Driving the Colorful Hills


The Arrowhead Region features a strong contrast–you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the inland forests and also the breezy shore of Lake Superior. While Breezy Point is on and facing the lake, the inland areas have incredible natural beauty as well. One of the best times of year to experience this is fall when all the leaves change colors.

While you can find fall colors anywhere along the north shore, most people are looking for the bright red maples you’ll see further inland. These tend to be concentrated along a ridge, which gets further or closer from the lake depending on your location along the shore. At Two Harbors, near Breezy Point, this ridge is about ten miles north of the town. There are some great drives you can go on from Two Harbors, when you want to tour this ridge of fiery reds.

Silver Bay Tour

Start by taking the back way to Silver Bay, on Highway 3. You can access the road by making a left a little past Betty’s Pies.

Before you get to the ridge, you will see lots of fall colors. Though the evergreen trees tend to predominate at first, there are plenty of leafy trees, like birches, mixed into the coniferous forests.

In the book “North Shore: A Natural History of Minnesota’s Superior Coast” by Chel Anderson and Adelheid Fischer, they show this road going through 3 vegetation zones. The first zone, closest to the shore, is what they call “mesic white pine-red pine.” While this does not mean every single tree here fits into those categories, those are the predominant species.

Further up you go through what they label “mesic birch-aspen-spruce-fir.” The dependable evergreen trees are losing their power to the deciduous trees, which prefer going out like shooting stars to being the same all the time.

After this, you reach the ridge and the section they call “northern hardwood-conifer.” The conifers are still powerful here, but here is where the biggest concentration of red maple trees can be found.

Besides providing a habitat where the maples can thrive, these hills also provide vantage points for spectacular views down colorful valleys. There are also plenty of places where you can look down the red and orange hills into the valleys.

The whole trip to Silver Bay is about 27 miles. You will enter the red ridge and come down and go through a spectacular section of rugged hardwood scenery, before ending up by the Silver Bay Golf course.

At this point you can make a right on Lax Lake Road, go a few miles to Beaver Bay and take the quick way back to the resort on Highway 61. Or, you can take a left and continue on Lax Lake Road, for a more extended fall color drive.

Lax Lake Road Tour

The Lax Lake tour is impressive enough that you could consider it a tour of its own. If you are taking this tour by itself, you can drive up from the resort on Highway 61 and make a left on Lax Lake Road in Beaver Bay.

Here the hills are much closer to the shore than the beginning of the Highway 3 tour. You enter the red maple zone almost immediately, and are in it or at its edge almost the entire drive. You can look up at the high red hills including the ones you can see from behind Tettegouche State Park.

When you reach Highway 1, you take a right and head down the steep road, which runs close to the course of the Baptism River. After driving 16 miles total, you reach Highway 61 and the lake again. We could say the trip ends here, except you can see plenty of colors as you drive back to Breezy Point. Fall on the north shore is a little like raising children—the season may be gone all too quickly, but each day seems to last forever.