Fall Colors On the Superior


A child with his mother points at fall foliage Fall is here and it is time to plan a trip to the Superior National Forest to see Nature put on her annual show.


Current Conditions (September 19, 2014):


Fall colors are about 10-15% of the trees, but patchy bits of 100% and of 0%.  The overall impression is of a more yellow-green forest, with occasional bright spots of color.  Most leaves are still anchored well enough that the predicted stormy weather shouldn't cause too much leaf loss.



For downloadable maps of the fall color tours, choose from the options below:

Laurentian District

Tofte District (Sawtooth Mountains)

LaCroix District (Discovery Auto Tour)



1. September 19, 2014

2. September 12, 2014

3. September 4, 2014

4.  Slideshows

5.  When is the Peak?  Visit our weekly pictures from our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail since 2008.  See if you can predict when this year's peak will be!

6.  For all the photos, visit our Flickr site.



September 19, 2014


Autumn days come quickly, like the running of a hound on the moor.

- Irish proverb


A bright understory below birch and aspen Last week, some people wondered why we had fall color reports already.  This week, some people were already crying “Peak!”  Fall not only progressed this week, it sprinted.  While not even close to peak really, there are some trees that have definitely given up on summer.  If you look across the forest at a scenic vista, it isn’t so much the birch, maples, and aspen which catch your eye, as the dark evergreens which stand out more and against the yellowing hardwoods, with an occasional stand out tree or patch of trees in flame. 

It is wonderful week to go for a hike.  In fact, you should go on several hikes.  Even on the same trail, you will get a different experience every day as fall moves on, and even a different experience for every hundred yards of trail.  You’ll pass through a section of yellow, then turn a corner and you are back in midsummer green.  But you’ll find that it is getting harder and harder though to find sections of forest with no sign of fall, and the yellow patches are quickly spreading across the landscape. 

The patchy nature of the forest is more apparent at this time of year.  For a little while here in the fall, we can see what has been apparent to the birds all the time.  Our forest isn’t one large unit, it is a collection of smaller pieces that vary in age and species of tree, in climate, and in soil.  Possibly “Superior National Forests” with an ‘s’ would have been a better name for the area, but most of the year this richness in diversity is hidden from us in a uniform shade of green.  In the fall though, all the patches start to show as they take their individual paths toward winter. 

Because of this patchy progression of fall, it is very hard to get a number on percent color this week.  Over the landscape, it may be 15 to 20% color, but some areas are up near 100%, until you turn the corner of the road and are down to 0%.  Generally, the shore area near Lake Superior is behind the inland areas, and once in the interior, cool valleys are ahead of uplands.  The best thing to do is to take your time, and enjoy all the different routes through fall that our patchy forest mosaic takes.


Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail, Sept 18, 2014 An unidentified fungus on the forest floor.
A close up of early fall orange maple leaves A big red maple against a blue sky
Yellow maples against a blue sky Overhanging branches against a blue sky

For a printable copy of the photos and text above, click here.



September 12, 2014


I have seen flocks streaming south in the fall so large that they were flowing over from horizon to horizon in an almost continuous stream all day long, at the rate of forty or fifty miles an hour, like a mighty river in the sky, widening, contracting, descending like falls and cataracts, and rising suddenly here and there in huge ragged masses like high-plashing spray.

- John Muir, regarding passenger pigeons


Paddling in the Pagami fire area, three years post fire Fall is a season for anniversaries.  On September 1, 1914, the last drop in the mighty river of passenger pigeons described by John Muir passed away, and autumn in North America would never again be the same.  We may revel in the leaves as they change, but imagine what it would have been like with thousands upon thousands of migrating birds coursing through the landscape.  We’ve kept the trees and the forest, but it is like the set of a play with all the supporting actors, but missing a lead role.  While our Superior National Forest lacks the large stands of oak where these birds thrived, we are still in their historic range, and they would have been part of our autumn colors.

