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Explore autumn offerings along North Shore

Fall tourism plays a large role in many small communities along Lake Superior's North Shore. Tourism experts from St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties highlight how visitors can capture the season with unique ways to experience maple and birch trees this autumn.

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Val Merz, of Grand Marais, from left, and Kathy Eckmann and Dave Eckmann, of St. Paul, pause to take in the fall colors while hiking at Oberg Mountain in the Superior National Forest near Lutsen in October 2019.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The peak time for maple trees to paint the North Shore with splashes of orange and red leaves has arrived. Hints of the shift in seasons began around Labor Day, with prime inland maple foliage expected through Oct. 10 on the high ridges of the Sawtooth Mountains.

A second wave of brilliance comes in October when the birch and poplar trees display bright pops of yellow along the beaches of Lake Superior into early November.

Travelers journeying north to experience the annual wonder of autumn along the North Shore can keep track of the foliage changes with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Fall Color Finder .

Tourism experts across St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties offer tips and insight for visitors seeking to make a sensational fall trip.

First stop: St. Louis County

Duluth

Often referred to as the "Gateway to the North," Duluth serves as a starting point to a trip along the 154-mile North Shore Scenic Byway.

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The Skyline Parkway Walk in Duluth is already showing hints of color.
Contributed / Alyssa Hei

"Duluth provides the perfect backdrop for a fall getaway, offering stunning fall colors, bird migrations and beautiful autumn days," said Tricia Hobbs , the city of Duluth's senior economic developer of tourism, arts and culture.

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A sunset view from Ely's Peak.
Contributed / Alyssa Hei

From its city parks, trails and scenic drives, to the top of Enger Tower , Spirit Mountain , the North Shore Scenic Railroad and cruises on Vista Fleet , there are plenty of great vantage points throughout Duluth to see the fall colors, as highlighted in a recent blog post on Visit Duluth's website, "Leaf Peeping in Duluth by Land, Water and Air."
"Tourism is strong throughout the fall months, with hotel occupancy numbers continuing their solid showings from the summer months," Hobbs said.

Duluth also hosts events throughout September and October that provide a reason to come and stay, Hobbs said.

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Chester Creek flows through a patch of yellow foliage.
Contributed / Christopher Paris

While exploring the city this fall, she recommends patronizing the many local businesses that provide unique maple and birch themed offerings:

  • Indigenous First Art and Gift Shop has a variety of maple syrups and birch accessories, artwork and more.
  • Riverside Soy Candles offers scents featuring birch bark aromas, including “Go Paddle a Canoe,” “Minnesota Girl” and “Take a Hike.”
  • Dream Cloud Coffee Roasters offers unique seasonal concoctions featuring maple syrup, such as the Maple Sarsaparilla Tea and Sweet Potato Pie Latte. 190 Coffee & Tea , Vanilla Bean , and Duluth Coffee Co. all offer maple lattes as well.
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    Maple lattes are in season at Duluth Coffee Company.
    Contributed / Visit Duluth
  • Maple Creemee soft-serve ice cream from Camp Creemee at Wild State Cider is made with Sawtooth Mountain Pure Maple Syrup.
  • Northern Exposure Art is hosting a “Funky Birch” painting class at Wild State Cider on Oct. 3, offering participants an opportunity to create take-home art.
  • Zenith Adventure offers guided hikes through Ely’s Peak, which showcases breathtaking views of birch forests.

Trailblazing in Lake County

Two Harbors

"We really look forward to fall tourism. It gives our businesses one last punch before winter. We are one of the most beautiful areas. Lake County has so much to offer," said Janelle Jones , executive director of Lovin' Lake County and CEO and president of Lake County Chamber of Commerce . "It is really a perfect location to come and enjoy the season."

The Lake Superior 20/20 Art and Studio Tour returns for its 11th year with more than 40 artists.

To kick off the fall season, there are two free art festivals the weekend of Sept. 23-25. The 11th annual Lake Superior 20/20 Studio Art Tour event features 14 studio stops in and around Two Harbors with over 40 artists. The 2022 Two Harbors Fall Art Fair hosted by Lovin' Lake County features approximately 30 fine artists, with live music and free art making workshops.

