Fall Color Change on Scenic Drives Around Lake Superior
Along the Black River Harbor
Photo by Tim Zheng
***For the current year's peak fall color change forecast & updates, go to our Fall Color Scenic Drives & Fall Color Updates Reports page.
The earliest fall color change around Lake Superior usually occurs in the western Upper Peninsula - from Ironwood to the Porcupine Mountains and the southern part of the Keweenaw Peninsula near Twin Lakes.
Below are our reports from some previous years to give you an idea of when the color changes and when peak color arrives in the area of your interest.
Excerpts from Peak Fall Color Reports from 2011 to 2015 (for historical comparison)
Fall Color Report Update - October 1, 2015 (For historical comparisons)
This coming weekend should be close to peak color in many areas aroound Lake Superior.
While in general color change has been running a little behind last year, my guess is the cool nights this week will accelerate the color change . The weather forecast for this coming weekend across the Lake Superior Region is for slightly cooler but sunshine or partly sunny across most of the region. So some nice crisp fall days with good, a great weekend for a drive, a picnic, hiking, camping, beach combing, etc.
East towards Hurley on Hwy 2, the color change is approaching 65%. West towards Superior, Wi it is at 15 - 30%. Bayfield is at about 40%
If you around Ashland or Bayfield this weekend, you can catch your best color taking a drive south of Ashland on Hwy 13 to Copper Falls State Park, then go North and East on Hwy 169 to Potato River Falls County Park. Then return to Ashland on US Highway 2. Also take a drive through the Bayfield Orchards for some color and fall harvest and Bayfield Applefest specials. Another great spot to see the colors is the top of the observation tower at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center for panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and fall migratory birds.
Michigan Upper Peninsula
The earliest fall color can be found in Porcupine Mountains State Park in the woods and trails that are away from the lake. Don't miss the view from the top of Summit Peak and from the Lake of the Clouds Overlook. As of 9/28 Bob Wild Porkies Interpreter reports color change at 35 - 55% but cool nights this week could stimulate some dramatic changes by this weekend. I'd also expect the cool nights to help get the color going at Black River Harbor and Copper Peak. Hurley-Ironwood is reporting 65% color change.
The Keweenaw is running behind schedule, at 10 - 20% on 9/28 but cool nights could be accelerating that number by this weekend. As cool nights continue expect near Peak the weekend after this coming one.
In the central UP, most areas are reporting 10 - 25% color change. Best color near the lake should be through Pictured Rocks National Park on H58 between Munising and Grand Marais. Theresa Neal at Tahquamenon Falls State Park reports color change at 40% but predicts strong color by this weekend.
In the Eastern UP, color change is running from 10 - 40%, with Peak Color at least a week away.
In Duluth, try a drive on Scenic Skyline Drive, including Hawks Ridge, to catch the best color and overlooks of the city and the lake. There's also a network of hiking trails at Hawks Ridge worth taking. We've found the best fall color along Scenic Highway 61 on Minnesota's North Shore is generally from Silver Bay to Lutsen, with hikes or a gondola ride to tops of mountain peaks giving the best color or a drive inland away from the lake. Tettegouche State Park is reporting 50 - 75% full color and Temperance River State Park is reporting 50% but predicts very good color by this weekend at Carlton Peak.
Closer to Grand Marais, Cascade State Park is reporting 50% color with best views from a hike to the top of Lookout Mountain or the shorter trail around Cascade Falls. Best views around Grand Marais would traveling up the Gunflint Trail a few miles to hike to the top of Pincushion Mountain. While taking the hiking trail to the top is best, there is also a good overlook from the hiking trail parking lot.
Your best color this weekend will be found on a drive north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario towards Lake Superior Provincial Park. And the very best would be taking the Agawa Canyon Scenic Train Ride. If you don't already have reservations it is probably too late for this weekend, but they will be running daily trips through October 12th.
Fall Color around Thunder Bay usually begins in the first week in October and can last until Mid-October. You generally see more yellows and golds in this area because of the types of trees that dominate a Boreal Forest. A few years ago we took a fall color trip to Thunder Bay and enjoyed some good hiking in city park trails, some excellent golfing, and good food.