Humans were responsible for the passing of the passenger pigeon, but fifty years ago on September 3, 1964, we were also responsible for passing the Wilderness Act.  Where fifty years earlier, we’d caused the end of a species, the Wilderness Act set aside land to be forever wild, and provided homes for endangered species.  Our Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness helped provide refuge for wolves, eagles, and other animals that found their existence threatened, and helped these animals recover from the edge of extinction to sustainable populations. 

The BWCAW was the site of another event with a September anniversary.  On September 12, 2011, the Pagami Creek Fire roared over 16 miles in one day, on its way to burning approximately 90,000 acres.  Today, the forest is regenerating, as it always has in this fire dependent ecosystem.  Jack pine in the area are up to knee high in some places, and aspen are as tall as a person.  The cycle continues, even as it did when passenger pigeons haunted the forest, just as fall is part of the cycle of seasons.

What other anniversaries are there for you in the fall?  Memories of autumn fishing trips, the first apples from the tree in your yard, or the last time you jumped in a leaf pile?  Fall is a season for anniversaries.

If you go to make your memories this week, about 5 to 10 percent of the leaves have color.  Many of the birches and aspen are showing yellow, or at least yellow green – but the overall impression is still of a green forest.  But keep your  eyes open, right around that corner might be that one red maple tree.


Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail Sept 11, 2014 Birch leaves are starting to yellow
A pitcher plant in the bog A bright red maple, earlier than others
Red bindweed in the Pagami Creek fire area A boardwalk leads to a bog

For a printable copy of the photos and text above, click here.



September 4, 2014


T'is a thing which I remember;
To name it thrills me yet:
One day of one September
I never can forget.

- Helen Hunt Jackson September


A single black eyed susan flower Winter is coming!  It is autumn!  Time to prepare!  We humans can our tomatoes, press our apples, and perhaps plastic our windows.  A few more strokes of the paint brush while it is warm enough for paint to dry instead of freeze.  A last hole dug in ground that isn’t hard as iron.  Another armful of logs split for the woodpile.  Yes, summer and the state fair was but a week ago, but the leaves and the woods and the scent in the air tells us that things are changing. 

We are not the only living things starting preparations for winter.  Birds that only spend their summers in the north are flocking up and heading south.  Flights of dragonflies too are headed south, and three of our seven species of bats will also be winging their way to warmer climes.  Animal activity is high in the fall.  Everything is eating as much as it can, converting seeds and berries and meat to fat and fur.  The bats which stay, along with snakes and other hibernators, have to store enough energy as fat in their bodies to last a winter, with enough left over to successfully wake again in the spring.  Animals which are active in the winter are caching food, adding undercoats and guard hairs, or finding shelters.  Some types of butterflies and frogs are changing their body chemistry to allow them to freeze during the winter and thaw again in the spring.  Other animals won’t survive the winter, but are leaving eggs, or larvae, or cocoons to last through the snows, growing in the spring into a generation that will never know their parents.  Everything is preparing for the winter to come.

You scoff?  You say there is still time?  You say you aren’t ready yet?  Look at the one tree turned bright red already.  Nature knows – winter is right around the corner.  Luckily, we still have autumn between now and then to soften the blow with colors and sounds and aromas.  So, get prepared, find your stocking hat, but take time to go for hike and enjoy fall.  It won’t last long!


Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail, Sept 3, 2014 A fall stockpile of wood for winter
A garter snake Is this the first red branch of 2014?
A goldenrod head as seen from the top Flower flies visit Joe Pye weed flowers

For a printable copy of the photos and text above, click here.




Slideshows: Fall photos from around the Superior National Forest

September 19, 2014


September 12, 2014


September 4, 2014


October 29, 2013


October 22, 2013


October 18, 2013


October 8, 2013


October 1, 2013


September 24, 2013


September 17, 2013


September 10, 2013


September 4, 2013


Our photopoint on the Honeymoon Trail

Weekly photos taken from the same spot this year and previous years on the Sawtooth Mountains Fall Color Tour.