When reds and golds nudge out greens in our treetops, it's time to take a moment — or a weekend — to immerse ourselves in the seasonal show. Of course, even as we relish the warm glow of autumn leaves, we're aware of what comes next, and it involves a lot less color and a lot more chill. So how can we find fall beauty and get in a few more hours of our favorite summer activity? Here are some locations that merge the two beautifully.
Grab those hiking boots for Oberg Mountain
Timed right, a hike on the Oberg Mountain Trail, part of the Superior Hiking Trail near Tofte, brings views of not only Lake Superior but also a sea of blazing maples. (And about that timing: The Superior Hiking Trail Association suggests that maple trees peak on the North Shore around the end of September.)
The trail has several features to love. First, it is one of the rare loop trails on the otherwise linear SHT. Park at the trailhead lot (on County Road 336, aka Onion River Road, not far off Hwy. 61), catch the views from the mountain and wind up back at the car. Second, the distance won't leave you aching. It's a mere 2.3 miles, so lots of people can manage it, including kids (but parents, be mindful of occasional dramatic drops). And, finally, the location is a short drive from yet another way to enjoy autumn on the North Shore: Lutsen Mountains' Alpine Slide. Take a chairlift ride to the peak of Eagle Mountain and zip down on the luge run. You're driving a sled, so you can control your speed, should you want to see individual trees instead of an orange blur.
More details: Get the dirt on Oberg Mountain Trail at shta.org/trail-section/caribou-river-wayside-to-lutsen. For information on Lutsen Mountains' Alpine Slide (open weekends through Oct. 22), go to lutsen.com/summer/alpine-slide.
Pump up your bike tires and head to Itasca
I've done centuries (100-mile bike rides) through the rolling countryside of Virginia. I've taken a mountain bike up the steep gravel fire roads that line the rugged mountains of Los Angeles. I've biked along Maine's coast. But my favorite bike ride of all time took place much closer to home, along a 16-mile loop in Itasca State Park.
Despite its few miles, the Itasca ride took longer than some of those 100-milers. I started at a leisurely pace, and I kept stopping. I dipped my toes into the Mississippi headwaters at the park's most visited spot. I took in views of Lake Itasca from Preacher's Grove, the site of a former church camp. I wandered down a short trail to see a white pine so massive it measures 173 inches in circumference. In fall, though, it's the robust stands of hardwoods that steal the show. One of the best ways to see their multihued displays, beyond the seat of a bike, is atop the 100-foot Aiton Heights Fire Tower, which rises above a maple and basswood forest. When you climb down those steps, you might be ready for a nap. Grab a room at the Douglas Lodge, on the park grounds, where clean but no-frills rooms start at $85 a night.
More details: For information on Itasca State Park (near Park Rapids), its bike rentals and a link for reservations at Douglas Lodge (seasonal) and other year-round options: dnr.state.mn.us/itasca.
Paddle the Mississippi under a canopy of trees
Often when kayaking, you're afloat in the middle of some body of water, looking at the lakeshore or riverbanks from your small floating perch. But push off into the backwaters of the Mississippi, and you'll be among the trees, not merely looking at them from a distance. Look up, and autumn's show will dazzle you.
If plying water while getting your fall-color fix sounds good, consider the Flooded Forest Tour offered by Wabasha-based Broken Paddle Guiding. The trip — a four-hour guided kayaking excursion — brings paddlers into remote river channels near Wabasha, where silver maples cast shadows on kayakers, and wayward paddles could bump against tree trunks. Along the way, Broken Paddle guides lend perspective on the elements that make up the largest river ecosystem on our continent — and those elements (think eagles, otters, turtles and fishes) often reveal themselves during the tours, like a teacher's props. Want to explore these smooth waters on your own? The company also rents kayaks and other watercraft.
More details: Learn about Broken Paddle Guiding's trips on the Mississippi and reserve your spot at brokenpaddleguiding.com.
Kerri Westenberg • 612-673-4282