Autumn Along the North Shore

Every fall the North Shore of Minnesota draws crowds of people who come up to hike and take in the grand views of all the foliage along the shore and among the Sawtooth Mountains that run through northern Minnesota. With much of the state nearing or at peak colors, especially the North Shore, it only felt appropriate to share some of our favorite places to check out the colors and pass on some tidbits of information on why the much anticipated yearly phenomenon of leaves changing color happens. 

The Nitty-Gritty of Fall Foliage

For those who are wondering why leaves change color in the fall, look no further. We don’t know all of the details but the basics are that foliage colors are heavily influenced by three factors, pigment in the leaves, length of the night, and weather.

Starting with pigments, there are 3 primary types that are involved in autumn colors and they are:

Carotenoids: What gives carrots their orange color and corn its yellow color, it is responsible for yellows, oranges, and browns.

Anthocyanin: Responsible for the color in foods like cranberries, blueberries, red apples, and strawberries, it produces reds and purples. 

Chlorophyll: The one almost all of us learned about in school, it is what gives leaves, and plants, their green color and is necessary for photosynthesis.

Chlorophyll and carotenoids are present in leaves during the growing season while anthocyanins are produced in the fall when there are excess sugars. As the days get shorter, less and less chlorophyll is produced until it eventually stops which reveals the carotenoids and anthocyanins which are present in the leaves. 

The length of the night is the instigator for the whole cycle as it is what starts the decline in chlorophyll production as well as tells the leaves that winter is coming due to the decreasing amount and intensity of sunlight. In turn, the leaves start to close off the veins that transport sugars and fluids to and from the leaves. Once they are fully closed, the leaves fall.

Lastly is the weather which is the largest influence on how vibrant the colors are and the actual amount of change in color. Temperature and moisture are the primary factors. The recipe for the best and brightest colors is typically when the days are warm and sunny with cool, crisp nights. The amount of moisture in the soil can have significant effects, a late summer drought will push back the start of fall colors by a few weeks, and a fall heat wave will decrease the colors' intensity. All in all, no two autumns will be the same. 

A Few Favorites for Viewing Fall Colors

One of the most well known viewpoints is in Lutsen, MN at Lutsen Mountains Resort. It is one of the tallest points in Minnesota and gives stunning views in all directions. You can choose to hike to the top or they offer gondola rides from the main lodge area to the top.

A close second is Oberg Mountain. Located near Tofte, MN the Oberg Mountain loop is a favorite of many for its beautiful views while being a hike that is an approachable 2.3 miles that typically takes between an hour to an hour and a half. 

A great hike anytime of the year but especially in the fall, Split Rock Lighthouse is quite popular and well known for good reason. It sits atop a cliff right alongside Lake Superior and has miles of hiking trails surrounding it. It could be considered a two-for-one as you can get fall colors as well as views of the lake all in one!

Lastly is Bean and Bear Lakes. A hike that continues to grow in popularity and that many have probably seen photos of, Bean and Bear is a challenging hike that is a part of the Superior Hiking Trail that takes you to a stunning overlook of 2 teardrop shaped lakes surrounded by beautiful colors. The hike is close to 7 miles so be prepared to set aside a few hours for it but the views along the way and of course at the end are totally worth it.

These suggestions merely scratch the surface of all of the beautiful hikes and viewing areas for the fall foliage along the North Shore but are some of our favorites that we would recommend for first-timers and seasoned autumn color hunters alike!

Get Outfitted

Devil's Kettle Daypack

Perfect size for a day hike without getting to bulky and offering the maximum amount of attachment points for versatile carrying options.

Summit Expedition Pack

A medium-sized daypack that is great for carrying a larger load for longer hikes, with 2 side pockets that are perfect for water bottles and a small zippered pocket on the front that is great for smaller items, the Summit Expedition is right at home on any fall color seeking expedition.

High Falls Short-Day Pack

A purpose built daypack, large enough for the essentials but slim enough that you almost won't notice it's there. With a few exterior attachment points, a small zip pocket and an interior sleeve that fits a water bladder, you'll be able to fit all you need for any day excursion.


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