So considering this year the change is running a little later than earlier years, target the October 2 - 4th weekend as getting pretty close to full fall color if not at fall color in the western UP and Agawa Canyon, Ontario. Peak may be a week later in other parts of the Lake Superior Region, but still should be worthwhile the first weekend in October.
Below our color report update are some links to regional tourism websites as well as weather reports from selected spots around Lake Superior.
Planning your Fall Color Tour Vacation. In addition to watching this space, also see our links to fall color reports from last year and earlier years to give you a better idea of when the color changes and when peak color arrives in the area of your interest.
Fall Color Report Update - October 1, 2014 (for historical comparision)
Sandy Richardson at Porcupine Mountains State Park reports full color in many parts of the park. This past weekend and perhaps next weekend the park is also offering chairlift rides up to the top of the ski hill. I expect good color to persist til at least the coming weekend
The drive between Grand Marais and Munising on H58 through Pictured Rocks National Park should be showing good color this this coming week and into October. Theresa at Tahquamenon Falls State Park reports very good color now and expects full color breaking out by this coming weekend. If leaves hold may see color into second week.
Close to the Wisconsin border in the western UP and near Ironwood and Black River Scenic Byway color is now at peak and could hold good color for a week or more.
We are still waiting for a report from Houghton and the Keweenaw but based on past records they should be showing some good color this week and this weekend.
Over closer to Sault Sainte Marie in the far Eastern Upper Peninsula color is starting on the US side and showing nicely in Ontario.
Hurley is between 80 and 100% and Ashland is between 50 and 70%. Copper Falls State Park is excellent right now, near peak, but I expect good color for at least another week. US Highway 2 between Ashland and Superior is showing good color in places and is at about 70%, perhaps a little more in the Brule River State Forest. So color this coming week and weekend should be good in the northern counties of Iron and Ashland. Since good color is showing all across Northern Wisconsin, if you are driving up from central or southern Wisconsin you'll have some nice color on the drive up as well. See our Lake Superior Wisconsin Fall Color Map and our Wisconsin Fall Color Tours page for recommended scenic fall color tour drives.
The drives around Bayfield and Highway 13 going west towards Superior, Wisconsin won't see peak color for at least a week or two but if you are going to Apple Fest next weekend a drive through the Bayfield Orchards area should be showing some splashes of bright color.
Grand Portage Park on the Minnesota/Ontario Border is near 100% peak and the waterfalls should be an impressive addition to your visit. Kjersti at Cook County Visitors Bureau reports things looking brilliant right now and expects peak in the coming week, but also she expects the color seaon to extend for an additional week or two in October. From Split Rock State Park to Cascade River State Park color change is between 75 and 100%. The best and earliest fall color is often away from the lake. Stop in the visitor centers at Tettegouche and Temperance River State Parks for color tour maps. This coming week and weekend should be excellent for riding tthe Lutsen Mountain Gondola to the top of Moose Mountain.
Duluth to Two Harbors remains a week or two from excellent color. The next two weekends should be good color scenery. Areas along the North Shore with lots of Aspen and Birch generally don't show good color change until into October.
Because most of the hardwoods in the boreal forests of Ontario are Aspen and some birch you don't see much color change around Thunder Bay and north until October. On the eastern end between Sault Sainte Marie and Wawa, where the forest has more variety, expect some good color around the end of September and first week or two of October.
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Rainfall in September along the south shore of Lake Superior has been ample which I think means that the leaves will hang on the trees a while. It also means the areas with attractive waterfalls - like Copper Falls State Park, Black River Scenic Byway. Presque Isle River (Porcupine Mountains), and Tahquamenon Falls - will be especially attractive with roaring waterfalls and decent fall color and foliage.(See links to these areas near the top of this page).
Fall Color Report Overview - October 4th, 2013 (for historical comparision)
We just returned from the Porcupine Mountains and Black River Harbor. Peak color has arrived in North Central Wisconsin and the western Michigan Upper Peninsula. But as of Oct 3rd, close to the Lake Superior shoreline, it has not yet arrived so you can still see some excellent color in the coming week. Peak color is coming soon to the Keweenaw Peninsula. In the central UP a scenic fall drive I'd recommend is the H58 county road between Munising and Grand Marais, Michigan. Also consider a Pictured Rocks Boat Tour, in addition to the amazing painted rocks you'll get to see some nice leaf color as a backdrop.
