Cook County Blog

Fall Color Report on the North Shore and Gunflint Trail | 2021 | Updated weekly

Posted by Visit Cook County MN on 9/1/21 11:31 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

COVID-19 update: Our community has worked hard to keep COVID-19 infections low. Businesses in Cook County are operating in accordance with Minnesota Department of Health guidelines and remain open to serve guests. It is strongly encouraged that everyone continue the practices of social distancing, frequent handwashing, use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and wearing of masks indoors and whenever a business has a posted preference. Please adhere to our Visitor Pledge and mask when asked!

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 treetop 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 15, 2021)

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. This year, due to the drought, there is noticeable dryness in some foliage. A complete fire ban is in place for all of Cook County. Learn more about the fire ban and current conditions here

September 1, 2021

Will fall be early this year? It is really hard to tell. A summer drought can drastically impact the fall colors by having them peak early or producing less vibrant colors. Click here to learn more about the science of fall colors from the US Forest Service. It is too soon to tell what our fall color season is going to look like but one thing we do know is: sweater weather has arrived, fall colors are imminent and there are plenty of lodging opportunities to be found

Labor Day Weekend (September 7, 2021)

Only mother nature really knows what the next few weeks of fall colors will hold this season. The treetops of the maple ridgeline from Schroeder to Grand Marais have started but below the canopy, it is still pretty green. 

Mid-September (September 15, 2021)

It happens every year, it feels like overnight the colors turn from green to vibrant. The maple treetops are hitting their stride right now, now is the time to find a mountain top to take in the splendor. The gondola at Lutsen Mountains offers an unparalleled view of a maple sea from the observation deck on Moose Mountain - you can also hike there and or back, on the Superior Hiking Trail

Late September - Autumn Equinox (September 22, 2021)

Happy fall equinox! While we are in the midst of peak fall colors, astronomical fall has just begun. The maple tree tops are starting to fall but much of the "below the canopy" color has yet to arrive. The birch, aspen and undergrowth are just starting which means we still have a few more weeks of beautiful color ahead! 

Can you see fall colors from space? Apparently YES! Below are two photos taken one year apart on the autumnal equinox demonstrating the difference between years. 

Fall 2020 - LakeSuperior - Space Angle from Coast Watch GLERL.Noaa - dated

Fall 2021 - LakeSuperior - Space Angle from Coast Watch GLERL.Noaa - dated

End of September (September 28, 2021)

Early October (October 3, 2021)


Mid - October (October  13, 2021) 

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. Treat yourself to a drive on the 57-mile Gunflint Trail National Scenic Byway - who knows, maybe you'll even spot a Moose too! 

What happened last fall? Follow link to view blog post from the fall of 2020. 



Topics: Fall, Scenic Drives, Outdoors, phenomena