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Castle Danger Brewery's Maple Marzen beer.
Contributed / Castle Danger Brewery

Start your morning with a maple latte at Cedar Coffee in Two Harbors. Pick up some maple or birch syrup at Louise's Place . Then grab a Fall Leaf Tour Map at the Lester River or RJ Houle information centers in Two Harbors, or visit lovinlakecounty.com.

Finish the day with a rich and toasty Maple Marzen, the seasonal beer at Castle Danger Brewery . A portion of the total sales of Maple Marzen are donated to the Superior Hiking Trail Association , the nonprofit charged with managing, maintaining and promoting the over-300-mile trail.

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Jones noted that fall is also a popular time for mountain biking in the area. "The mountain bike world has exploded out here, especially with the new Split Rock Wilds trail. The fall leaves will be great there. The Donald D. Ferguson Demonstration Forest near Two Harbors is also a beautiful biking venue," she said.

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Joni Warzala, from the Twin Cities, rides a fat bike on the Hwy 61 Trail on Sept. 28, 2021, at the Split Rock Wilds mountain bike trail network near Beaver Bay. A fat bike is a mountain bike with tires wider than 3.8 inches.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Silver Bay

For a small community, Silver Bay is big on trails, whether it be for hiking, biking, snowmobiling or riding off-road vehicles.

Many of the trails that were closed during summer months due to storms and flooding in the area are now repaired and reopened, said Ed Maki , president of Bay Area Historical Society and Silver Bay Information Center.

The 6.5-mile Bean and Bear Lake Loop on the Superior Hiking Trail, just north of town, is a popular trek, especially during the fall season. Or try biking along the Gitchi-Gami State Trail 's longest section from Gooseberry Falls to Beaver Bay.

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The Superior Hiking Trail's Bean and Bear Lake Loop in Lake County.
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

Among the best places to view the fall colors near Silver Bay are along the shores, where birch are blasting bright yellows, or up Highway 1, county roads 2, 6 or 7 and Forest Highway 11 toward Isabella, according to Maki. Although scarred from the Greenwood Fire in 2021, the area is home to many leaf-bearing trees.

With nearby Split Rock Lighthouse , and Tettegouche, Gooseberry Falls and Temperance state parks bustling with visitors throughout the week, Maki said that fall tourism is going strong in Silver Bay area.

"It used to be that the tourism season started Memorial Day weekend and ended Labor Day weekend. Now we get a lot of seniors that travel in September. Our city campground is full through the week," Maki said.

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Before headed out on the trails, Maki suggests a stop in the Skipping Rocks or Cedar Chest gift shops in Beaver Bay to layer up with warm attire.

Beaver Bay

A new ATV guide service called Timber Ghost Tours opened over the summer in Beaver Bay, owned by lifetime resident Jason Barstow.

According to Chris Cuypers, shop manager of Timber Ghost Tours, a guided ATV ride reveals the hidden beauties of the woods, such as overlooks or river crossings otherwise unknown to those unfamiliar with the trail systems.

"Fall tourism is phenomenal, and has a large impact for businesses in the area. Everyone wants to come look at the leaves change on the North Shore. It's such a beautiful place. Where else can you go to see fall colors, the lake and rivers? It's remarkable," said Cuypers.

It offers two four-hour tours a day with views of the lakefront bluffs and rivers that cut through the Sawtooth Mountains . Each 42-mile guided ATV ride makes three stops along the way at shelters, restrooms and a picturesque bridge.

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Paige Burkstrand, 8, right, of New Hope, Minn., points out a rocky beach along the Lake Superior shoreline in Beaver Bay to her mom, Teri.
Bob King / 2017 file / Duluth News Tribune

Reservations can be made online and range from $250-$300. Also included with the booking is a $20 credit toward a local restaurant. Guests have the option to partake in the guided tour, or may rent an ATV to explore over 90 miles of area trails on their own.

Nature's art abound in Cook County

Arrive to Cook County to capture the colors while driving along the North Shore Scenic Drive along Minnesota Highway 61, or take the Gunflint Trail National Scenic Byway inland toward the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness . The Superior Hiking Trail or the gondola at Lutsen Mountains also have overlooks of Lake Superior and a sea of colors.

