Autumn in Minnesota

Exploring the North Shore of Lake Superior
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Hiking along the looping trail to the top of Mount Oberg, I said to my brother, “It's not fair. New England is always getting credit for the best fall color.” Walking among the maples, turned red and gold by the season, we were surrounded by color. “I don't see how it can be better than this.”

The air had a tangible crispness and the sky was a montage of dark clouds broken by sunlight when the winds off Lake Superior pushed through. Reaching the dome of rock that makes up the summit, we were treated to views of forests bursting with color. To the east, the blue waters of Lake Superior sparkled like lights in a mirror. No, not fair at all.

This loop, a segment of the Superior Hiking Trail, is set among an ancient mountain range called the Sawtooths. The Sawtooths are a series of spiny ridges occurring mainly in the area between East Beaver Bay and the Cascade River, back from the shores of Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota. They slope gradually southeast towards Lake Superior and then steeply towards the northwest. The ridges were named because of their resemblance to the teeth of a saw.

The North Shore of Lake Superior is a popular destination in summer for those fleeing the hot, muggy weather inland. It is even more popular in autumn and because of its northerly location, one of the first places in Minnesota where fall colors emerge. Here, the fiery scarlets and oranges of maples meet the soft golds and yellows of aspen and birch, studded with the deep red understory of flaming sumac.

The season is short but brilliant with two waves of color. The first occurs inland, away from the lake, usually between mid-September and early October and is a good time to hit the hiking trails or drive the back roads. The second burst of color follows Lake Superior's shoreline, usually peaking during the first two weeks of October. This is a great time to pitch a tent at one of the state parks. You'll dwell amidst the fall colors and have easy access to Minnesota's own"long trail" the Superior Hiking Trail.

The Superior Hiking Trail, or SHT, is a long-distance hiking trail that runs along the ridgelines above the shores of Lake Superior. It was modeled after the famed Appalachian Trail with the goal of linking the length of Minnesota's North Shore, from Duluth to the Canadian border. The trail is easily accessible from many points directly from State Highway 61, secondary roads, and feeder trails.

The SHT also connects seven different state parks along the North Shore, providing the opportunity to travel from park to park or venture out from a single area for any number of daytime explorations. It is beautiful throughout its length, but in the region of the Sawtooths, the SHT is a real gem, providing access to some of the finest views in the state.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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