Fall is a glorious time to be outside in Minnesota and there is no better way to explore the stunning fall foliage than during a hike along Minnesota’s North Shore. Less than four hours away from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, it is easy to make a weekend trip to the North Shore where you will find countless trails at your fingertips to explore the pristine beauty and nature along the 310-miles long Super hiking Trail or through one of the many state parks.
Generally, the third week of September is the best time to go to the North Shore when the leaves are at their peak colors, however, the last weekend of September can also be just as spectacular. We just returned from a visit this past weekend and the colors were extraordinary with breathtaking vistas of reds, yellows, and orange coating the landscape. Further inland, towards the Boundary Water Canoe and Wilderness Area and the Eagle Mountain Trail, the leaves were just starting to turn so I can only imagine that over the upcoming week it will be at its peak.
The North Shore stretches 150 miles along the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior from Duluth to Canada, and is a place of unspoiled beauty and pristine nature. Home to a multitude of scenic waterfalls, rivers, state parks, and the 310-mile long Superior Hiking Trail, it is a hikers paradise and offers a treasure trove of opportunities to explore wild, relatively untouched nature. With so many trails and opportunities to hike, sometimes it can be daunting to determine which ones are the best especially when it comes to seeing the fall foliage. In general, you want to make sure you get up high for the views rather than hike along some of the river valleys. Here are the best hikes that provide the most stunning views of the fall colors from above:
1. Oberg Mountain
If you have only one hike to do when you are visiting the North Shore in the fall, the Oberg Trail is it. The Oberg Mountain is the granddaddy of all fall hikes and it is evident by how full the parking lot is. This 45-minute loop provides continual vistas and overlooks affording absolutely breathtaking views of the fall colors as well as a view of Lake Superior and the Oberg Lake far below. There are also some interesting signs along the way discussing the different species of trees that you see off in the distance.
Description: A lovely short hike through forest to the top with views of the surrounding hills and Lake Superior.
Location: A few miles northeast of Tofte.
Length of Hike: A short 45 minute round trip (2.6 mile loop). If you want to make a longer hike, do neighboring Leveaux Mountain (3.4 mile loop).
Highlights: Once on top, you get a stunning 360 view of the forest and Lake Superior shoreline. It is especially amazing to be there in the fall when all the leaves are turning shades of yellow, orange, and red. It is pure eye candy!
2. Leveaux Mountain
Located adjacent to the more popular trail up Oberg Mountain in Tofte, Minnesota, the Leveaux hike affords a more challenging jaunt up one of Minnesota’s sawtooth mountains, a small range of low mountains that extend 30 miles from Carlton Peak in Tofte, Minnesota, just short of the Canadian border, to Grand Marais.
The Leveaux trailhead starts at the end of the parking lot about 2 miles off of Highway 61 (mile marker 87.4) on Onion River Road near Tofte, Minnesota. The parking lot is used for both the Oberg and Leveaux Mountain trails. You can easily combine the Leveaux hike with Oberg Mountain. The best part of all doing this hike is there was very low traffic and we had most of the trail to ourselves.
Description: A little bit steeper of a hike through forests with a big loop and a smaller loop on top affording beautiful views of the colors and Lake Superior.
Length of hike: 3.3 miles roundtrip, climbing up through switchbacks and then leading to a gentle easy loop around Leveaux Mountain with lookouts along the way.
Highlights: Not as well traveled as neighboring Oberg and beautiful fall views almost all to yourself.
Location: 2 miles off of Highway 61 (mile marker 87.4) on Onion River Road near Tofte, Minnesota. The parking lot is used for both the Oberg and Leveaux Mountain trails.
3. Carlton Peak
On our final day in Lutsen, we did one of our old favorites, the hike to Carlton Peak.
Description: A walk through the boardwalks and the forest up to Carlton Peak. Part of the Superior Hiking Trail, you will see gorgeous views of Lake Superior and the Temperance River Valley.
Location: Near Tofte, you can find the trailhead at Britton Peak trailhead that us located off of MN-61 and Sawbill Trail. Park in the Britton Peak Parking lot and follow Superior Hiking Trail south to the Carlton Peak trailhead. You will cross a road briefly and then you will see a sign for the Carlton Peak Trailhead.
Length of hike: 3.4-miles roundtrip. For those who want a longer hike, you can do the Carlton Peak via the Superior Hiking Trail which is 7 miles. This hike starts at the Temperance River State Park.
Highlights: A beautiful hike through thick forest and up to yet another stunning view of the surrounding wilderness and Lake Superior. En route to the summit of Carlton Peak there is a spur trail that brings you up to yet another vista. It only is about a five minute walk off the trail to reach the viewpoint and is highly recommended. It also is where the longer trail leading to the Temperance River State Park branches off.
4. Eagle Mountain
While Eagle Mountain isn’t exactly along the north shore, it is within the vicinity and is by far the best hike in the entire state. The hike in itself is quite an adventure as you walk through incredible woodland terrain affording epic views of pristine lakes and unparalleled nature. If you are lucky, you may even see a moose along the drive to reach the start of the hike. If you are looking into creating lifelong family memories, than this hike is for you.
Description: Experience a taste of the Boundary Waters with this epic 6-mile roundtrip hike to Minnesota’s highest point.
Location: Northwest of Grand Marais, in the Superior National Forest bordering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Length of hike: 6 miles roundtrip through rugged, rocky path. Hike is difficult for young kids however I began doing this hike when I was a toddler (I did have to be carried a bit of the way). As long as you take plenty of breaks, young children can handle the hike. Plan on at least four to five hours with young children. We’ve made it in under three hours roundtrip with our kids age 11 and 13.
Highlights: If you want experience the raw untouched beauty of the Boundary Waters than this is the hike for you! It is a gorgeous hike and it is fun to stop along the way especially at the lake for a snack and some photos and enjoy a picnic lunch on top for the stunning views below. The leaves change a little later than they do at on the other more inland hikes. However, they are still beautiful.
If you go:
Here is a great map of Minnesota’s North Shore showing all the State Parks along Lake Superior.
Want more information on planning your trip? Check out the North Shore Visitor with tips on state parks, lodging, attractions and more. www.northshorevistor.com.
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