Shovel Point at sunrise – unforgettable North Shore fall color hike

“It looks completely different than it did the other day,” I said to my husband as we hiked down a Red Pine covered esker in northeast Minnesota. For as long as I’ve been exploring the great outdoors, I’ve been mesmerized by how I can hike my favorite spots over and over and it’s always a new experience. The seasons, weather, sun, and clouds bring surprise and delight to every hour of every day. No matter how many times I’ve done a hike, it’s never been the same twice.

That’s exactly what I experienced that morning after a short hike to watch the sunrise from Shovel Point at Tettegouche State Park. The sunrise itself was spectacular. They always seem to last a bit longer as the temperatures dip and the nights grow longer during fall in northeast Minnesota. The colors also seem richer with deeper reds, purples, and blues. But as I turned around the point to walk back to the Visitor Center parking lot, all of that faded and I was in total awe at what I saw. “Wow!” I said aloud as I looked out over the golden forest, bathing in the glow of the barely risen sun.

I’m not always eager to jump out of my tent at five or six a.m. and bundle up to go catch a sunrise. This is especially true in the fall when the temperatures dip into that frosty range. But what I saw that morning made it all worth it. So much so that I’ve done this same fall hike several times since.

All photos by Holly Scherer

Why Sunrise

There’s nothing like the quiet and solitude you get during those early morning hours while most of the world is still asleep. Listening to the birds chirp with increasing excitement makes me feel like I’m watching the world come alive. You’ll feel like you have the place to yourself, even on a busy fall colors weekend.

Experience it for Yourself

As fall sets in on the North Shore, the sun rises around 7 am and gets later as fall progresses. You can search for sunrise dates and times for any location here. I like to get to my spot well before the sun is scheduled to come up because the most spectacular views can happen 30 minutes before, especially if there’s some cloud cover. I usually camp in the park when I embark on this trek, but there’s also plenty of lodging options nearby.

I recommend checking the weather the night before. This can be tricky because the weather forecast for where you’ll be watching the sunrise isn’t necessarily what’s happening out on the big lake. But generally speaking, a forecast of clear to partly cloudy skies will provide a spectacular show.

If you’re planning to go early, bring a headlamp or flashlight to light the way. The trail has its fair share of roots and rocks and also has 300 stairs. Always put your safety first. If you can’t force yourself to get up on a cold and dark fall morning, you’ll still be able to catch the glory of the morning sun for a couple of hours after the sun has risen. Don’t forget to grab a map right inside the front doors of the Visitor Center before you start your trek.

The hike to Shovel Point starts behind the modern Visitor Center and is well marked, although plenty of “unofficial” trails have been carved out by curious visitors over the years. Hug the well-worn trail along the shoreline and you’ll easily find your way there and back. When you get to Shovel Point, there’s a viewing deck that brings you right out over the majestic lake. This is a great place to take in the magic of a Lake Superior sunrise. I also like to hang out behind some of the weathered trees to add interest and contrast to my photographs.

The hike itself is about a mile and a half round trip, which most people can easily do in less than an hour. On your way back, stop and admire the sun-kissed vistas looking inland over the forest and marvel at the cliffs on Palisade Head. When you make it back to the Visitor Center, be sure to admire the wildflowers alongside the building and parking lots.

When to Go

Tettegouche is one of my favorite Minnesota State Parks and is fabulous year-round. If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of fall foliage, early October is a great time. Peak colors are difficult to predict, but you can get a good idea of the current status and compare previous years through the DNR’s online Fall Color Finder. The North Shore is unique in that there are typically two fall color peaks. Early in the season, you can enjoy the blazing red, orange, and yellow maples over the ridges heading inland from the great lake. Then as the season progresses, you can enjoy the yellow and gold of the birch and aspens along the shore.

Lake Superior Agate, all photos by Holly Scherer

Bonus Miles

If you still have energy after climbing and descending the 300 Shovel Point stairs, I recommend continuing along the shore west/southwest to the beach at the mouth of the Baptism River. Keep your eyes open for Lake Superior Agates, Minnesota’s official state gemstone. But resist the urge to take it home with you. “Rock collecting is not allowed in the state parks and state scientific and natural areas” according to the DNR website.

From there, follow the trail west/northwest toward the High Falls. At 63 feet, the High Falls of the Baptism River is the highest waterfall completely in the boundaries of the state of Minnesota. Early morning is a wonderful time to visit the falls. I often have them all to myself and when there’s a high flow, the early morning sun brings out the most beautiful rainbows.

After you’ve soaked in the beauty of the waterfall, head a bit further up the trail to the iconic swinging bridge. As you make your way back to the Visitor Center, be sure and head down to Two Step Falls and see how the falls got their name. The whole hike, including Shovel Point, the High Falls, swinging bridge, Two Step Falls, and the beach is less than six miles. Most people can finish this within three hours. Don’t forget to bring water and snacks.

Maps showing suggested hikes to Shovel Point (left) and High Falls (right), Tettegouche State Park. Map screenshots from Strava app.

Stay on the Trail

Well before the era of Covid-19, many of our parks and trails were becoming very “well-loved.” REI published a great little documentary on the topic you can watch here. Then came 2020 and the ensuing lockdowns showed us the importance of our public lands that the forward-thinking Minnesotans who came before us protected for our use. A year later, I can see visible evidence of the increased usage at many of my favorite outdoor places. We can all do our part to stay on the trail and practice Leave No Trace and protect these treasures for future generations.

At more than 9,300 acres, with 23 miles of hiking trails, four waterfalls, several inland lakes, cabins and camping, Tettegouche State Park is an adventurer’s paradise. Whether you choose to do the full six miles to the High Falls and back, or the shorter mile and a half hike to Shovel Point, you’ll come back with photos and memories that will last a lifetime. Stay safe and happy trails!

About the Author: Holly Scherer

Get Quetico Superior Wilderness News straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap