The North Shore Mystery Overlook at Lutsen Mountain
Mike's Meanderings State Park Stories

(North) Shoring Up Our Love For Fall Colors

It started over two weeks ago. The overhead music in Burnsville Mall was NOT the theme song from the movie, “Jaws”, but it may as well have been. Dun-nun, dun-nun, dun-nun … each note sneaking up behind me. Forcing me to increase my pace. Looming somewhere just beyond my left shoulder. Halloween was only a couple of days past, but here was that aberration anyway. Haunting my psyche. Really, “White Christmas” fluttering from the speakers? What happened to Thanksgiving? How did we fast-forward through November? Am I supposed to wash those blazing hues of October from my mind already? I think not!

When it comes down to it, nothing is more appealing to me than the vibrant reds, oranges and golds of autumn foliage at its peak — especially when they are on Minnesota’s North Shore. Don’t get me wrong, put a fishing rod in my hand and a boat seat under my butt and it’s hard to beat the summer color pallet around me. Emerald grass and evergreens sandwiched between still-as-glass aquamarine water and royal blue skies are about as good as it gets. Especially if there’s a 3-lb. walleye tugging on my line.

Of course, I can also argue that a blanket of fresh, virgin white snow or a crystalline coating of hoar frost adds a magical touch to any landscape. Even when it comes a month prior to traditional calendar appearances.

I’m Falling for Fall
But give me the leaves. Backlit with sunbeams. Shadowed with clouds. Framed by a shoreline. Dotting a hillside. Oak, maple, birch and aspen masterpieces. I’ll walk, drive, canoe or do whatever I have to do to witness nature’s watercolor wonder.

View from the North Shore's Palisade Head
Some North Shore fog dampens the view of Lake Superior from Palisade Head before the onslaught of rain

Thus, we loaded up the Pathfinder. 150 miles due north, Minnesota’s beloved shore of Lake Superior was waiting in all its glory. Since we would pass within a couple of miles of 9 different state parks along our 3-day trek, there was no shortage of scenery to take in. And most of that scenery was filled with trees that were ready to shed their summer attire.

North Shore leaf with water droplets
The weather wasn’t quite as cooperative as we would have liked.

50 Shades of Gray Skies
Unfortunately, the first full day ushered in gale force winds, rain mixing with snow showers, some thick fog, and nary a ray of sunshine. Despite the gloomy sky, the changing leaves still caused some gawking and grinning that lifted our spirits along the way. The lookout at Palisade Head was riddled with pouring rain and view-killing fog, but we weren’t ready to cave in to the weather yet.

The skies brightened just enough that nearing the turnoff for Lutsen Mountain, we cautiously held hope that a gondola ride might just be feasible. But halfway up the mountain road our hopes were dashed. Fog lights on the SUV could barely cut through the dense air. Time to retreat to lower ground.

Hidden Falls on the Temperance River
The deluge of rain had the Temperance River roaring at Hidden Falls

Revel in the Water
On the drive back toward Temperance River State Park the rain returned. We sported our raincoats and hiked the trail anyway. The river was raging from so much rainwater that it was easy to spot hidden falls tucked back in the rocks, nearly out of view. The eastern side of Highway 61 also revealed some spectacular Temperance River views, lined with colorful foliage. After about an hour of braving the elements, we were cold and damp enough to set out in search of a nice, warm dinner in much drier shelter. With spirits discouraged, but not defeated, we vowed to give nature one more chance the next day.

Fall Colors on the Temperance River
Snaking through the raindrops, the Temperance River winds its way down a canyon of fall colors before plunging into Lake Superior
Highway 61's Silver Creek Bridge
Heading north on Highway 61 delivers you straight through Silver Creek Bridge

Second Time’s a Charm
That second chance paid off gloriously! The return trek northward had an entirely different feel than it had just 24 hours earlier. A new set of daylight hours ushered in brilliant sunshine that set the golds of the aspen leaves ablaze. The torch-like glow that leapt from the treetops seemed to extend multiple feet above the top branches. God’s art gallery was definitely open today!

This time our trip up Lutsen Mountain included a crystal-clear, non-fog-impeded view. The line for the gondola ride was almost non-existent and soon we were soaring to the summit of Moose Mountain. The glass walls of each gondola car offer a spectacular 360-degree view of Lake Superior, the Sawtooth Mountains, the Poplar River and the slopes and valleys below.

Gondola at Lutsen Mountain
The vibrant mix of fall colors was definitely worth the 2nd trip up to Lutsen Mountain!

We feel like we just won the lottery as bursts of colors dot the mountains, popping even more with the dark blue backdrop of the massive lake. Once atop the other gondola station, we exit for a spell to check out the Summit Chalet and the surrounding area. The sights off the Chalet deck are spellbinding. The views from Mystery Overlook, just off the Superior Hiking Trail, don’t disappoint either.

Rainbow from Lutsen Mountain Gondola
Looks like we found that pot of Gold (and Orange, & Red, & Green & Blue) at the end of the rainbow!

The Show’s Not Over Yet
Eventually a few stray sprinkles chase us back to reality and we hop the gondola back across the mountain. Not only are we treated to more fall colors on the return trip, but a pastel rainbow arches across our pathway as well. This upside-down polychromatic smile completes our beautiful day.

Although the gondola ride was probably the highlight of our color-gazing tour, we found many great spots to take in the autumn air. We bypassed Gooseberry Falls, cut our visit to Split Rock Lighthouse much shorter than usual and steered clear of Canal Park, instead substituting some new haunts.

Beaver Bay Falls fall color display
The raging water at Beaver Bay Falls played an encore for its spectacular fall color performance

New Places, Bright Spaces
Beaver Bay Falls was spectacular with gushing flow rates. George Crosby Manitou State Park was a bit off the beaten path, but the dirt road drive through a tunnel of golds, greens and oranges was well worth the detour. The Father Baraga Cross on the shore near Schroeder, MN was a quiet spot offering some privacy most North Shore locations can’t match. And of course, Enger Tower, sitting atop the hill in Duluth, delivered some of the best views anywhere.

Enger Tower in Duluth
High atop the hill in Duluth we were rewarded with a colorful show from Enger Tower

As we pull back into the driveway in front of the house the colors seem to fade a bit. Reality sets in that Mother Nature is almost done showing off for 2019. Soon dingy, exhaust-glazed snow will line the highways and driveways. But the vivid fall colors we just witnessed on Minnesota’s North Shore will paint a corner of my memory beautiful for at least another year.

Father Baraga Cross
The sunset at Father Baraga Cross in Schroeder, MN was devine!

Keep the Memory Alive!
The trees are done for the season, so now it’s your turn. Show us what YOU’VE got! We’d love to see YOUR favorite fall photos in the comments box below, or feel free to email us at [email protected]

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2 Comment

    1. Thanks Darla! We probably hit the last real colorful weekend up there. Most of the reds were past peak, but the golds were still glorious! I had never done the gondola trip before and it was well worth it. I highly recommend an Autumn ride!

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