Autumn in Minnesota
If there was one season we’d recommend not missing in Minnesota, autumn is it. We get four seasons of beauty, each in their own way, but fall...fall is the cherry on top. As the air turns to frosted mornings, and the array of colors coat the trees, it’s certainly a season to be inspired. In a nutshell, the northwoods is the best version of itself when September rolls around. With bugs out of the way, we headed north to find us an adventure.
One of our first stops was a little cabin in the woods. Truly a fairytale setting, the Northern Post created and built by friends, has the perfect autumn ambience to absorb fall in all its glory. Peeking through the yellow and orange maple leaves deep in the woods, a tiny home emerges at the end of a trail blanketed with golden hues. It’s a magical spot and the trickle of Little Gooseberry River running through the woods sets the scene for a storybook adventure.
For us, there’s usually a long list of ‘where tos’ that we like to make sure we hit up on our visit in the northwoods of Minnesota. It’s not fall unless we pick up a good amount of pure maple syrup at our favorite supplier: Wild Country. Making sure to first load ourselves up with some amber and bourbon syrup, we killed a good part of the day driving the backroads of the Superior National Forest.
Some of these roads past Grand Marais lead to old fire towers. Typically we enjoy climbing to the top to get 360 views of the vast northwoods and Lake Superior. The wind that day was a bit more than we’re comfortable with at the top of rickety tower, so we didn’t stay as long as we would have liked (feeling the metal under your feet swaying in the gusts of wind), but we did snap a few because the work of climbing that many stairs needs to have something to show for it.
We've noticed over the years that it can be difficult to pack in everything you were anticipating you’d have time for when you visit up the shore, but passing one of Minnesota’s state parks that we rarely visit seemed like a good way to explore (and stretch our legs for a good hike).
Hiking to the Crosby Manitou River and the beautiful cascades was a real treat and quickly became a favorite of ours. We hiked a nice loop and overlook, and also took in an incredible boardwalk trail around Benson lake. It seemed we couldn’t get enough of this park and we were making up for the number of years we had passed it by. Here there was so little traffic and visitors (uncommon up the shore these days), it was just sublime to have the trails to ourselves and vowed this was a destination keeper for future visits.
The weather in Minnesota during fall months can be iffy for photography. It’s not unlike us to spend the majority of the day adventuring, and then head back out in the late night hours to catch star photography. However, everything depends on weather - clouds, wind, rain, (even snow). And for some reason the weather for the duration we were up north kept shifting, and the moon was an obstacle to overcome for astrophotography.
We chose to get up in the early morning hours and head to the shores of Lake Superior to try and capture the stars in view. The moon, however, was brightening too much of the sky to snatch all those stars we knew were looming overhead, but we did get a great snapshot of dawn at Artist’s Point.
Being that we were up so early, we decided to take in a nice drive along the Gunflint trail to see if we could come across any moose (or wolves, or lynx, really any moving creature). Wildlife is a gamble, and though we’ve been lucky in the past along these routes, this adventure left us empty-handed.
We did, however, catch quite a beautiful colorful sunrise near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Being spoiled in the past with wildlife sightings every fall, it proved to be a disappointing 2 hours drive, but at least the grouse had enough hosting manners to pay us a visit.
Throughout our years of going up the north shore and hiking the Superior Hiking Trail, we decided to start checking off on our maps what sections we’ve hiked. I highly recommend doing this to steer off the beaten course a bit from the usual stops along the shore and see new places.The Bean and Bear Overlook has been one of those hikes that we hadn’t done (surprisingly) and we were determined this trip to complete it. Due to weather, we set out later than we’d wanted, but anytime you are hiking somewhere new, it can be a lot of fun to just uncover new ground regardless of time constraints.
We weaved through the woods (and lots of mud) to eventually come to the top of the overlook which was breathtaking! Miles upon miles could be seen, and the forest came right to the water’s edge far below our feet. The view was so surreal and stunning, and a part of us longed to linger longer, but because the hike had taken so much out of the afternoon, nightfall was soon setting and we didn’t have the proper gear to be hiking in the dark. So we took in as many photos as we could and headed back the way we came vowing to visit again and spend a lot more time there.
As our fall adventure came to an end, we decided that now was the best time to explore Minnesota’s inland beauty. So we headed west, taking a different route home towards Ely to enjoy a scenic drive and drop in on a waterfall we had once visited before.
Typically near the end of our vacations we like to extend the most out of every hour, and this was a great choice for getting more out of the fall colors. The curvy roads were lined with every color to help us continue on our journey home. We stopped near Ely to hike to the Kawishiwi Falls, and again, had it to ourselves. :)
The rushing water was a surprise as we normally don’t visit the waterfalls in fall because the water dries up so much over the summer months. But the amount of rain we had received weeks before was making the rivers feel like a spring rage. Photo after photo we captured to make every moment count before darkness once again forced us to journey home.
It was certainly a good way to wrap up our time up north. As hard as it is sometimes to end our vacations, we are fortunate to live in Minnesota’s northwoods and we knew that our own colors would be turning within the week and we were eager to get a sampling of the beauty about to unfold back home.
It wasn’t long upon our return before our own maples were switching from greens to bright yellows and oranges. This year has been one of the most colorful we’ve seen, and the goldens and yellows have been brilliant! Even the oaks were showing off this year with deep reds and golden oranges.
Though the season itself is short-lived, the roads and lakes close to home shared mesmerizing vistas. Jumping at the opportunity to embrace the few days of peak colors, we hopped in the car with canoe in tow to enjoy a falls color tour. A glimpse of 2 loons lingering in the water helped ease our mind that there was still time before winter kicked in.
We also enjoyed a short stop to a nearby family member's property to take in the extensive trail system that has been built and established, which was the equivalent of having your cake and eating it too, plus the ice cream, the toppings, and the like. It was a gorgeous hike and it's sometimes hard to imagine that at one point we lived in the city because our love for the outdoors runs so deep.
Blazing the trails
It wasn't too long before all those beautiful leaves were covering the green grass and muddy trails. To give autumn its final send-off, we headed to nearby state parks to try and capture what was left of October. A quick hike up to a fire tower again provided us a great perspective on the color changes that were happening. It was nice once again to be out in the woods exploring with crunchy leaves beneath our feet and fresh air.
We find as photographers our hiking pace is a bit slower than others, only so that we have time to glance in the trees for birds and owls, the inner part of the forest for deer and other wildlife, while also gauging good spots to snap unique landscapes. Photography takes patience and that can be a challenge when the season is running out of time!
What we would do without these woods and these lakes, I'm not sure. The wilderness has truly captivated us and brings out the best there is to offer out of life. We hope with the coming season of winter, these photos of vibrant colors and golden hues will serve as a nice little reminder when days feel bleak and gloomy. Autumn in Minnesota is one of the most glorious unveilings and reveals an overwhelming amount of beauty in a short amount of time. So get out an enjoy it!