Nothing is better than experiencing peak fall colors on the North Shore of Minnesota. Minnesota’s North Shore refers to the shoreline of Lake Superior that runs from Duluth, Minnesota to Grand Portage near the Canadian border. The North Shore is a special place and starts only two hours north of Minneapolis-St Paul airport. From Duluth, follow Highway 61 northeast for two more hours and you’ll encounter these great hikes along the way. The drive is part of the experience and you won’t be able to miss the North Shore’s vast changing leaf colors along the way. In addition, these are some of the best hikes in Minnesota for viewing the changing fall leaf colors. So get ready and let’s go!

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When to visit for the best fall colors

The window for peak fall color on the North Shore in MN varies anywhere from mid-September to early October. However, the fall colors continue to be great through mid to late October even if it’s after peak. This is because the various areas of the north shore reach peak at different times. There are three main scenic drives in the area for viewing fall leaf color and they all change colors at different times. Rainfall and temperatures affect both when the colors change and how long they last, so it’s a surprise each year. The most current 2023 North Shore fall leaf color map is out from the DNR so check here before visiting. If you change the ‘region’ to Northeast you will see many of the areas covered with these North Shore hikes. This page also provides frequent updates during the fall leaf viewing season.

6 best hikes to see fall colors on the North Shore MN

1. Oberg Mountain

Tofte, MN
Oberg Mountain loop is considered to be Minnesota’s best fall color hike but is great year-round. What makes this trail so spectacular are the frequent overlooks, all with amazing views of Lake Superior, the Sawtooth Mountains, and Oberg Lake. This is a 2.3-mile loop trail that is rated as moderate and gains 508 feet in elevation. It begins with moderately climbing switchbacks leading to an easy loop at the top. The spectacular leaf color views are your reward along the way. Because this is a popular fall color hike it can be more crowded in the fall.

Oberg Mountain North Shore MN Fall Colors
Oberg Mountain Trail Tofte, MN

2. White Sky Trail

Lutsen, Minnesota
This is a 0.6 mile out and back trail, rated as moderate for some steep climbing required but it leads to great views. It features a log ladder in a great forest setting for amazing fall leaf viewing at the top. If going in the spring or winter hiking poles and shoe traction can be helpful as the steep climbs can be slippery.

Kids on white sky trail in Lutsen MN

3. George Crosby Manitou State Park

Finland, MN
This park is a bit farther than the others from Hwy 61 (20min, includes unpaved, dirt roads) but is well worth it. Some fun boardwalks and waterfalls cascade through a canyon surrounded by forest. The Benson Lake Boardwalk trail (1.3 miles, easy) goes around Benson Lake and provides great views. You can connect to the Yellow Birch Trail, Cedar Ridge Trail, and Manitou River Loop which is an 8.5-mile loop, rated as moderate. It runs along the Manitou River and provides beautiful leaf viewing in the fall.

4. Tettegouche State Park

Silver Bay, MN
This park features four waterfalls along the Baptism River.  The hike to Shovel Point is an easy 1.2 mile out and back with boardwalks, bridges over ravines, and steps up a steep incline leading to a great view. This has amazing overlooks to take in the fall leaf colors.

There are two ways to get to High Falls. The quick way is to drive into Tettegouche State Park, after the visitor center head to the trailhead parking area (state park pass required). From here you can reach both High Falls and Two Step Falls. It’s an easy walk through a pine forest about .6 mile. Take the steps down to the swing bridge that crosses the Baptism River and then it’s only a few more steps to the cliff above High Falls. From this vantage point, you’re above the falls looking down at the rushing water with a backdrop of the canyon walls. The long way is to park at the visitor center and take the trail across Highway 61. Hike about 1.5 miles one way to High Falls. Coming this way, you will reach the base of the falls first, before hiking up the hill to the top of the falls.

Tettegouche State Park fall color
Tettegouche State Park Overlook

5. Bean and Bear Lake

Silver Bay, MN
This is a ~7-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of 997 feet. This is the most challenging hike on the list with steep, rocky ups and downs, and rated on the harder end of moderate. Good hiking shoes/boots are best for this one and bring more water than you think you will need. Go to the end of the out-and-back trail and you’ll come to a fork, going down will take you to Bear Lake for swimming in the summer or the up brings you to the lookout point for great North Shore fall colors. This trail is a popular one and can get busy so go early.

6. Moose Mountain Gondola and Hike

Lutsen, MN
This one is a bonus and a bit of a cheat as you get a ride up but the aerial gondola ride provides a great way to take in the best North Shore fall leaf color and provides some hiking opportunities at the top. Take in the fantastic views of the Sawtooth Mountains and Lake Superior’s dramatic coastline on the way up.

An aerial gondola ride over the Poplar River and up Moose Mountain is one of the North Shore’s most popular things to do. Stop at the Summit Chalet at Lutsen Mountain at the top to enjoy the views or get some lunch. There is also a great hiking trail at the top that provides stunning views of fall colors. Turn right off the gondola into the woods by Mystery Mountain Overlook. If you want to hike back down (~4mil) you can follow the Spur trail to the Superior Hiking Trail. Check the times the gondola runs and rates here.

