5 tips to enjoy fall colors in Northeastern Minnesota without the crowds

Oberg Mountain Fall Colors. All photos by Holly Scherer

Videos were circulating on social media this summer that said something like, “When you drive halfway across the country to see that National Park on your bucket list.” And then the videos cut to dozens of people packed onto an overlook trying to get the shot they too drove halfway across the country to see. I think we can all agree that it’s wonderful to have a renewed interest in the outdoors. But at the same time, it’s a bit discouraging when you get up early and drive somewhere you’ve wanted to see for years, only to find an overflowing parking lot and crowded overlooks. In Northeastern Minnesota, this is especially common during fall colors.

Peak fall colors in Northeastern Minnesota last for only a short period of time. And during that time, thousands of photographers and leaf peepers flock to the area to experience the show and snap breathtaking photos. But don’t be discouraged. I’ve had plenty of overlooks completely to myself during peak Minnesota fall colors. Here I share my secrets to help you enjoy Minnesota fall colors with fewer crowds.

5 Tips for finding fall color on the North Shore and beyond

Go Early

My husband and I enjoy outdoor activities in Northeastern Minnesota year round and I can’t think of a time when we encountered crowds early in the morning. Depending on the location and time of year, visitors start to trickle in around lunchtime and hang around until it gets close to dinner. So later in the day is also a good choice.

There are added benefits to hitting the trails and overlooks early (or late). If you get up before the sun and find an overlook to the east, you may be rewarded with a remarkable sunrise and an added glow to the already colorful trees. And if you go in the evening and choose a west-looking vista, you could see an incredible sunset with a similar effect. Just be sure to pack your headlamp and pay close attention to the trail going in.

Wonderful Weekdays

When we travel to Northeastern Minnesota, especially during fall colors, we’ll often do most of our exploring during the week and hang out at the campsite on the weekends. While you’ll still find people out on the trails and overlooks during the week, you’ll also enjoy solitude if you hit the right trail at the right time.

Find Gorgeous Minnesota Fall Colors Inland

Much of the fall colors tourism in Northeastern Minnesota is focused on the North Shore. And for good reason. The views are breathtaking. But there are equally beautiful places inland from the big lake. Check out the trails, camping, and paddling in the Superior National Forest. Or grab a camper cabin at Bear Head Lake or Lake Vermilion State Park and explore the gorgeous trails around the Ely area. Voyageurs National Park has some beautiful trails and convenient State Forest Campgrounds nearby. And as busy as the Gunflint Trail can get, I’ve enjoyed some peaceful fall solitude in September, October, and November.

There are fall colors destinations in Northeastern Minnesota that are guaranteed to be busy. Oberg Mountain and Bean and Bear Lakes are two spots that come to mind. But as I mentioned earlier, I’ve found plenty of solitude during fall colors.

Oberg’s quiet and equally stunning neighbor, Leveaux Mountain, rarely sees crowds. There are hikes in the Superior National Forest and BWCAW that see very little traffic. And once you get away from the trailheads, you might feel like you have the Superior Hiking Trail all to yourself. So grab some maps and go explore those places that no one else has heard of.

The Stunning Shoulder Season

The time leading up to peak fall colors in Northeastern Minnesota can be just as lovely. With warmer temps, you can get out on the water and experience the changing leaves from another vantage point. And don’t overlook the time after the peak has passed. You’ll still find plenty of color along the shore. But my favorite sight to see during that time of year are the blazing tamaracks that dot the lowlands of Minnesota’s magnificent arrowhead region.

Our public lands hold a place for everyone. Whether you prefer the excitement of crowds or quiet solitude, there’s a place for you. Even during the busy fall colors season in Northeastern Minnesota. These tips will help you find your own special place to capture fall memories to last a lifetime.

Leveaux Mountain Overlook on the Superior Hiking Trail

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Holly Scherer is a Minnesota-based writer, photographer, outdoorswoman, and guide. She’s most at home in the great outdoors; camping, hiking, paddling, cycling, and gardening. When she’s not on an adventure, she and her husband live in the Twin Cities where they’re fond of saying, “home is where we store our outdoor gear.”

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