The North Shore Fall Adventure Guide

Minnesota’s Fall Colors Bucket List

north shore fall colors sawtooth mountains

Fall may be one of the best times for outdoor adventure on Minnesota’s North Shore. Explore via scenic road trips along the shore and into the wilderness or get moving and hike through gorgeous state parks or along the Superior Hiking Trail. Many locals enjoy hopping on their side-by-sides and riding through Lake County’s scenic trails.

However you choose to experience autumn in northeastern Minnesota, this guide will give you tips and adventure ideas to make your fall trip unforgettable.

When do Fall Colors Peak on the North Shore?

Interestingly, fall happens twice on the North Shore, producing some of the best fall colors in Minnesota, dare we say – in the country!

The first foliage peak of maple trees occurs along the Sawtooth Mountain highlands from mid-September through early October.

gooseberry falls in autumn

The second burst of aspen and birch trees happens from late September through mid-October along Lake Superior’s shoreline. For a scenic road trip, travel up HWY 61 or HWY 1 north toward Ely by car or motorcycle for amazing roadside views.

However, to get the best fall colors experience, we encourage you to hike, bike, or ride the picturesque trail systems in Lake County.

Get Moving: Explore Scenic Fall North Shore Hikes

There’s nothing better than letting it all go while hiking through the wilderness. Breathe in the clean, fresh air off Lake Superior, and you’ll instantly feel uplifted. Lake County has many scenery choices: deep, rugged wilderness, rocky Lake Superior shoreline, or river trails.

Bean & Bear Lakes Loop

bean and bear lakes in fall superior hiking trail

Inland, just a bit north of Silver Bay, the Bean and Bear Loop (also referred to as the Twin Lakes Loop) ranks as a local favorite fall hike. You can hit the Superior Hiking Trail at Penn Blvd. trailhead in Silver Bay and hike north about three and a half miles to arrive at lovely Bean and Bear lakes. The entire hike totals about 6.5 miles. Best time to visit: mid-September through mid-October.

Shorter Hikes with Stellar Views

shovel point in fall, tettegouche state park
Shovel Point, Tettegouche

The High Falls of the Baptism River on an autumn day at Tettegouche State Park, Minnesota.

Hike to Shovel Point at Tettegouche

Experience one of the most scenic hikes along the shore to Shovel Point in Tettegouche State Park. The hour-long hike captures many gorgeous views, starting just a few minutes down the trail with an overlook of the Baptism River mouth and glancing at Palisade Head.

But don’t stop there! Follow the spur trail to the end of the point, where you’ll be met with wooden stairs and a platform near the water’s edge offering panoramic views of Lake Superior. On a windy day, hikers may linger to watch Lake Superior’s wave power in action. Then, the trail will loop back to the main path towards the visitor center.

Split Rock River Loop

North Shore photographers love to capture Split Rock’s beauty in the fall when surrounded by colorful maple trees. Hit the trail from the Highway 61 parking area and hike upstream along the Split Rock River. You’ll cross a little footbridge and head back toward Lake Superior on the opposite river bank. Total hike distance: about five miles.

Easy Does It

For a more leisurely hike or bike ride with scenic lake views, hit the Sonju Trail in Two Harbors. The partially paved trail runs along the shore of Lake Superior for approximately one mile between Burlington and Agate Bays. You’ll experience gorgeous lake views, beautiful wooded areas, picnic spots, wildlife, and spur trails to smaller beaches.

Craving more?

Mountain Biking

mountain biking north shore mn split rock wilds

Mountain bikers enjoy the rich scenery throughout the Demonstration Forest, featuring Lake County’s first purpose-built North Shore mountain bike trails. Serious mountain bikers will find the new (almost completed) Split Rock Wilds trails, featuring mostly rocky terrain and leading to many Lake Superior overlooks along the path.

split rock wilds north shore mn

For those who prefer a casual ride, The Gitchi-Gami State Trail features a paved, non-motorized biking and walking trail along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

ATV Riding the North Shore

Photo Credit: Minnesota ATV Riders

Load up the ATVs or OHVs and head north for the weekend to endure the never-ending adrenaline of riding the North Shore ATV trails in Lake County. Silver Bay, Beaver Bay, Finland, and more inland areas are popular destinations for off-roaders offering miles upon miles of ATV trails.

Around the shore and back in the Superior National Forest of Lake County, the ATV/OHV trails won’t disappoint.  Hairpin turns, rocky terrain, and endless rivers will entertain riders of all experience levels. Explore more about ATV/OHV riding in Lake County and download a trail map.

Explore the Charming North Shore Towns

Russ Kendall's Smokehouse on Minnesota's North Shore.

Stop into locally-owned shops featuring Lake Superior-inspired artwork, food, and gifts. Grab a tasty snack of smoked whitefish or salmon at Russ Kendall’s in Knife River and Lou’s Fish House in Two Harbors.

Beer enthusiasts must sample the craft beers at Castle Danger Brewery, featuring more than 20 local brews on tap. They have a beautiful outdoor space to view fall colors and gather with friends. Indulge in a slice of homemade pie at Betty’s Pies (Two Harbors) or The Rustic Inn Cafe in Castle Danger (we recommend the Lemon Angel or Raspberry Cream!).

castle danger brewery fall picture

For a more upscale dining experience, try Ledge Rock Grille at Larsmont (try the Fried Wild Rice) or Black Woods Bar & Grill in Two Harbors, featuring comfort food. Their wild rice soup is served with fresh cornbread and honey butter.

Larsmont Cottages on Lake Superior

Lodging properties inland and along the shore offer more than a place to stay: enjoy lake-life relaxation or a plethora of family-filled activities, such as kayaking, hiking trails, and games, as well as great dining options.