Fall color trips to Bearskin Lodge and the North Shore

Fall is one of the best times to travel to  the Gunflint Trail. It’s a very quiet time of year here.

We have a long, extended color season in NE Minnesota due to the varying climate zones. The climate is warmer near Lake Superior, so the leaves along the North Shore change later. As you gain altitude driving up the Gunflint Trail to Bearskin, cooler temps create earlier fall color changes.

Other weather conditions can also affect the timing of color. A very late spring and a wet summer, such as we are having in 2022, can throw the timing off. Remember, fall really isn’t about “color.” It’s about enjoying beautiful autumn weather, about seeing fall wildlife, and about being outdoors. It’s the nicest season of the year, whether the leaves are colorful or not.

Color usually peaks during the last week of September on East Bearskin Lake, but the color begins to change in spots along the Gunflint Trail almost as soon as September starts — there are often bits of color even during the last week of August.

On the Minnesota map below, Bearskin is located near the top of Zone 2.  No matter where you’re starting from, the drive all the way to Bearskin will offer a variety of vibrant foliage for most of the fall season.

There is a commonly held belief that the weekend closest to October 1 will be the so-called “peak.” As a result, that weekend can be obscenely busy all along the North Shore — although it’s never overly busy once you get to the quiet Gunflint Trail. It’s true that the color is often nice, but the trade-off is a quantity of people everywhere along Hwy. 61 that might take some of the fun out of your trip. If you imagine that you will stop at every waterfall and scenic sight along Highway 61 as you come up north, try not to choose the Saturday and Sunday around October 1. It’s a mob scene all along Hwy 61.

You are always going to have a better fall trip if you can travel mid-week and indeed, in our experience the real “peak” has never occurred exactly on the weekend. You will also have a nicer fall trip if you can avoid traveling home on Sunday afternoon on any fall weekend. Come on Thursday, leave on Monday, and you’ll never even notice there were busy days in between. For enjoyable fall weather, we prefer the weekend before or the weekend after the October 1 busy date. Of course, it never feels busy at Bearskin, but the quality of your travel up north is nicer if there is less traffic.

Colorful leaves usually remain on the trees well into October up here, until the day we get a major windstorm. After the leafy trees have lost their color, our tamaracks are still displaying vivid shades of orange and yellow for much of the fall. Tamarack is the true fall color tree of the far north, a tree you don’t get to see everywhere in our state.  All of fall is beautiful in its own way.

Once the leaves are gone from the trees, some of the best days of fall begin. This is when the wildlife viewing is at its best, because you can see into the woods so much more. Moose are very active and often are much more visible. Grouse are everywhere. It’s easier to hear a wolf howl. And as the leaves fall from the trees, the better visibility of the night sky to the north means that if the Aurora Borealis is active, there are more opportunities to snap a northern lights photo. (We always post updates in the Main Lodge about impending aurora activity, so we’ll let you know if you should be out late with your camera.)

Fall usually becomes winter sometime in November, but we never really know for sure. We have experienced November with 20 inches of snow and November when the temperatures felt more like early October. Anything is possible.

Dreaming of a fall getaway? Choose your date based on what’s most important for your ideal trip.  If peak color is your primary motivation, the end of September usually is perfect.  It is also, by far, the busiest time on the entire North Shore, especially during whichever weekend falls closest to October 1. If your goal is to experience summer-like temps, but with cool nights and no bugs, then choose the end of August or the beginning of September. We always think the nicest summer days occur when everyone imagines summer is “over.”  If you are coming for great hiking and a chance of seeing a moose or other wildlife, all of October is great.

The MEA weekend in Minnesota (our state’s teacher convention dates) is a pseudo-holiday in Minnesota because most schools are out. The convention begins on the 3rd Thursday every October, and has become a busy family travel time. In 2022 the start date is October 20. Bearskin requires 3-night stays for this long weekend. The dates fill early, but we always have a few people who have no idea this “holiday” exists and are surprised that this fall weekend gets booked so fast. If you’re not traveling on an MEA schedule, pick the weekend before or weekend after for a less busy experience.

To help you plan, we regularly post availability updates here.  Updates are posted somewhat erratically, but it is an easy way to get a fast, bigger picture of possible availability options. You can also use the “Check Availability” box in the upper right hand corner of the web page. This is usually accurate within a few days, but doesn’t have the flexibility that arranging dates with an actual human being often has. For the most current info and the best help, call us at (800) 338-4170 or email: stay@bearskin.com   We’ll help you plan a fall trip to remember.