Lake Superior Fall Color Scenic Drives
If you are considering doing the Circle Route around Lake Superior in the fall and want to have the best chance of catching good fall color, here’s my recommendations.
Western Upper Peninsula
The earliest fall color occurs in the Western Upper Peninsula. Peak color occurs around the end of September and early color is about mid-September. So I’d start my trip in Ironwood, Michigan.
If you are coming from Minnesota or through Western Wisconsin on your way to Ironwood you could stop in at Copper Falls State Park, near Mellen. There’s a well-maintained hiking trail around the falls that will also show some nice leaf color. Then take state highway 169 north and east to connect with US Highway 2 going to Ironwood. There will be good color along this route and if you like waterfalls you could also stop by Potato Falls Country Park on your way to Ironwood.
Once in Ironwood, you can take the Black River Scenic Byway (Highway 513) to the Black River Harbor Park where there are several terrific waterfalls and a mature hardwood forest that will offer attractive fall color. Alternately, prior to arriving in Ironwood, you could take Wisconsin 122 towards Saxon Harbor and cross the border into Michigan on Michigan Highway 505. That will run along the lake shore to Little Girls Point and then eventually turn south towards Ironwood. But before you get to Ironwood you’ll intersect with Airport Road which if you take east will join up with the Black River Scenic Byway (Highway 513).
After touring Black River Harbor return south along Highway 513 to US2 which you’ll take east to Wakefield, Michigan. There you’ll go north on Highway 519 to Porcupine Mountains State Park where you could easily spend a day or more exploring waterfalls, scenic lookouts, and hiking and nature trails.
See our Wisconsin-Upper Peninsula Fall Color Drive Map for illustrations of the above locations and links to pages with more detailed information and photos.
Color change in the Keweenaw lags behind Black River Harbor by a few days to a week but ahead of the central and eastern Upper Peninsula.
So leaving the Porcupine Mountains you could then head up to the Keweenaw. From Houghton-Hancock take US 41 to Copper Harbor. Along this route as you get close to Copper Harbor you’ll see some terrific color.
On the return trip take Brockaway Mountain Drive to catch the color from the top of the mountain. See our UP Fall Color Drive Map for illustrations of the above locations and links to pages with more detailed information and photos.
Central Upper Peninsula
After leaving the Keweenaw, take Michigan Highway 28 to Munising and the Western Edge of Pictured Rocks National Park. Highway H58 runs along the southern border of the park. From H58 you can take side trips into various scenic attractions of the park itself. As you travel eastward on H58 towards Grand Marais you’ll go through some heavily wooded areas that offer good fall color. The first week in October is when peak color generally occurs.
Leaving Grand Marais, you should travel to Newberry, Michigan and then take Highway 123 to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Expect some good color along this route and in the park itself. The fall color framing the Upper Tahquamenon Falls is outstanding. From Tahquamenon Falls you travel to Paradise, Michigan. A side trip north to Whitefish Point and Lighthouse is an option. Otherwise you go south from Paradise and catch the Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway going east towards Sault Ste. Marie. There will be some attractive color along this route.
From Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, you take the International Bridge to Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario and then travel north on Ontario Highway 17. You’ll find some good color along this route, especially as you arrive in Lake Superior Provincial Park. If you’ve got the time and inclination, an outstanding fall color excursion is taking the Agawa Canyon Tour Train from Sault Sainte Marie north. The trip up and back is a day long so plan to spend at least one overnight in Sault Sainte Marie. Fall color generally peaks in the first week in October but could last longer.
From Lake Superior park to Wawa there will still be hardwood forests that show a good variety of fall color. But north of Wawa and traveling west along the North Shore of Lake Superior, the forest composition changes to Boreal Forest with the yellows and golds of Aspen and Tamarack trees providing the main color components.
The Boreal Forest predominates until Thunder Bay, Ontario. Between Thunder Bay and the border at Grand Portage, Minnesota you’ll start to see a return to a mix between the Boreal Forest and the Northern Hardwood Forest (maples, oaks, hickories, etc.). While this is further north you’d expect color to have arrived earlier than around Sault Sainte Marie. But color change in Aspen and Tamarack generally occur later than Maples.
Minnesota North Shore.
Along the Minnesota North Shore near the lake itself your primary color will come from Aspen and Birch which generally peak in Mid-October. Lining the Minnesota North Shore are several mountain ranges and peaks that host more Maples, Oaks, and Hickories and have hiking trails leading to them from the lake shore. Along these trails and at the top of the peaks looking inland away from the lake you’ll see lots of color variety from Maples, Oaks, and wooded shrubs and trees. These trees and vegetation will start showing color in late September and into the first week of October. If you are non-hiker, take the Moose Mountain Gondola Ride at Lutsen, perhaps the number one fall color venue along the Minnesota North Shore.
About half way between Grand Marais, MN and Duluth is the Tettegouche State Park visitor center. There’s a decent network of trails along the bluff above the lake and the Baptism River that will offer several good scenic vistas. There’s also a new trail to the top of Shovel Point which will provide outstanding views of the lake, shoreline and looking back inland. Other parks along the North Shore that will offer some decent hiking through hardwood forests are Temperance River and Gooseberry Falls.
From Superior, Wisconsin to Ashland and Bayfield peak color generally occurs around Mid-October.
Take highway 13 off US Highway 2 east of Superior, Wisconsin towards Cornucopia and Bayfield. Here you will see the yellows and golds of Aspen, Birch, and Tamarack with occasional groves of Maples offering oranges and reds. In Bayfield tour the orchards for apples and berries and some decent fall scenery. There are some nice color drives in and around the Ashland area (see our Ashland-Bayfield Fall Color Drive page). If you are in this area earlier than mid-October your best fall color will be south of Ashland, taking highway 13 to Copper Falls State Park near Mellen.