Fall color in the North Country

It snowed last night in Minnesota. On October 5! I guess that’s what my friend Ute and I get for vacationing near the Canadian border.

Map of Norh Shore BLOGThe blue star marks the Twin Cities, and the red star is where we ended up.

But the next morning it was sunny and comparatively mild, so Ute and I headed out for some hiking. I was so excited to see the sun that I even snapped photos through the (dog-spit-covered) windshield.

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Oberg Mountain Trail

Our first destination was Oberg Mountain, off Highway 61 (see directions below). It’s a favorite spot for fall color … as the full parking lot attested. Sigh.

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The signs weren’t kidding when they warned of sheer cliffs.

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And parts of the trail were rugged, with lots of rocks and roots on which to sprain your ankles.

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But the light filtering through the birches and maples was a gorgeous distraction.

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And the reward of these vistas was well worth the climb:

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Some of the overlooks were overcrowded, but it still warmed my heart to see so many people out enjoying nature.

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Even after a three-mile loop through the woods we weren’t sated, though, so we drove south on Highway 61 toward the lake.

Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center

It’s a good thing Ute has such sharp eyes — and knows the area — because I would have sailed right past the unassuming turnoff at marker 73. I was surprised that just five minutes later we were gazing out at Lake Superior.

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We didn’t hike to the famous pebble beach because there was a family there with 782 children. (Or at least that was our estimate, from all the yelling and carrying-on.) But we did spot one of the old mooring rings that remain from the harbor’s logging heyday.

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On our way back to the car we also spotted this portly red squirrel — the only wildlife we saw during our entire four-day weekend.

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Illgen Falls

“I know of a secret spot,” Ute said as we hopped back in the car and backtracked north on Highway 61. Again, I would have missed the unmarked parking lot … but I could already hear the waterfall.

A short hike took us to the edge of Illgen Falls, which were spectacular after the previous days’ rain and snow. Yes, I did walk right to the edge to get these photos.

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Ute was even more brave: She actually lay down on the edge.

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She also took me upstream to her favorite swimming spot, where a way-more-fancy-than-me photographer was futzing with his tripod.

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Beaver Creek Falls

On our way home the next day I asked Ute to pull off Highway 61 one more time for a parting look at the Beaver Creek Falls. There was no hiking required for these views:

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Back in the Twin Cities, I’m already missing the birch trees and pine forests of the North Shore. But I’m grateful to live in such a beautiful state — and to have such a wonderful friend with whom to share it.

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••• IF YOU GO •••

Oberg Mountain Trail
From Tofte, take Highway 61 North about 4.5 miles. Turn left onto Onion River Road (Forest Road 336). Proceed for about two miles to the parking area on the left.
• Three-mile moderate hike on dirt trails, with significant vertical changes.
• Keep children and dogs from the edge of the cliffs.
• Waterproof shoes with good tread recommended.

Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center
Located lakeside on Highway 61 at mile marker 73 (9096 West Highway 61, Schroeder, Minnesota).
• About a half-mile, easy hike to the lake on maintained trails.
• Staffed welcome center with gift shop (hours vary by season).
• Active research area; don’t disturb plants, rocks, or wildlife.

Illgen Falls
From Highway 61, take Highway 1 toward Finland, proceed 1.6 miles, and park on the gravel pull-off on the left side of the road. Look for the sign that says “Illgen Falls, Devil’s Rock” at the head of the short gravel path.
• About 0.3-mile walk to the edge of the impressive 35-foot drop.
• Waterproof shoes with good tread recommended.
• Accidental-death insurance coverage also recommended. (Kidding.)

Beaver Creek Falls
The Beaver Creek Falls bridge is just east of Beaver Bay on Highway 61. There’s a parking lot at the intersection of Lax Road and Highway 61, adjacent to the bridge.
• Easy stroll from Lax Road lot is less than one-tenth of a mile.
• Panoramic view of four torrents running a course of approximately 300 feet.
• Access to rustic hiking trails that take you down to the waterfall’s edge.

For even more information on fall colors along the North Shore, visit this wonderful website.