Living in the Grand Marais area, I find myself waiting all year for fall. Sure, summer is great--there is kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and hiking. In the fall, though, you can do all of those things without the summer crowds and the hordes of mosquitoes. As summer greenery is taken over by the golden hues of fall, the entire landscape changes. And when the trees eventually lose their leaves, you can see topography that is hidden throughout the summer.
The waters on Lake Superior get colder and rougher, so that's the time to explore the inland lakes where the wildlife seem to venture back out of their summer hideouts. You can watch loons, geese, and ducks start to raft up before they head south.
While many visitors come in the summer to do their annual BWCA trip, permits are sometimes hard to get during that busy season. That is not the case in the fall - all those popular entry points are pretty wide open. Ditto for the best campsites. The fishing is also better than the middle of the summer. And nothing is sweeter than sleeping under the stars on a cool, crisp night.
Kayaking and canoeing may not be your thing. That is where our many hiking trails come in. Whether you are out for a day hike, a couple days on the Superior Hiking Trail, or maybe you are a grouse hunter who wants to get your dog lots of hard work, this is the best place to be. In my mind, our trails are best enjoyed in the fall. You can head to the west end of Cook County and hike up Oberg Mountain, where there are a number of overlooks. In the fall, the vistas are breathtaking. In the central part of the county, you can hike to the summit of Eagle Mountain, which is the highest point in Minnesota. Right outside of Grand Marais, you can head to Pincushion Mountain, which gives you fantastic views of Grand Marais, Artist's Point, and the vast expanse of Lake Superior. To the east, at Grand Portage, you can hike the historic trail or just head to Grand Portage State Park and view the High Falls on the Pigeon River.
Personally, I have two favorite hikes. One is to head to the Woods Creek trailhead on the Superior Hiking Trail, off County Road 58 and Highway 61, and take the Superior Hiking Trail west towards Pincushion Mountain. There's a serene, mystical beauty on this trail, with its deep canyon on the left and tall pines on the right. With some prior planning, you can leave a car at Pincushion and easily walk the trail in a few hours. Devil Track Falls is a great place to stop for lunch.
The other hike is up the Kadunce River. And by a hike up the river, I mean up the river; not on the trail. Bring a pair of shoes or boots that can get wet, a hiking staff, and a waterproof camera. As you proceed up the river, you need to scramble around a couple of waterfalls. Your progress is only limited by water level and your agility. The views as you get into the canyon make the wet feet and cold legs worth it!
If you are not inclined to hike or boat through the area, don't let that deter you from experiencing the autumn beauty of Grand Marais. There are plenty of back roads you can travel to view the leaves from the comfort of your car. Stay at a lodge on the Gunflint Trail and go for a drive to spot one of our elusive moose.
Visit Cook County is our local Visitor's Bureau. On their web site (visitcookcounty.com), you can download an app to get all the information you need about upcoming events and festivals in the area. We have music festivals, art festivals, and the Lake Superior Storm Festival this fall. For us at Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply, the big Storm Festival event is our style and fashion show. This is always a great time for our customers and our staff.
Even though visitors talk about the beauty and fun of Grand Marais, those of us who live here know that they are really talking about Cook County. It's a large county, from Grand Portage on the east side to Schroeder on the west. We are talking almost 100 miles. From Grand Marais to the end of the Gunflint Trail is about 65 miles. When you come to the area, stop by one of our outdoor shops and pick up a hiking map. By coincidence, Stone Harbor, with the help of Bismarck Map Company, has just published a Cook County map of hiking trails. Many stores in the area are selling it. By winter we also hope to have a winter activity map. Or stop at one of the other outdoor shops and ask for information and directions - we are all happy to help our visitors. Mostly, have a great fall on the North Shore.