Also while you’re at Lutsen Mountain, you’ll find the alpine slide. We did both of these in one stop as they’re very close. There is a chairlift ride to the top of Lutsen’s Eagle Mountain where you get your sled and then head down the half-mile of twisting, turning, and great views. You get to control the speed and it’s almost certain you’ll want a second run down the mountain. Check here for more information.

Fall Leaf Color View from Lutsen Gondola
Views from the Lutsen Gondola

Where to Stay on the North Shore

We love staying in vacation rentals from VRBO or AirB&B on the North Shore as there are so many unique properties. Vacation rentals can also provide more space for larger families as well as a kitchen to save on the cost of meals. To be centrally located, look for lodging in Lutsen, Grand Marais, Tofte, or Schroeder. There are other resorts in the area as well.

The fall season on the North Shore Fall is a very popular time to go. Try to plan a trip within the typical peak color time window mid-September through early-October for the highest likelihood of seeing the fall leaf colors during their peak.

Some of our favorite places to stay on the North Shore

Check out the Larsmont Cottages in Two Harbors and right on Lake Superior. These are newer and can accommodate groups but it is about an hour’s drive to Lutsen.

The Lutsen Sea Villas are another great option in Tofte very close to all the best hiking in the area. The units are often 1-2 bedrooms right on Lake Superior with access to a fire pit and an indoor pool/hot tub.

If you’re looking for a unique stay, check out this container home in Lutsen that is also pet-friendly. This beautiful, historic cabin in between Lutsen and Grand Marais is right on a private cove on Lake Superior.

The experience of staying right on Lake Superior should not be missed. The calm of hearing the waves crashing, sitting by a campfire overlooking the big lake, and climbing on the ledge rock is an experience that makes a trip to the North Shore. In most cases, it’s best to book lodging 3-4 months in advance to have the best selection, but it is possible to find last-minute North Shore accommodations.

What to pack for the North Shore

The weather can vary greatly during the fall. The average highs for September/October months can range from 70-57 degrees and lows near 48-36 degrees Fahrenheit. We’ve been in everything from down winter jackets and snow hats to shorts and t-shirts, so it’s a good idea to check the weather before you leave and then pack in layers for those dramatic weather changes that often happen on the North Shore. If there was rain the week prior plan for trails to be muddy and consider bringing boots. Also, the weather close to Lake Superior can vary greatly from inland areas.

Check out our kid’s hiking gear recommendations here.

Kids and Trail difficulty on the North Shore

We use the AllTrails rating system of Easy, Moderate, or Hard, and all of these trails (except for Bean & Bear Lake) our kids have done with us. If kids get tired or it’s too much you can always turn back, but we find the hiking on the North Shore to be very kid-friendly. A hiking carrier can be nice to have for younger kids if you’re planning to go a longer distance. We have used both the Kelty Journey PerfectFIT and the Deuter Kid Comfort Child Carrier with our twins and liked them both. There can be steep ledges and areas without guardrails so watch children closely on hikes.

Lastly, seeing the fall colors on the North Shore of MN is a bucket-list experience not to miss. If you can hit the timing during peak color you will be well rewarded on all of these hikes with fantastic views. The North Shore has so much to offer, so make sure to check out our other Top Things to do on the North Shore MN. Follow us on social or reach out in the comments below to share whether you made the trip and what your favorite hike is on the North Shore.

Best Hikes to see North Shore MN Fall Colors

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  1. I have been wanting to visit this area for some time and it seems like Fall is the perfect time. I love hiking when the leaves are changing colors. Cannot wait to try these hikes!! thanks for sharing this amazing article , i really love this.

  2. As a photographer, I am all about the Fall color. My daughter’s Fall break always lands nicely for travel to amazing destinations for a little leaf peeping and picture taking. This area looks amazing.

  3. I love seeing fall colors! I’ve only been to Minnesota in the summer but it’d be awesome to go visit during autumn—your photos are so pretty! I’d love to check out all these hikes!

  4. This makes me excited for the autumn! The North Shore hikes look sooo lovely. I especially like those views at Tettegouche State Park and Oberg Mountain. They all look great for family days out too!

  5. I love that snowy, yellow leaf lake photo! It looks like the North Shore is an incredible place to be to see changing leaves. It makes so much sense, but I’ve never actually thought about MN when it comes to fall colors – oops!

  6. We love to find new spots for fall colours. In normal years a trip to Minnesota in the fall would be a great plan. I love all the hiking options to get the best fall colour views. Will keep this for future reference.

  7. I’ve been seeing so may blogs about Minnesota lately that I think the internet is trying to tell me that I need to go there.

    I want to try some of the hikes you mention, so I’ll keep this post in mind if I ever make it to that side of the world.

  8. I have been wanting to visit this area for some time and it seems like Fall is the perfect time. I love hiking when the leaves are changing colors. Cannot wait to try these hikes!!

  9. I’ve never been to Minnesota, but being from Vermont I love fall and fall hikes! These all look absolutely lovely and I’d really like to hike them some day. I love that there are a bunch of different options for lengths, and that even with short hikes you can get incredible views of the foliage.

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