what are fall colors like on the north shore
what are fall colors like on the north shore

Fall Color Report for the North Shore

The maple trees on the tops of the ridges and the hillsides sloping north and south turn color first. You will these colors 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. Starting Labor Day, I will provide weekly fall color reports with suggested tours each Thursday.

North Shore FallColor Graph

2020 fall color report
september 16th

It’s been a drought-downpour-drought-downpour year, so I think the trees will be stressed which makes predictions a best guess. My guess is peak maples will be September 23-30, followed by peak poplars October 7-14. Of course you can expect color before and after with peak color occurring further up the shore and moving southwest.

There is some color everywhere along the North Shore. On the Highway 61 corridor, from outside Duluth northeast you will see yellow, bronze and gold underbrush with a few poplar trees turning. Orange and red maples start popping around Split Rock Lighthouse, so heading inland to Finland is lovely. Tofte – Lutsen and inland from Grand. Marais/Gunflint Trail about 50% of the maples have turned and it is wonderful. The lakeshore is showing more gold this far north and this continues toward Grand Portage.

You will still see some black-eyed susans and fall asters in bloom. The understory [small brush and trees is quite colorful, too, showing orange, gold and even a bit of burgundy.

Next Update: 23 September 2020

See the Best North Shore Fall Color Tours

See a slideshow of fall colors that correspond to the report at the bottom of the page.

video of the week

Aerial views of Moose Mountain, west of Grand Marais. Gorgeous colors plus a few bends of the Cascade River and Lake Superior in the distance.

recommended tours of the week

With maples at 50% and moving toward peak, all my recommendations are inland along the ridge from Split Rock River to Lutsen. You will see building color as you approach these areas. See the driving and hiking suggestions below.

Find a map here

Note all mileage begins at the Aerial Lift Bridge; mileage for tours along the Gunflint Trail begin in Grand Marais at mile marker 110.1.

Tip – keep the sun at your back for the best viewing, so look westward in the morning and to the east all afternoon.


mile 80.4

maples turning orange along heartbreak ridge drive north shore

Heartbreak Ridge

Make this fall color tour drive 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. The final descent into Tofte offers a glimpse of the Tofte cemetery and views of Lake Superior. The Sawbill and Hwy 61 are paved; the other roads are gravel. 18 miles total

mile 86.1

maple hillsides oberg loop trail fall colors

Oberg Mountain Loop

Oberg is the trail to hike during autumn’s early season of maple colors. Enter the maple woods and hike under the canopy of birch and maple before you begin the 2-mile loop that includes seven overlooks. This trail begins with a spur, which connects to a loop that circumnavigates Oberg Mountain. Overlooks include views of adjacent LeVeaux Mountain, Lake Superior, the maple hillsides, and Oberg Lake. It is stunning and worth repeating every year.

Hike is 2.25 miles with some steep climbs. Plan on a busy trail filled with happy hikers – the views will do that.

From Hwy 61, drive north on the Onion River Rd (FR 336) 2 miles to parking.

mile 90.5

miles of colorful maple hillsides at lutsen mountains mn

Moose Mountain Tram

Wide open views of stunning – makes you stop talking/stop looking at your phone stunning – maple hillsides drenched in reds, oranges and a smattering of yellow. Plus you get to take a tram ride. An easy hike affords even more breathtaking views.

Ride the smooth, quiet tram down into the Poplar River Valley, over the river and up the east face of Moose Mountain, with Lake Superior views framed by the river valley. 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. Hilltop trails [about a mile total] allow more perspectives on the lake views, and a stunning overlook gives 180-degrees northern views of maple hillsides.

You must purchase your tram ticket at the Lutsen Mountains office.

mile 11.0

Maple stand after the rain

Trout Lake Road [Gunflint Trail]

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.

check out these north shore favorites