In Minnesota Peak Color has arrived away from the lake. We've found the best fall color along Scenic Highway 61 on Minnesota's North Shore is generally from Silver Bay to Lutsen, with hikes or a gondola ride to tops of mountain peaks giving the best color or a drive inland away from the lake. But beginning this week, look for a second season of fall color all along the North Shore as the birches, aspen, and tamarack are turning.
In Northwest Wisconsin peak color might be a week away but away from the lake you will find some great color right now. One trip we've enjoyed is a scenic waterfalls color tour taking in Copper Falls State Park, Potato River Falls, the falls along the Black River Harbor Scenic Byway, and the falls along the Presque Isle River in the western park of Porcupine Mountains State Park.
Last year Bayfield had peak color for their annual Apple Festival (the first weekend in October). This year it is at about 35% but don't be surprised to see significant changes over the next few days.
More Details - Fall Color Report Update -October 4, 2013
- - - Peak Color has arrived or will be soon
Wisconsin South Shore . Ashland is reporting 50% of color change and Hurley is reporting 85% peak color. If you are up in this area in the coming week we recommend taking in some waterfalls along the scenic drive from Ashland to Copper Falls State Park near Mellen (Hwy 13) and then take Highway 169 north to Potato Falls park (south of Gurney) and then return via Highway 2 west of Hurley. Another good fall scenic drive is the trip from Saxon Harbor, Wisconsin, then going east to the Upper Peninsula to Little Girls Point and then to the Black River Harbor Scenic byway in the nearby Upper Peninsula. Return to Ashland via Highway 2.
Color change west of Ashland to Superior ordinarily is a week or two behind east of Ashland. But due to recent cool weather, don't be surprised to see it advancing very quickly towards Peak along US Highway 2 and color change along Hwy 13, the new scenic byway, may not be far behind.
Michigan Upper Peninsula. Peak Color is showing in parts of the Porcupine Mountains and Black River Harbor Scenic byway. But areas close to the lake and around the waterfalls will continue to advance over the next week. The western UP traditionally shows the earliest color so this coming weekend should look good for fall leaf peepers from Ironwood through Houghton and up the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Marquette to Tahquamenon Falls is looking good now in places as the maples are nearing peak and the birch and aspen beginning to follow.
Minnesota North Shore. In general color change all along the North Shore ranges from 50% to 100%. Color away from the lake is passing peak but taking a drive away from the lake (for example Hwy 1 by Tettegouche State Park) may remain colorful for several more days. Stop at the visitor center at Tettegouche or Temperance River for maps on color drives. Color change close to the lake is improving rapidly as birch, aspen, and tamarack change. Expect excellent scenic color on the Lutsen Gondola ride to the top of Moose Mountain. Hiking to the top of the other peaks along the lake (like Oberg Mountain or Carlton Peak) will provide rewards, seeing the remaining color as you look inland and the advancing color as you look towards the lake. The folks at the Superior Hiking Trail office in Two Harbors can give you good tips on best fall hiking.
Ontario East Shore. Color is peaking between between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa, Ontario. Based on past experience, the first two weeks of October should be a good time for a drive along the shoreline up to Lake Superior Provincial Park or take the picturesque Agawa Canyon Train Ride.
Ontario West Shore. Color on this stretch is provided by Aspen and Tamarack which are now starting to change.
Last year's Report
Fall Color Report Update - October 1, 2012 (for historical comparision)
Wisconsin South Shore . Bayfield is reporting 75% of color change with peak color expected during the coming week. If you are up there for the Bayfield Apple Festival a good color drive would be taking Hwy 13 north and west from Bayfield to Aminicon Falls (turn south on Highway U). Then return to Bayfield on US 2. About 10 miles before Ashland, go north on Cty Hwy G which runs along the old roadway of US Hwy 2. towards Superior. Hurley should be at peak or moving past peak but if the leaves are holding on the trees doing the waterfall loop from Potato Falls to Copper Falls to Ashland and back to Hurley should still be a nice trip. Or do the trip to through Saxon Harbor to Little Girls Point and the Black River Harbor Scenic byway in the nearby Upper Peninsula.
