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North Shore Fall Color Tours™
 Minnesota North Shore Fall Colors

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Early to Mid Season
North Shore Fall Color Tours

w w w . n o r t h s h o r e f a l l c o l o r s . c o m

Early to mid season fall color routes on the North Shore of Lake Superior will leave you with incredible impressions!

North Shore Fall Colors
© 2017 Scott Benson
Why Do Leaves Change Color?

Leaves change color due to shifting rhythm of the day and night. The long warm days of summer eventually turn shorter and cooler, which triggers a chemical clock inside the deciduous tree to enter winter sleep or dormancy. Deciduous means "a tree with leaves instead of needles." 

During the summer months the color or "pigment" of leaves are mostly green from the chlorophyll which the tree is abundantly producing. But as fall approaches the tree enters dormancy and stops producing food and chlorophyll. As the amount of chlorophyll diminishes, a group of pigments called carotenoids start to show. Carotenoids are the yellow, brown and orange colors we see during fall.

Deciduous trees on the North Shore are mainly; sugar maple, aspen [aka poplars], paper birch, ash, silver maple, tamarack ( a deciduous coniferous tree ) and some black cherry and oaks. Trees with needles are called conifers, on the North Shore conifers are mainly; balsam fir, white spruce, white pine, red pine, jack pine, and white cedar. The tamarack appears to be a species of evergreen during the growing season, but, in fact, is deciduous, making a late-season color change to lemon yellow and dropping it's needle looking leaves as the snow begins to fly in November.

Autumn is the best time for being out-of-doors. The bugs have pretty much died off and the days are still warm, and the nights are cool, great for hiking, paddling, biking, birding, sailing or driving the North Shore of Lake Superior.

  Listed below are suggested fall color tours, detailed for hiking, paddling, biking, birding, driving or sailing!

North Shore Fall Color Tours™
Fall Colors

Lower North Shore Fall Color Routes

Fall Colors
North Shore Visitor Guide Top Pick - Ultimate Fall Colors - Hiking / Biking / Driving / Birding

The Skyline Parkway / Hawk Ridge Tour - Hiking / Biking / Driving / Birding <<Best for All Fall

A must visit to say you have truly explored Duluth. Skyline Parkway overlooks the city of Duluth, the Duluth Harbor and Lake Superior. Great views of fall colors and incredible bird migrations!

From I35 take exit 249 and drive east. Follow signs labeled "Skyline Parkway." Hawk Ridge is one area this routes passes through.

Direct route to Hawk Ridge: From Downtown Duluth, drive northeast on Superior Street to 43rd Ave. Go left from Superior Street onto 43rd Ave and drive to Glenwood Street. Turn left onto Glenwood Street. Drive on Glenwood to the top of the first hill to Skyline Drive. Turn right onto Skyline and go about 1 mile (about half a mile beyond the end of the pavement) to the Main Overlook.

As an alternate route from Interstate 35, you can drive north on I-35 to the 26th Ave / London Road exit. Go right on London Road, which is also Highway 61 here. Turn left onto 43rd Ave and follow the remaining directions from above.

Best all fall. Duluth Area: Lodging

North Shore Fall Color Tours™ are Sponsored by the following Lower North Shore lodging establishments.
Fall Colors Silver Bay to Birch Lake Dam/Ely Tour via Scenic Hwy 1 Driving / Wildlife / Birding / Fishing<<Best in September, Great throughout Spring and Summer
The Silver Bay stretch of approximately 55 miles, or a driving time of 1.5 hours, to the Birch Lake Dam on scenic Highway 1, which is a two lane paved highway, runs through some of the most beautiful terrain in the state, and is a twisty and undulating drive. It will surely delight your senses. Some new sections of the highway make the trip even more enjoyable. This meandering road follows most of the original path of the early loggers to northeastern Minnesota. Early autumn color can appear along the roadway as soon as late August, with the highway being a blaze of color in weeks two-four in September. The brilliant yellows of birch and aspen / poplar are highlighted by the gorgeous reds, oranges, and melon colors of the many maples. The last 8.5 miles from the Birch Lake Dam to Ely are equally beautiful in autumn.

Opportunity abounds to view the mighty Minnesota moose along the many marshy areas on either side of Highway 1, as well as deer and even beaver and eagles, especially from Isabella to Ely. Other highlights are a stop at the scenic Stony River wayside rest where the river bubbles up next to the highway and the South Kawishiwi (Half Way) Bridge which offers great photo opportunities viewing north toward the Boundary Waters and south toward picturesque Birch Lake.

