Featured Photo by Explore Minnesota / Micah Kvidt

Fall in Northern Minnesota! Scenic Fall Color Drives and Overlooks on the North Shore!

Chasing fall colors on Minnesota’s North Shore is one fall road trip everyone should experience once in their lifetime to see the beauty of the area on display as the leaves change to vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds. With all of the state parks, hiking and biking trails, and scenic byways in this region, finding scenic drives and overlooks for the best views of the trees is a simple task when you know where and when to look, and some people make the trip annually just to view this spectacular natural occurrence each year. Read on for a few recommendations on where to start your fall color chase on the North Shore, including when and where to visit.

family exploring MN waterfall

Driving up the North Shore Scenic Byway is perhaps the best way to see the most North Shore fall colors along with scenic views of Lake Superior and the shoreline. The byway runs 150-miles north from Duluth to the Canadian border along Lake Superior. When the leaves begin to change, the drive is overrun with breathtaking views of the fall colors lining up and down both sides of the road. It also provides you with opportunities to stop along the way to explore overlooks and fall hikes for even more views, as eight impressive Minnesota State Parks hug the shoreline between Duluth and Grand Portage. Due to the cool air from Lake Superior, the fall colors on the shoreline peak two weeks before the inland colors, so to see the most vibrant show of colors you’ll want to visit late September through mid-October.

Minnehaha Falls

If you’d rather take in the sights from your bicycle, the Gitchi-Gami State Trail features several segments along the North Shore for road bicyclists that are paved and provide stunning views of the fall colors. For some of the best fall colors, the stretch between Gooseberry Falls State Park to Silver Bay is seventeen miles long and one of the most popular places along the North Shore for fall road cycling. You can stop in for a loop at Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park to view some extra scenery like waterfalls, dense forest, overlooks, and the Split Rock Lighthouse which are accentuated by the beautiful fall leaves. To visit during peak fall colors, you should plan to come and ride between late September and early October.

Pipestone Falls

A large Midwest ski resort during the winter, Lutsen Mountains Ski & Summer Resort offers the Summit Express Gondola during the fall for those who want a birds-eye view of the stunning fall colors. The gondola takes you on a scenic ride up to the summit of Moose Mountain passing brilliant red, yellow, and orange treetops, before dropping you off at the top where you can see the fall colors for miles. The Summit Chalet offers an expansive deck overlooking Lake Superior and here you can enjoy a meal or a snack and relax while taking in the views. Afterward, you can explore the hiking trails and take in the Minnesota outdoors and fall weather.

Niagara Cave

Another unique way to take in the North Shore fall colors is by train. The North Shore Scenic Railroad in Duluth, MN features the Two Harbors Turn train ride each fall, a full day excursion up the North Shore with beautiful views of the fall colors. The scenic ride is six hours in total, but the excursion will take the entire day as you’ll stop for a layover in Two Harbors for lunch, touring, and shopping. The North Shore Scenic Railroad operates on weekends, but the fall colors tour on the Two Harbors Turn ride runs September 17 through October 17 on Thursdays through Sundays to line up with the fall color peak along the shoreline.

Niagara Cave

If you’re interested in seeing the fall colors from the many scenic overlooks along the shoreline, then hiking the Superior Hiking Trail will be your best bet for discovering and exploring the best overlooks. The Superior Hiking Trail is a 310-mile trail running from Jay Crooke State Park to Grand Portage, Minnesota on the Canadian border. There is a shuttle service and backcountry campsites for those interested in doing day hikes or longer, and free guided fall color hikes in late September and early October. It is important to note that the fall colors draw many visitors to the North Shore each year, and lodging and other services can fill up very quickly come fall, so it is a good idea to make advanced reservations or call before heading out. And, remember to subscribe to the seasonal Fall Color newsletters for all weekly color updates.

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