Michigan Upper Peninsula. I have no fresh reports from the UP since last week but you can presume that color change is advancing rapidly and may be past peak in several areas. If you aren't going up there til this coming weekend, the tip of the Keweenaw may still be showing some color. Another area I would target for this coming weekend would be Pictured Rocks National Park between Munising and Grand Marais. Should be good color going along H58 and along the spur roads that lead to the various camping areas and trail heads within the park. A Pictured Rocks Boat Cruise on a sunny day could catch both colors of the rocks and of the trees.
Ontario East Shore. Based on earlier reports color should be at or near peak between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa, Ontario. Still a good time for a drive along the shoreline up to Lake Superior Provincial Park or take the Agawa Canyon Train Ride.
Minnesota North Shore. Colors should be at peak this week and moving past peak. So get out there soon. If you are not going there until this coming weekend, the weather report for further up the North Shore is not encouraging so if you have options I'd stick closer to Duluth and do some touring around there - skyline drive and hawk's ridge or out to Park Point.
Fall Color Report Update - September 27, 2012
Michigan Upper Peninsula. Michigan.org reports peak color is fast approaching. Trina from the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce reports color change approaching 75% with more color change along Michigan 26 between Twin Lakes and Houghton and a lesser degree as you get out to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula near Copper Harbor. Based on past experience I expect that by the coming weekend about 75% fall color change around Ironwood's Black River Harbor and in the Porcupine Mountains. East of the Keweenaw, going towards Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie the color change is around 50%. If you are in central and eastern UP this coming week you'll find the best color around Tahquamenon Falls. Also check out the color along H58 between Munising and Grand Marais, Michigan.
Ontario East Shore. I received a report from around Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and am still waiting for a report from around Wawa. Tara from Sault Ste. Marie Tourism reported as of Sept. 24th fall color is at 65% along the Agawa Canyon Train route and is expected to be 100% by October 5th. So this coming weekend should be quite colorful from the Soo to near Wawa. Over in the west near Thunder Bay, I'd normally expet less color change. But since Minnesota has experienced earlier than usual color change among Aspen and Birches, I'd predict that Thunder Bay would be at about 50% and moving towards 100%.
Minnesota North Shore. Color change from Tettegouche Park to Grand Portage is being reported in the 75% - 100% of peak color. The area from Duluth to Tettegouche is at 50% - 75%.
If you are a hiker you'll catch the best color climbing to the peaks of some of the north shore mountains like Oberg, Carlton, and Lookout. Or ride the Gondola at Moose Mountain near Lutsen.
Wisconsin South Shore. Color change along Wisconsin's shore normally doesn't show much until October. But the dry summer and fall is causing the Birch and Aspen to turn earlier so at present Bayfield and Ashland are near 50%. Hurley is now at 75% and SW of Hurley it will be approaching 100%. If you are up in that area this coming week, take a side trip loop south of Ashland on Hwy 13 to Copper Falls State Park and then north on Hwy 169 to Potato Falls and then return to US Highway 2. Another scenic loop near Hurley is going north on Hwy 122 towards Saxon Harbor, then cross into Michigan on Michigan 505 towards Little Girls Point and then Black River Harbor. You can return to Wisconsin along US Highway 2.
