 61] make a right on the Lax lake Rd and drive 3.4 miles to the parking area.
Fantasia Overlook

Three overlooks, one good, one great and one outstanding. Hike inland a mile. About the time you want to take a breather from the climb, there’s an overlook of Lake Superior – nice, but nothing compared to the view from the spur trail you take to the north. This narrow, windy trail can be slippery when wet, especially on the bare rock portions of the trail. The first overlook is outstanding, with 270-degree views all along the shore and inland [pictured at the top of the page].

Looking west you see miles of maple hillsides with the blue, blue, blue of Lake Superior in the distance. Continue on around the exposed knoll to the north. After a short jaunt through pretty woods, you come to a northern overlook which scans the maples hillsides in the distance while at your feet, the cliff drops away to a slough; breathtaking. Return the way you came.

gorgeous fall colors north shore mn

see directions
At mile marker 59.5, drive north on MN Hwy 1 for 1 mile to Superior Hiking Trail parking on the west/left. The trail departs on the east/right side of the Highway.
Split Rock River Loop
Split Rock River Loop

lake superior fall colorsThe 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.

map | see directions
Parking and trailhead on Highway 61 at Mile Marker 45. Click on map to enlarge.
Little Marais
Little Marais

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.

map | see directions
From Hwy 61 Mile Marker 65.3 at Little Marais, drive north on Little Marais Rd (Co Rd 6) for 2 miles to Superior Hiking Trail sign and parking. Head west towards Picnic Rock or east 1.5 miles to a ridge top loop, and then return along the same route. Click on map to enlarge.

Schroeder, Tofte and Lutsen

Heartbreak Ridge
Heartbreak Ridge

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.

fallcolors-21sep-moosemaple heartbreak ridge fall colorsriverside maples north shore

see directions
From mile marker 80.4 on Hwy 61, turn north on the Temperance Rd / FR 343 for 5.1 miles. Turn right on the 6 Hundred Rd for 4.9 miles to the Sawbill Trail; turn south/right for 5.5 miles to Hwy 61. It is 2.6 miles southwest to the start of this drive.
Carlton Peak
Carlton Peak

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.

north shore chipmunk  

map | see directions
From Hwy 61, Mile Marker 83.4 in Tofte, drive north on Sawbill Trail (Co. Rd. 2) about 2 miles to parking area on right. Click on the map to enlarge.
Britton Peak
Britton Peak

A steep half-mile grade leads to Britton’s Peak and views of Superior, adjacent hardwood forests and Carlton’s Peak to the west.

map | see directions
From Hwy 61, Mile Marker 83.4 in Tofte, drive north on Sawbill Trail (Co. Rd. 2) about 2 miles to parking area on right. Click on the map to enlarge.
The Grade
The Grade

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.

heartbreak ridge fall colors

see directions
From Hwy 61, Mile Marker 83.4 in Tofte, drive north on the Sawbill Trail (Co. Rd. 2) 17 miles to The Grade (FR 170), east 14.3 miles to Caribou Trail (Co. Rd. 4), return south on 17.3 miles to Hwy 61. Click on the map to enlarge.
Lutsen Mountains Tram

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!
fall colors lutsen mtns

map | see directions
From Hwy 61 Mile Marker 90.1 in Lutsen, drive north on the Ski Hill Rd to Lutsen Mountains.
Oberg Mountain

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.

oberg fall colors

map | see directions
From Hwy 61 Mile Marker 86.1, drive north on the Onion River Rd (FR 336) 2 miles to parking. Click on map to enlarge.
White Sky Rock

A steep quarter mile trek leads to the overlook of Caribou Lake and the surrounding maple forests.

white sky rock

map | see directions
From Hwy 61, drive north on the Caribou Trail (Co. Rd. 4) about 4 miles to the brown and yellow trailhead sign. Click on map to enlarge.

Grand Marais to Grand Portage

Pincushion Mountain Overlook
Pincushion Mountain Overlook

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.

maples

see directions
From Hwy 61 Mile Marker 109.2, turn north on 5th Ave W for 0.7 miles, turn west onto Gunflint Trail for 1.5 miles, turn east onto Pincushion Drive for 0.2 miles. Click on map to enlarge.
Maple Hill
Maple Hill

The picturesque Maple Hill Church sits center stage surrounded by maples – this is a great early season drive.

red maple at maple hill church near grand marais

see directions
From Hwy 61 Mile Marker 109.2, turn north on 5th Ave W for 0.7 miles, turn west onto Gunflint Trail for 3.1 miles, turn west onto Maple Hill Drive for 0.6 miles. Click on map to enlarge
Hovland Lookout Tower (Drive & Hike)
Hovland Lookout Tower (Drive & Hike)

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 second fall color season, all golds

see directions
From Hwy 61 Mile Marker 128.7 in Hovland, turn north onto Arrowhead Trail for 2.4 miles, then park and hike 1.5 miles west on the Superior Hiking Trail. Click on map to enlarge.

Gunflint Trail

Trout Lake Road and County Road 60 Loop
Trout Lake Road and County Road 60 Loop

The Trout Lake Road / Co Rd 60 loop is a lovely 32.5-mile drive, that is especially pretty, featuring beautiful sugar maples.

fall colors maples

see directions
From Hwy 61 in Grand Marais, drive north on 5th Ave W 0.7 miles, turn left onto Gunflint Trail for 10 miles,
turn right onto Trout Lake Road for 7.5 miles,
turn right onto Co Rd 14 for 2.5 miles,
take a slight right onto Co Rd 60 for 6.4 miles,
turn left onto Gunflint Trail for 4.7 miles, turn right onto 5th ave W for 0.7 miles
Click on map to enlarge.
Lima Mountain Lookout

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.

see directions
From Hwy 61 in Grand Marais, drive north on 5th Ave W 0.7 miles, turn left onto Gunflint Trail for 27.1 miles,
turn left onto Lima Grade for 9.1 miles,
OPTION -> return to the Gunflint Trail after 5.5 miles via USFS 152
turn left onto South Brule Rd for 6.0 miles
turn right onto Gunflint Trail for 16.2 miles, turn right onto 5th ave W for 0.7 miles
Click on map to enlarge.
Honeymoon Bluff
Honeymoon Bluff

A more difficult half mile climb up Honeymoon Bluff showcases the fall colors circling Hungry Jack Lake’s perimeter.

see directions
From Hwy 61 in Grand Marais, drive north on 5th Ave W 0.7 miles, turn left onto Gunflint Trail for 26.3 miles,
turn right onto Clearwater Road for 2.25 miles, parking lot is on left
Click on map to enlarge.