Cook County Blog

Fall Color Report on the North Shore and Gunflint Trail | 2020 | Updated weekly

Posted by Visit Cook County MN on 9/10/20 10:28 AM

Fall is one of the most captivating seasons on the North Shore and Gunflint Trail. Our deep green forests transform into brilliant fields of red, orange and yellow over the course of a few short weeks. Whether your fall color viewing plan is to go for a hike, bike or a scenic fall color drive - we're here to help guide you towards the best activities

How to track the fall colors on the North Shore and Gunflint Trail

The MN DNR does a great job of updating their Minnesota Fall Color Map on a regular basis to make planning peak viewing a little easier. Of course, nature does have a mind of her own and can change at any time. Our recommendation is to make a plan but be prepared for things to change.


Generally speaking, "Peak Fall Color" is when both the tree top canopy and the ground below are at their brightest. That typically occurs the last two weekends in September thru the first weekend in October. However, fall color continues to be stunning in different types of forests at different times. The Gunflint Trail's peak fall color sometimes doesn't occur until October and there are pockets of tamaracks on the back roads that do not peak until late October.

Of course, you could always check out our local webcams for a current view. In particular, the 360 degree panoramic web camera at Lutsen Mountains is something to tune into daily.  

View LIVE Webcams

Tracking Fall Color in Cook County MN

We want to keep you up to date with what is happening locally this autumn. Each week, we'll post a new image of what is happening right now in Cook County. To see more frequent updates, please follow our Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram channels. You'll find additional content from us as well as reposts and stories sharing more and more of this great place with you virtually. Use #donorthmn to join the conversation. 

Mid-August (August 17, 2020)

While still in the depths of summer, typically by the middle of August we start seeing a handful of trees that have started to turn. While the forest still remains solidly green, it marks the very beginning of the next season. 

Labor Day Weekend (September 7, 2020)

As late summer transitions to early fall, the bright green forest really starts to show more orange and brown with hints of red. This year, Labor Day weekend felt like peak fall color would be weeks away. 

Mid-September (September 16, 2020)

It often feels like one evening you go to bed looking at a forest of green, the next morning when you wake up the forest has become electric! This year it felt like this happened in the blink of an eye. Additionally, so far this year the color is very vibrant with brilliant reds on top of the maples. FUN FACT: the first large showing of fall color begins with the maples that line the ridges of the Sawtooth Mountains from Schroeder all the way to Grand Portage. From Highway 61, turn away from Lake Superior and drive between 5-15 minutes. You'll suddenly be surrounded by color. 

Late September - Autumn Equinox - (September 22, 2020) 

Time flies while your watching the leaves change. The maple trees are at peak! From the canopy tree tops to the color story below, anywhere you find maples in the area - you'll find a complete rainbow of color. Pockets of birch and aspen are starting to turn but that peak is still a little ways off. This week is going to be a good one to capture all of that fall glory!


End of September (September 28, 2020)

It has been a stunner of a season this autumn on the North Shore. The change happened quickly and the colors have been incredibly vibrant. The first areas to turn are now moving towards past peak. In the red maple canopy, the tree tops are now bare. The forest floor is now a sea of yellow and the sound of shuffling leaves is abundant. However, as the Maples turn brown and bare, the Birch and Aspen are just hitting their stride.  

Don't forget about the Gunflint Trail!

Many think of the north shore communities as being the top spots for viewing the fall colors. However, it would be a shame to overlook the Gunflint Trail. For over a decade, the fall colors on the Gunflint were minimal due to the Ham Lake fire.  The forest was mainly spruce and pine trees with few deciduous trees like maples, birch and aspen. Now, after years of regrowth and forest evolution, variety has regrown and sprung up all around the Gunflint Trail. This year is turning out to be one of the brightest on record! Treat yourself to a drive on the 57-mile Gunflint Trail National Scenic Byway - who knows, maybe you'll even spot a Moose too! 

Early October (October 3, 2020)

Our first snow has arrived! It wasn't much but overnight a little dusting of snow appeared on the ground in the inland areas away from Lake Superior. The tree tops are now mostly gone and the ground is crunchy with leaves. There are still pockets of bright color to be found but be prepared to look for it. 

October 8, 2020 

The ground is now covered in a crunchy pile of leaves. You cannot help but shuffle your feet as you plow through them now. It's funny how now every sound is magnified,  every chipmunk sounds like a giant bear as they scramble through the fallen leaves. There still are areas where you can still find brilliant pockets of color on the trees, but they are getting fewer and fewer. On the plus side, the ground foliage is still at peak and provides some beautiful coloration to the landscape. 


Next up, mid October ... (coming soon)

While we wait for next week, take a look at what the fall colors were like last year mid-October



Topics: Fall, Scenic Drives, Outdoors, phenomena