Previous Fall Color Report
Fall Color Report Update - October 1, 2011 (for historical comparision)
In Western Michigan the reports show color change at or near peak fall color along the Black River Scenic Byway, along US 2 from Ironwood to Wakefield, and in the vicinity of the Porcupine Mountains. Weather has been ideal. Nancy at Keweenaw Visitors Bureau expects good color for at least another week. Look for color change exceeding 50% near Munising and over 75% around Tahquamenon Falls and nearing peak. Good time to take the Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway between Paradise and Sault Saint Marie. In Minnesota the DNR reports color change exceeding 75% from Gooseberry Falls to Silver Bay; color change around Temperance River and Lutsen is between 75% and Peak. In the Grand Portage area they also report between 75% and Peak, but we found along scenic Highway 61 north of Grand Marais less than 75% because of the high percentage of Aspen and few Maples or other hardwoods. Tram rides at Lutsen Mountain are very popular at the moment as color approaches peak. Hikes to Oberg Mountain will continue to show beautiful colors along the trail and from the top. In Wisconsin, Travel Wisconsin reports the area near Hurley is between 75% and Peak. I expect the same for the route from Potato Falls to Copper Falls in Mellen. Ashland and Bayfield remain between 25 & 50% but look for that to advance quickly over the next week. As you get closer to Superior color change is exceeding 75%; check out the area at Amnicon Falls - should be quite colorful. In Ontario, around Thunder Bay color change is around 50% due to high percentage of Aspen, but changing daily. Around Sault Ste. Marie and north to Wawa we expect it to exceed 50% and recommend a trip now by car or rail north of Sault Ste Marie to Algoma Bay (by car) or Agawa Canyon (by rail).
Fall Color Report Update - September 27, 2011
A few days ago, Michigan.org reports color change occurring along the Black River Scenic Byway, along US 2 from Ironwood to Wakefield, and about 25% peak in the vicinity of the Porcupine Mountains. My guess is that now the change is at least 50% in this area. Look for color change around 50% around Tahquamenon Falls as they generally show earlier color change. In Minnesota the DNR reports color change between 25 & 50% from Gooseberry Falls to Silver Bay; color change around Temperance River and Lutsen is at about 50% and in the Grand Portage area between 50 and 75%. Today there were beautiful colors from the top of Oberg Mountain. In Wisconsin, Travel Wisconsin reports the area near Hurley is advancing nicely at about 75%, Peak Color may be less than 2 weeks away from Peak Color. Look for some nice color south of US Hwy 2 near Potato River Falls and Copper Falls. Ashland and Bayfield are between 25 & 50%; the area between Ashland and Superior is about 25%; the Bayfield Chamber expects peak color the second week in October. Our sources in Ontario, at North of Superior Travel and Sault Ste. Marie Chamber report color change around 50% and changing daily. A trip by car or rail north of Sault Ste Marie to Algoma Bay (by car) or Agawa Canyon (by rail) in the next two weeks could be rewarding.
During the next few days we'll be along Minnesota's North Shore reporting directly on conditions.
Have a color report to pass along or a question - write me
Ross Reinhold - firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn More about the best fall color drives around Lake Superior
Regional Tourism & Peak Fall Color Report Links:
Michigan UP Travel
Keweenaw Visitors Bureau
Western UP Visitors Bureau
Bayfield, WI Fall Colors
Superior-Dougles County Fall Color Updates
Minnesota: DNR NorthShore Parks
Ontario North Shore: NorthofSuperior.org
Ontario North East Shore: Saulttourism.com
Weather Channel Links:
Ironwood, Michigan UP
Houghton, Keweenaw Peninsula Michigan UP
Marquette, Michgan UP
Sault Saint Marie, Michigan UP
Ashland-Bayfield Peninsula, Wisconsin
Grand Marais, Minnesota
Wawa, Ontario Canada
Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada
Why Do Leaves Change Color?
"A growing season with ample moisture that is followed by a rather dry, cool, sunny autumn that is marked by warm days and cool but frostless nights provides the best weather conditions for development of the brightest fall colors," - - - Learn more from this article from the PBS News Hour's website.
See our favorite Scenic Fall Color Drives around Lake Superior
SuperiorTrails.com - Reinhold Development - 2017
Lake Superior Camping
& Campground Directory
Camping along the Lake Superior Circle Drive.
The Superior Hiking Trail offers some of the best fall color hikes in the midwest
Outstanding Fall Color Porcupine Mountains Lake of the Clouds scenic overlook.
Fall Color & Waterfalls along Black River Harbor Scenic Parkway
Tahquamenon Falls State Park offers some of the best fall color in the eastern Upper Peninsula.
See the lighthouses on an Apostle Islands Cruise.
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Color Tour Map
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