Friday, October 1, 2010

Fall colors: get off the highway

North Shore fall color fans know that there are typically two different peak times for the autumn spectacle. First the maple trees in the inland ridges turn ablaze. Then, two or three weeks later, the birch along Highway 61 change to gold.

The tourism boosters don't want you to hear this: those two color peaks are happening at one time. And, compared to other years, Highway 61 fall colors are not all that great.

After experiencing an early spring, the trees by Lake Superior must be ready to hang it up for the year. Along Highway 61, the aspens are in burnished colors of fall, not their typical glimmering yellow. After years of gradual decline and a devastating 2008 ice storm, the paper birch trees along Highway 61 have really suffered and so have their fall colors. You see more of their white bark than of their yellow leaves.

Fall is still the best time to hike the North Shore's fantastic trails. The views are still gorgeous. The trails are dry and the bugs are gone. You just have to get off of Highway 61. Either head inland to the Superior Hiking Trail and the Superior National Forest or get down to the shoreline in a state park like Split Rock Lighthouse, where you can walk for miles along the lakeshore.

Colors are near peak now in the new stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail between Duluth and Two Harbors. Try the six-mile round trip hike from the Rossini Road trailhead to the cute little waterfall on McCarthy Creek.

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