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.

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.

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, Iam providing weekly [or more frequently] fall color reports with suggested routes for the best viewing.

2022 Fall Color Report

FRIDAY, September 23

Fall colors are really starting to pop on the tops of the maple ridges and bursts of color in well-situated trees. Things are changing quickly, maples are going to be changing first and will probably be starting to peak this weekend into next week.

Best color right now … 

Maple trees are bright and vibrant and will continue to change into next week. Look for maple ridge tops [in the sun] from about Tofte northeast.

What You Will See

Autumn is nudging in; some wild flowers – asters, pearly everlasting, tansy, goldenrod – are still in bloom. Ferns are going gold. Maples are popping, while aspen and birch are just starting to go yellow.

This Season’s Photos

Scroll to the bottom of the page for a slideshow of photos that will cover the 2022 season

recommended tours of the week

head to the state parks

Colors are still pretty widespread spotty. 

Hike  Britton Peak or White Sky Rock

Ride  the Gondola at Moose Mountains

Drive  Beaver Bay to Illgen, and Trout Lake/County Road 60 [maple canopy photo below]

>>> see all the Fall Color Tours
>>> see all the access spots to Lake Superior


mile 83.4

If you’re willing to hike up a hill, you’ll be rewarded with views of the maple and pine covered hills rolling down to Lake Superior, which stretches for miles to the south. Hike under maple and birch canopy before stepping out on a large basalt overlook.

The trailhead is the hub for many hiking options: east to LeVeaux Mountain, west across the Sawbill Trail to the top of Carlton Peak, adjacent mountain cross-country ski trails, and/or bring your bike for the single track trails.

Length: 0.5 miles
Difficulty: moderate due to steepness

mile 92.8

A 230-foot climb in under a quarter mile brings views of Caribou Lake, and the thick maple forests surrounding it. This little hikes leads to a spur trail of the Superior Hiking Trail [SHT]. Look for the SHT trail sign on the left side of the lot, and follow the trail, which leads right to the Caribou Trail; cross the road and follow the trail to the top. This east-facing overlook makes for a pretty sunrise spot, too!

From Hwy 61, turn north on the Caribou Trail/Co Rd 4 for 4 miles to the small parking area on the left; if you come to the boat launch, you’ve gone too far.


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


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

gunflint mile 11.0

The Trout Lake Road / County Rd 60 loop is a lovely drive, with beautiful sugar maple-lined sections of the road, often with their canopies meeting overhead. This is also a chance to get out into the woods from Grand Marais on an easy to navigate drive. You will head north on the Gunflint Trail, drive a loop and return on the Gunflint Trail, which, along with Hwy 61 are paved; all other roads are gravel.

From Hwy 61, drive north on Gunflint Trail for 11 miles; turn right on Trout Lake Road for 7.5 miles; turn right on County Rd 14 for 2.5 miles; take a slight right on County Rd 60 for 6.4 miles; turn left on Gunflint Trail for 4.7 miles, and, turn right on 5th Ave W for 0.7 miles.

Fall Colors White Sky Rock Hillside
White Sky Hillside

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

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