CPL-fall color

Best North Shore Fall Color Tours

Here are my recommendations for the best fall color tours on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior. Remember any weather works for viewing fall colors. On grey, misty days, the colors vibrate while the contrast of bright blue on a sunny day can be glorious. To keep the sun at your back, start in the east and head west in the morning, then the opposite in the afternoon.

  • Is your car the way to go? Choose DRIVES (and Take Your Breath Away).
  • Looking for exercise and fresh air? Choose HIKES.
  • Want some soul-stirring beauty? Choose TAKE YOUR BREATH AWAY.
  • Prefer your time in the woods alone? Choose ALL BY MYSELF.

When to have all this fun?

Read the seasonal fall color report here!

Wolf Rock & Crow Creek

Short steep and so worth it, this trail ascends out of the parking lot. After a series of switchbacks, the trail parallels the ridge and rewards you with a Lake Superior view. Continue on to Wolf Rock for amazing wide-open vistas of the lake. The trail continues along the highlands over the Crow Creek Valley including an overlook and spur trail to the river. This trail is part of the Superior Hiking Trail, so you can continue on to Gooseberry Falls State Park, or return on the same trail.

Trailhead: From Hwy 61 just past mile marker 36, go west on West Castle Danger Rd 2.3 miles, trailhead is on right side of parking lot

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Beaver Bay to Illgen City – 25 mile loop

This route explores the backcountry including northern hardwood forests of oak, maple and basswood and boreal forests of pine, spruce, cedar, aspen and birch. Watch for deer and moose on this narrow winding road. As an option, head north and follow MN Hwy 1 to Finland for lunch, then return to Hwy 61 on Co Rd where the final few miles of descent is rather impressive. All roads are paved.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

Heartbreak Ridge – 18 miles

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.

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.

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Britton Peak

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. The trail is about 1/4-mile to the top and you hike under maple and birch canopy before stepping out on a large basalt overlook. This hike is so short, it is worth it whether the colors are at peak or not. It is the hub for a variety of options, too – hike east to LeVeaux Mountain, return and cross the Sawbill Trail and hike to the top of Carlton Peak, or explore the adjacent mountain cross-country ski trails.

From mile marker 83.4 in Tofte, drive north 2.3 miles to the parking area on the east/right.

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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 and 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. 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 mile marker 90.1 on Hwy 61, turn north and drive 1.8 miles to the parking area. You must purchase your tram ticket at the Lutsen Mountains office.

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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 mile marker 86.1 on Hwy 61, drive north on the Onion River Rd (FR 336) 2 miles to parking.

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White Sky Rock

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 mile marker 94.0 on 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.

Maple Hill – 9.6 miles

Picturesque Maple Hill Church sits center stage surrounded by maples. This short drive is just outside Grand Marais, and easy add-on to your day, or perfect first stop on your way up the Gunflint Trail. Allow a few contemplative moments to enjoy the serene surrounding.


From mile marker 109.2 on Hwy 61, 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. Return the same way.

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Trout Lake Rd – 32.5 miles

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 mile marker 109.2 on Hwy 61, drive north on 5th Ave W 0.7 miles, turn left on Gunflint Trail for 10 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.

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Honeymoon Bluff

Beautiful sunsets, big views, wooden stairs and a rocky overlook make this a great hike. Golden birch interspersed with deep green pine make it a great later fall season hike. Take the spur trail in and then start to climb those stairs. Your reward, amazing views of Hungry Jack and Bearskin Lakes, and out into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. If you go for the sunsets, bring a headlamp, flashlight, phone light for the return trip; 1.5 miles round trip.

From mile marker 109.2 on Hwy 61, turn north on 5th Ave W. for 0.7 miles; turn left on the Gunflint Trail for 26.3 miles; east / right on the Clearwater Rd for 2.2 to parking area. The Trailhead is about .25 miles past Flour Lake Campground Rd

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Hovland Lookout Tower

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.

From mile marker 128.7 on Hwy 61 in Hovland, turn north on Arrowhead Trail for 3.7 miles, then park on the side of the road [leaving room for other traffic] and hike 1.5 miles west on the Superior Hiking Trail. Return for a 3-mile overall hike. Note there is a Superior Hiking Trail Parking area 3.3 miles north on Arrowhead Trail; if parking is unavailable roadside, you will need to park and depart from there, increasing the hike length to about 4 miles.

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