This article is supported by the Minnesota Arrowhead Association.
Fall in Northeast Minnesota is filled with beauty and excitement—nature, national parks, charming towns and, of course, spectacular fall colors. If you listen, you can hear it calling to you every year about this time. Whether you’re looking for a wilderness adventure, an exciting new city or just a quiet place to sit and think for a while, the 10 "must views" below make the perfect destinations for the ultimate Minnesota fall getaway. Choose your favorite and create your own autumn adventure.
One of the most sought-after sites on the iconic North Shore is the new gondola at Lutsen Mountains. From the base of the mountain, the high-speed gondola whisks you high above the colorful treetops for unparalleled views of Lake Superior, where riders will be treated to a 100-plus mile view across the great lake. For adventure seekers, get a taste of the Superior Hiking Trail by taking a 4.5-mile hike back to the base. This section of trail goes through the heart of the maple forest, which offers some of the most brilliant fall colors in the region.
Fall color explodes from Duluth’s Hawk Ridge. Enjoy breathtaking vistas as far as the eye can see from one of the city’s most elevated vantage points. From this perch high above the landscape below, vibrant red, yellow and orange color combinations appear to roll into Lake Superior. Fall also marks migration season for thousands of hawks and other birds heading to winter destinations. The Hawk Weekend Festival (Sept. 15-17) attracts visitors worldwide to observe the migration and take part in numerous other activities including educational programs, hiking and birding field trips.
Every autumn, nature plays a symphony in northeast Minnesota. When Ely nights turn cool in September, the landscape tunes up like a musical encore at the end of a richly satisfying concert. In one last burst of glory, a breathtaking composition of color erupts, and everyone plays a part.
There are many roads in the Ely area that offer visitors a scenic wilderness experience, but one of the prettiest drives is along Fernberg Road. This stretch of about 20 miles runs through the Superior National Forest to the literal “end of the road” at Lake One, an entry point to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The variety of aspen, birch, maple, ash, spruce and pine seemingly hug the road to create a corridor filled with color. Don’t forget to stop at the Fernberg Road Scenic Overlook for a fantastic view of marshy wetlands in all their autumn glory.
Grand Rapids is a wonderful destination for viewing fall foliage. A great place to see the changing leaves is the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway. On this route, once used by voyageurs and loggers, you will find gorgeous vistas of rolling hills and lake lookouts. Make sure to plan a stop at the Edge of the Wilderness Discovery Center in Marcell, then head back into Grand Rapids for unique dining, shopping, theater, and art and culture in the charming downtown.
Basshenge: You have to see this quirky roadside art outside of International Falls on the banks of the Rainy River. It consists of bass violins and musical notations cut from sheet steel and mounted on concrete pillars roughly in the form of Stonehenge. There's no signage or notification; blink and you could miss it. Contact the International Falls, Rainy Lake and Ranier CVB for directions
Adventure Seaplanes is a seaplane training and tour operation that is new to Lake Vermilion this year, operating out of the Tower airport. You can take your kids on a magical seaplane trip or go out for a romantic ride over beautiful Lake Vermilion.
With their high wings, large windows and untinted glass, you will get amazing panoramic views and photo opportunities. The passenger capacity varies from two to four, depending on the aircraft. While aboard, your pilot will point out various landmarks on Lake Vermilion as you cruise at a leisurely pace. This is sure to give you a view of Lake Vermilion like never before!
Mesabi Iron Range
The Laurentian Divide Recreation Area serves as the trailhead for the Lookout Mountain Trail and Laurentian Divide Fitness Trail, which includes a 15-mile hiking and skiing trail system and a half-mile fitness trail with 7 exercise stations. Additionally, the Lookout Mountain Bike Trails feature 5 miles of dedicated mountain bike single track and over 6 miles of multi-use, ridable ski trail. The recreation area features scenic overlooks, picnic sites, an Adirondack shelter and other amenities.
Fall at Pelican Lake in Orr is something you won’t want to miss. Pelican Lake is known for excellent fall fishing: try jigging for crappie and you won’t be disappointed. While you’re reeling them in, enjoy the golden scenes of autumn as the trees shed their summer green and take on the breathtaking beauty of orange and red splashed against a bright blue sky. There is nothing like the scenery and serenity that northern Minnesota offers in the fall, and Pelican Lake is the perfect place to take it all in.
Proctor welcomes visitors to enjoy spectacular views and an award-winning experience at the Spirit Mountain Adventure Bike Park. Proctor is just a short 2-hour drive from the Twin Cities, with paved as well as rocky wilderness trails at the nationally acclaimed Adventure Park, three-time winner of Riders’ Choice Best Bike Park for the Midwest. Come to Proctor where you can challenge yourself to the best mountain biking in the north, with breathtaking scenery and majestic autumn vistas overlooking Lake Superior and the St. Louis River Valley.
Agate Bay in Two Harbors is a beautiful stop in all seasons, and fall is no exception! Wander the break wall out into the bay to watch one of the majestic 1,000-foot ore boats come into port. View the historic Edna G. Tugboat, the last coal-fired steam engine tug in service on the Great Lakes. Launch your boat, kayak or canoe for a cruise on Lake Superior, or try your hand at fishing from the pier. Tour the Two Harbors Lighthouse and its picturesque grounds, including the Assistant Keeper’s Quarters and the Frontenac Pilot House. Stroll the Sonju Trail and take in the autumn colors while enjoying scenic lake views, and stop at one of the trail’s many picnic spots along the way
Discover more of beautiful Northeast Minnesota and plan your fall getaway.