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hillsides of peak fall colors north shore

peak fall colors north shore mn

fall color report

Autumn on the North Shore comes early, stays late and leaves lasting impressions. Colors start with a leaf, a streak of red, or an occasional tree, isolated and orange. This is the season of the maple in the valleys behind the headlands rising out of Lake Superior. From ridgelines, colors wash down the hillsides, surrounding deep green-black stands of pine.

cocoa and stockinged feet in front of fire at lutsen resort on lake superior with 4th night free offer

Maple hillsides are found from around Beaver Bay northeast to the US-Canada border and inland a few miles from Highway 61.

As temps cool closer to the big lake, the second color season takes place. Poplars, birch and tamarack turn yellow and the entire Highway 61 corridor is lovely. Rainfall and temps affect both when the colors occur and how long they last, so it is variable each year.

When are peak fall colors on the north shore?

Typically maples begin to turn around Labor Day and are at peak from about September 21 through October 10. Depending on weather – especially wind – the maples last another few weeks. 

We seem to be running about a week behind this year, but the colors are coming on strong!

In early October, the birch and poplar closer to Lake Superior start to run yellow and the second season starts. The yellow season runs into the start of November.

Starting Labor Day, We are providing weekly [or more frequently] fall color reports with suggested routes for the best viewing.

2022 Fall Color Report

Final Report, Tuesday, October 25

The North Shore fall color season is pretty much over. You will still find a bot of color from Duluth to Two Harbors close to Lake Superior. Trees along the rest of the shore have dropped their leaves. 

See the gallery below for a collection of photos from the past 7 weeks.

Best color right now … 

Golden bronze grasses lining the roadsides and the last of the golden tamarack trees.

What You Will See

Leafless forests with underbrush still hanging on.

This Season’s Photos

Scroll to the bottom of the page for a slideshow of photos that will cover the 2022 season
hotel room with fireplace in Grand Marais on Lake Superior

recommended tours of the week

Driving along Highway 61 and the late season fall color intineraries offer the best places to see color for the next few weeks.

mile 58.9

One of my favorite medium hikes! The Tettegouche Lake loop is part of a trail system accessed on the back side of Tettegouche State Park. It begins with an old road bed climbing 285-feet over three-quarters of a mile, includes four overlooks and a dip down to the historic Tettegouche Camp [where cabins are available for rent]. I like to go counter clockwise from the junction and see the overlooks, then take a little break at the Camp where I decide if I am going to add on more loops or head back. In the autumn, consider the ‘circling the lakes’ as the valleys are filled with colorful maples!

Length: 3.5 miles
Difficulty: moderate to difficult due to hills

Driving directions can be funky: from Highway 61, drive north on MN 1 for 4.3 miles, turn left on Lax Lake Rd for 3.1 miles, parking will be on left.

mile 90.5

Waterfalls, woods, wide-open vistas and an optional tram ride make this hike rather spectacular. For the downhill version, ride the tram over the Poplar River and up the east face of Moose Mountain. At the top, head to the chalet for 180-degree views of Lake Superior, the shoreline, and maybe on a clear, low-humidity day, the south shore of the lake.

Hill top trails [about a mile total] allow more perspectives on the lake views, and a stunning overlook gives 180-degrees northern views of maple hillsides, especially stunning in the autumn. From the top of the hill, take the Superior Hiking Trail down the ridge to the top of Mystery Mountain for another overlook, then into the woods to the falls of the Poplar River. After crossing the river, when you hit the gravel road, take it to the south to the main parking area at Papa Charlie’s at Lutsen Mountains. You can, of course, start here, hike up and hike/ride the gondola back.

You must purchase your tram ticket at the office / tickets are not sold at the Moose Mountain summit.

Length: 1.0+ if you take the gondola over; up to 12.2 mile to hike the entire loop
Difficulty: easy to difficult

complete list of fall color drives and hikes

mile 51.0

This route explores the backcountry including northern hardwood forests of oak, maple, and basswood, and boreal forests of pine, spruce, cedar, aspen and birch. You will ascend to the top of the hills, then drop down for a woodland drive. Watch for deer – and maybe a rare moose – on this winding, low-traffic road. I suggest starting in Beaver Bay and working counterclockwise so you can enjoy the views descending MN Highway 1 towards Lake Superior and Highway 61.

This drive is lovely anytime during the season, showcasing ridge line maples early and poplar and birch later.

Option:  at MN Hwy 1, turn left and go to Finland for a visit and lunch; return on MN Hwy 1, or on Co Rd 6, where the final few miles of descent are also impressive. All roads are paved. Click on the map for a larger

Keep the sun at your back for the best viewing, (look west  in the morning and east all afternoon). Don’t worry if it is overcast, sometimes the colors look best when they contrast against a grey day. Download a North Shore map. After fall color touring, see something new

skaters on ice rink in front of gunflint lodge
gold grass in late autumn with a pond
Golden Grass Edges a Slough
two harbors country inn suite with jacuzzi and kayaker on lake superior
sparkling wintry lake superior and ice sheets stacked on north shore

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