Continue onto Ely for more of an adventure, and then loop back for your return drive on Highway 1 to Silver Bay, or drive to Two Harbors via Highway 1 and County Road 2, approximately 1 hour from the Birch Lake Dam. Then continue north on Highway 61 from Two Harbor to Silver Bay. Option: Two Harbors to Birch Lake Dam/Ely Tour. Also nearby is Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Light house State Park. Silver Bay: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking / Ely: Lodging  Shopping

Fall Colors The Section 13 Tour - Hiking <<Best for Early Fall
From Hwy 61 at Little Marais, drive north on Co. Rd. 6 for 2 miles to Superior Hiking Trail sign and parking. Hike through the forest before climbing the sugar maple ridges that are incredibly bright orange and red. Trail is 4 1/2 mile round trip. Best for early fall. Also nearby is Crosby Manitou State Park and Tettegouche State Park. Little Marais: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking

Upper North Shore Early Fall Color Routes

North Shore Fall Color Tours™ are Sponsored by the following Upper North Shore lodging establishments.
Lutsen Resort
Lutsen Resort

Lutsen, Minnesota

Solbakken Resort
Lutsen, Minnesota
Cascade Lodge Lutsen
Cascade Lodge

Lutsen, Minnesota
Next to Cascade River State Park
Sawtooth Outfitters Tofte
Sawtooth Outfitters

Tofte, Minnesota
Fall Colors

North Shore Visitor Guide Top Pick - Ultimate Fall Colors - Driving / Hiking / Biking

The Heartbreak Ridge Tour - Driving / Hiking/ Biking <<Best for Early Fall
From Hwy 61 about a half mile east of Schroeder, Minnesota head north on the Temperance River Rd (FR 343), then east/right turn on FR 166 and south/right turn on the Sawbill Trail (Co. Rd. 2) Heartbreak Ridge is just east of the junction FR 343 and 166. Make this North Shore fall color tour the first one your list. It is GREAT! The drive leads you down one of the prettiest sugar maple drives along Minnesota's North Shore. A roadside plaque explains how Heartbreak Ridge was named. Also nearby is Temperance River State Park. Best during the early fall season. Tofte: Lodging  Dining  Shopping Hiking or Lutsen: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking

Fall Colors The Railroad Grade (FR 170) Tour - Driving / Wildlife <<Great all Fall
Logically named "The Grade," this old forest railroad grade was once used to log white pine, back in the logging boom days. 15 miles of Forest road between Sawbill & Caribou Trails. From Hwy 61 in Tofte, Minnesota drive north on the Sawbill Trail (Co. Rd. 2) to FR 170, east on FR 170 to Caribou Trail (Co. Rd. 4), return south on Co. Rd. 4 to Hwy 61. This drive is awesome anytime of the year. Many big bull moose have seen sighted on this route, watch out for moose on the roadway as you travel. Also nearby is Temperance River State Park. Tofte: Lodging  Dining  Shopping Hiking or Lutsen: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking or Grand Marais: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking
Fall Colors
North Shore Visitor Guide Top Pick - Ultimate Fall Colors - Hiking

The Oberg Mountain Tour - Hiking <<Best for Early Fall  [ Oberg Mountain Images ]
From Hwy 61 about 5 miles north of Tofte, Minnesota drive north on FR 336 for 2 miles to parking. This North Shore maple hillside will blow your expectations. Hike includes overlooks, so don't forget your camera! Best during the early fall season. Also nearby is Temperance River State Park. Tofte: Lodging  Dining  Shopping Hiking or Lutsen: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking

Fall Colors The White Sky Rock Tour - Hiking <<Best for Early Fall
From Hwy 61, in Lutsen, Minnesota drive north on the Caribou Trail (Co. Rd. 4) in Lutsen, Minnesota, about 4 miles to the brown and yellow trailhead sign. Quarter mile steep trek leads to the overlook of Caribou Lake and the surrounding sugar maple forests. Best during the early fall. Also nearby is Temperance River State Park. Tofte: Lodging  Dining  Shopping Hiking or Lutsen: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking
North Shore Fall Color Tours™ are Sponsored by the following North Shore lodging establishments.
Fall Colors The Pincushion Mountain / Devil Track Loop Tour - Driving / Hiking / Birding <<Best for Early to Mid Fall
From Hwy 61 in Grand Marais, Minnesota head north on the Gunflint Trail (Co. Rd. 12/two lane paved road) for 2 miles to CR 53, go east/right on Co. Rd. 53 to parking. The Gunflint Trail climbs 1000 feet in the first few miles to a fabulous maple ridgeline. The Pincushion Mountain and Devil Track River Trails lead through these maples to the overlooks of the Big Lake, and the maple forests and falls of the Devil Track River. Great bird migration spot. Best for Early to Mid Fall. Grand Marais: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking or Gunflint Trail: Lodging  Dining  Hiking
Fall Colors The Maple Hill Tour - Driving <<Best for Early Fall
From Hwy 61 in Grand Marais, Minnesota drive north on the Gunflint Trail (Co. Rd. 12/two lane paved road) for 4 miles to Co. Rd. 54, just past Co. Rd. 8, take a left turn on the gravel. This is a very short route of less than 2 miles, but is one of the most picturesque scene during fall colors. You'll see the Maple Hill Church surrounded by maples. Best during the early fall.  Grand Marais: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking or Gunflint Trail: Lodging  Dining  Hiking
Fall Colors The Trout Lake Road / Country Roads 14 and 60 Tour - Driving / Hiking / Biking <<Best for Early Season Maples and Mid to Late Fall for Birch and Poplar.
From Hwy 61 in Grand Marais, Minnesota drive north on the Gunflint Trail (Co. Rd. 12/two lane paved road) for about 9 miles and turn right on the Trout Lake Road. The Trout Lake Road is a good gravel road which winds its way through the Superior National Forest. Drive with caution, there are sharp corners, watch for other traffic. There are numerous places to stop and get out of the vehicle. Including many public fishing docks, where you can get a great look at the opposing shorelines. 