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The fall colors were near their peak at Oberg Mountain near Lutsen the morning of Sept. 30, 2017.
Samantha Erkkila / File / Duluth News Tribune

"Lots of trees are in full fall glory on that side. The tops of the maples are just starting to turn and are looking pretty vibrant this year. Fall colors start with maples, then birch, then ground foliage, then tamaracks. It's a nice, long season with lots to experience and see. You'll find some great fall color anytime, anyplace up here," said Kjersti Vick , marketing and public relations director for Visit Cook County , which covers Lutsen, Tofte, Schroeder, Grand Marais, Grand Portage and the Gunflint Trail.

"We definitely see a decrease in traffic to our destinations; however, there are many who love fall as much as we do and this is the time of year they choose to visit," Visit Cook County and the Cook County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Linda Jurek said. "Whether you watch the color changes through your windshield or put on your hiking shoes and take a stroll in the woods, you will find vibrancy of color."

Experience the trails to yourself by planning a midweek trip, which tends to be more quiet, Vick recommended.

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The view from the top of the gondola overlook on Moose Mountain at Lutsen Mountains.
Contributed / Visit Cook County MN

"Our economy is significantly dependent on tourism, and as the destination marketing organization for northeast Minnesota, we promote the quieter seasons as a great time to visit. In fact, we work hard to grow this quieter time of year. Many of our resorts take a break from mid-November until the snow flies; however, there is an attraction for many to this quieter time as well," Jurek said.

Check Visit Cook County's social media and website for frequent fall color updates.

Adam Wallenta pauses to watch fog roll over Lake Superior along the Superior Hiking Trail's lakewalk section — a 1.5-mile section of trail by the lake north of Grand Marais. (Jimmy Lovrien/ jlovrien@duluthnews.com)
Adam Wallenta pauses to watch fog roll over Lake Superior along the Superior Hiking Trail's lakewalk section, a 1.5-mile section of trail by the lake north of Grand Marais, in 2019.
Jimmy Lovrien / File / Duluth News Tribune

Grand Marais

Autumn in Cook County also draws visitors to attend annual events such as Art Along the Lake: Fall Studio Tour . This year's event will feature 27 artists from Grand Marais and surrounding areas. It is held Sept. 23 to Oct. 1.

"The event is a unique opportunity to explore artists' working studio spaces that are not typically open to the public," Vick said.

Lutsen

While "Up North," Vick encourages visitors to shop local. For those seeking seasonal souvenirs on their fall color journeys, she suggested tapping into Wild Country Maple Syrup 's pure supply in Lutsen. The sugar shack owned by Michael and Carrie Baker is located at 191 Barker Lake Road has a wide selection of maple offerings, from caramels to syrups in fancy glasses.

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Maple syrup producer Caribou Cream supplies the maple syrup that Sawtooth Mountain Cidery uses to sweeten its Herbie's Hard Cider.
Contributed / Visit Cook County MN

Caribou Cream gift shop is another must-stop for maple cravers, Vick said. It is located at 558 Caribou Trail in Lutsen, and offers maple syrup and sugar. In celebration of its Fall Maple Fest during Art Along the Lake, Caribou Cream will have its specialty maple-flavored cotton candy available, and will be featuring artist Janet Moore's watercolor paintings of maple and birch trees.

"Both local maple syrup producers offer tours, a very sought-after experience," Vick added.

Follow up with a trip to North Shore Winery and the Sawtooth Mountain Cider House for some hard apple cider, sweetened with maple syrup from Caribou Cream.

Brielle Bredsten is the business reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.

She earned a bachelor's degree in Professional Writing & Technical Communication, with minors in Advertising and Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University, in addition to a two-year professional paid internship as reporter/editor of the student newspaper.

She is an award-winning professional writer, photographer and editor based in rural Minnesota. Over the past decade, Brielle Bredsten has contributed more than 1,000 articles, feature stories, non-profit press-releases, photographs and columns. Her work has been published in several community newspapers.

Send her story tips, feedback or just say hi at bbredsten@duluthnews.com.
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