A Solis Excursion to North Shore Minnesota for the Second Peak of Fall Color
Learn more about this region and why late fall is a great time to visit!

By: Christian Gilbert

True Minnesotans celebrate the changing seasons throughout the year, it’s kind of a “right of passage” to find joy in whatever our weather decides to throw at us. Hawaiian shirts and flip flops to arctic expedition gear can be found within the closet of every true Minnesotan. Fall … yep, the time of year to become “leaf peepers” (yes, it is actually a thing) and hit the road to see the brilliance of the red, orange, and yellow glow of the forested areas throughout the state. 

Now, leaf peeping comes with a price, the growing crowds of EVERYONE else heading to the woods to take in the last bit of warmth and glow before the winter cold. Well, we have a leaf peeping pro tip - a savvy Minnesota fall traveler needs a few tricks to beat the crowds. Today’s trick is something North Shore, Minnesota, locals refer to as the “second peak,” which is an unofficial peak after the initial fall color peak.

The Second Peak of Fall in Minnesota 

The first peak comes on or close to September 25th and includes many of the popular highland areas like Oberg Mountain and Lutsen ski area. However, a second secret fall color peak happens every season, which takes place about three weeks after the official fall color peak period reported by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 

This second peak can be found on a narrow band of land along the shores of Lake Superior called the North Shore. This year, we hit it perfectly during the third weekend of October. This delayed fall color is due to a micro-climate caused by the large mass of water contained within Lake Superior. 

Micro-climate!?! Yes, huge bodies of water throughout the world moderate the climate within the land areas near large masses of water. Scientifically, the effect of this micro-climate can be basically understood by explaining a phenomenon called “specific heat.” All objects and surfaces throughout our planet have a specific heat, which is a number indicating the amount of thermal energy needed to raise the temperature of materials. 

This can be easily experienced and understood at the beach during summer. It causes hot sand and cool water during the day and cool sand and warm water during the evening. (Water has high specific heat and takes more time to gain and/or lose its temperature.) This means the waters of Lake Superior hold on to summer temperatures and creates a microclimate of delayed weather for about a five-mile-wide band along the shoreline. 

Okay, enough science nerd, but just remember that North Shore is “warmer” than the surrounding areas during colder seasons and “cooler” in the hotter months. By the way, this makes summer travel throughout the North Shore GLORIOUS when the southern areas of MN are being scorched by summer heat and humidity, but that is an entirely different story. 

Overview of North Shore Minnesota 

The North Shore is a region of Minnesota situated on the western shoreline of the world’s largest freshwater lake by area, Lake Superior. Due to its massive size, a first-time traveler to Lake Superior would surely believe they were on the shores of an ocean upon initial inspection. So, it might be more fitting to refer to Lake Superior as an inland sea. 

Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes (there are five including Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario). It stretches 350 miles from west to east, 160 miles from north to south, and boasts 2,800 miles of shoreline. Officially, the North Shore is a narrow piece of land that hugs the lake's shoreline for 154 miles between the port city of Duluth and the Canadian border. 

The main artery for travelers is Highway 61, which has many curiosities, scenic stops, and adventures littered throughout. One can spend a lifetime exploring this shoreline, and yet can always find another unique experience. 

A prospective North Shore traveler can find a treasure trove of “lists” and recommendations on what to do and see while traveling up and down the North Shore. We still pour over social media posts, online articles, and printed media; plus listen to locals and fellow travelers every time we head up.  

Over the years we have made a list of locations that are not secrets, but more “hidden in plain sight” … meaning that these experiences are just overshadowed by the more popular destinations that, we feel, are over loved (aka crowded).

Our List of Top North Shore Minnesota Hidden Adventures:

  • The Pink Beach (Iona SNA)
  • Pellet Island
  • Illgen Falls
  • Palisade Head (YES you can drive a Solis up there)
  • Cedar Coffee Company
  • Hovland Dock
  • Kadunce River Wayside
  • Ely Peak/DWP Tunnel
  • Bean & Bear Lake Hike Loop SHT
  • Gunflint Trail (Late Fall 2nd Peak…zero people)
  • Poplar Haus Restaurant
  • Lockport Marketplace, Lutsen for Sourdough Pancakes

Note: These are just a few of our hidden gems. Half the fun of new places is doing a bit of research and figuring out the “how to!” We guarantee that none of these will be hard to find with some basic research online and that the simple research process will make them feel more like your own because you guided yourself to them.

Some of the go-to campgrounds in this area are Grand Marais Marina & Campground and Trail's End Campground in Superior National Forest.

Quiz: How Well Do You Know the Great Lakes?

Just for fun, let's test your knowledge of this region! Check your answers at the end of this article.

  1. Name the 5 Great Lakes from West to East.
  2. True or False: There is enough water in Lake Superior to submerge North and South America in one foot of water?
  3. What percentage of the world’s surface freshwater is contained in the Great Lakes? 
  4. The Great Lakes border eight U.S. states (Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin). How many Canadian provinces do they border?
  5. True or False: Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in volume on earth?
  6. What is the approximate age of the Great Lakes?

About Us & Our RV Travel Style

Hi! My name is Christian Gilbert and I have been an avid road adventurer, world traveler, and an 8th grade world geography teacher for the past 24 years. I am a lifelong Minnesotan and have a deep love for travel, geography, and learning about our world.

My fiancé and travel partner, Valerie Youngblood, is also a tried and true Minnesotan and is the absolute master at adventure research and logistics. Valerie works remotely in digital media and in her spare time obsesses over van life food prep, storage, and presentation.

Valerie and I are brand new to the Winnebago family and are loving our decision to take the plunge. This past year, we purchased a Winnebago Solis National Park Edition Class B with the main objective to get more out of our travel experiences. We have owned a campervan for years, but it was on an east coast trip this past summer (18 states, 4,500+ miles) with our twin 11-year-olds (very faithful road warriors) that we decided that our old van no longer fit our unique travel happy family.

We are a blended family, so don’t have our kids all the time, therefore the Solis with the pop-top penthouse was the final deciding factor in the purchase of our expedition vehicle. We spent months pouring over websites, test drives, reading and watching countless campervan resources and ultimately decided to join the Solis clan. 

There are so many Winnebago features that had us hooked, but ultimately the flexibility of the Solis makes this the BEST adventure vehicle that can transform to our ever-changing needs throughout the year. We love the change of seasons, we are not deterred by any single type of weather, and we find great joy in experiencing the landscape of Minnesota, Canada, and the United States. 

Our Solis, named Mearl, seems to be the perfect fit and a great travel companion. We are excited to put on some miles in the years to come – including plans in 2024 to visit Utah, Arkansas, and the PNW.

Answers to quiz: #1 Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario; #2 True; #3 About 20%; #4 One - Ontario; #5 False (Lake Baikal, Russia); #6 10,000 years.


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