Mink, Kimball, Scabbord, Trout Lake and the Kadunce Creek dot the landscape for the next 6 miles before the road ends at Country Road 14. We recommend turning right onto Country Road 14. After you pass over the Kadunce Creek the forest will primarily turn into sugar maples and balsam fir. Country Road 14 ends 5 miles down the hill at Highway 61 on the shore of Superior. On Highway 61 it's 6 miles back to Grand Marais, Minnesota.

Another option for this route is taking Country Road 60 back to the Gunflint Trail, then stopping at the Pincushion Overlook. So, instead of traveling all the way down the hill on Country Road 14, take a right turn onto Country Road 60 2½ miles after you turn onto Country Road 14 from the Trout lake Road. Country Road 60 is packed rather densely with sugar maples that form a bright orange and red canopy over the road. Drive 6 miles back to the Gunflint Trail. Take a left turn on the Gunflint and drive 2½ miles and turn left on County Road 53 to visit the Pincushion overlook above Grand Marais or try more routes up the Gunflint Trail. See also the other five Gunflint Trail Fall Color Tours below: Lima Mountain, Honeymoon Bluff, Gunflint High Cliffs, or the Maple Hill and the Pincushion Tours above.

Best during the mid to late fall.  Grand Marais: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking or Gunflint Trail: Lodging  Dining  Hiking

Fall Colors Day Trip to Rose Lake Tour - Canoeing <<Great Anytime of Year
Guided Day Canoe Trip to Rose Lake Perhaps one of the most beautiful fall canoe trips in the area is a paddle to the famous Rose Lake Stairway Portage and falls. Climb the Palisades along the Border Trail for a spectacular view of the lake and fall colors below and Canada's Arrow Lake Palisades to the north. Trip takes you through West Bearskin and Duncan Lake to the Rose Lake Portage.

Along the Rose Lake Portage you will encounter the falls and the famous one hundred twenty five stairs of the Stairway Portage. Relax along side the Lake's crystal clear water, climb the cavernous rock pile adjacent to stairway portage, visit mining test pit and hike to the palisades.  

Most importantly, do not forget your camera!

Many veteran BWCA travelers and guides have described Rose Lake, with its falls, stairway portage, spectacular palisade, and crystal clear water as one of the area's most beautiful lakes. Go to BWCA Canoe Outfitters for canoe rental.

Grand Marais: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking or Gunflint Trail: Lodging  Dining  Hiking

Fall Colors The Clearwater Highland Trail Tour - Mountain Biking <<Great for All Fall Color Season
Mountain Bike the Clearwater Highland Trail Pedal up the Clearwater Highlands Trail passing several overlooks with spectacular views of the Fall forest below. A short side trips take you to the Beauty Lake palisades and another great view of the surrounding forest below. From the highlands trail you pedal past Hungry Jack Lake then return via the Clearwater Road. Portions of this nine-mile loop are fairly roughed. Adding additional trail section along the Clearwater Road can lengthen the bike trail.

Grand Marais: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking or Gunflint Trail: Lodging  Dining  Hiking

Fall Colors The Arrowhead Trail / Hovland Lookout Tower Tour  - Hiking / Driving / Wildlife <<Best for Early to Mid Fall
From Hwy 61 in Hovland, Minnesota go north on the Arrowhead Trail (Co. Rd. 16) 2 1/2 miles, then turn left on the Tower Road for 1 1/2 miles. The last 1/2 mile is non motorized to the tower. Sadly the fire tower was pulled down in August 2017 and is no longer available to climb. This lookout ridge has good views of fall colors and the Big Lake anytime of year. Also the Arrowhead Trail is one of the best places for wildlife viewing, from Hwy 61 in Hovland, Minnesota the Arrowhead Trail travels 16 miles to its end at McFarland Lake. Chances are good you'll see: moose, wolves, black bear, red fox, and deer!  After visiting the Lookout Tower you could continue north on the Arrowhead Trail Drive with caution, use your headlights if the road is dusty. Best for Early to mid fall. Grand Marais: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking or Grand Portage: Lodging  Hiking
Fall Colors
North Shore Visitor Guide Top Pick - Ultimate Fall Colors - Hiking/Birding/Panoramic Views

The Mount Josephine Tour - Hiking / Birding <<Great all Fall
From Hwy 61 in Grand Marais, Minnesota drive northeast towards Canada about a half an hour. Turn left on Co. Rd. 17 to a parking area. Spectacular views of the Big Lake and the islands from Mount Jo's summits, great lookout area regardless of time of year. Good place to watch migrating birds such as bald eagles, falcons, turkey vultures and hawks. Great all Fall. Also nearby is Grand Portage State Park. Grand Marais: Lodging  Dining  Shopping  Hiking or Grand Portage: Lodging  Hiking

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Updated October 20, 2017

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