Superior National Forest

A typical river scene in Superior National Forest 

The national forests of Minnesota are home to some of the most remote and wild places in the state. They are vast areas of dense woods with few roads and fewer towns. In one of my first posts for the Great Minnesota Road Trip, I wrote about Chippewa National Forest in the Drive section of Scenic State Park. Although there are many destinations in Chippewa, for me the forest was a mostly a point of passage from civilization to wilderness (the road through Chippewa is literally called "Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway"). Even so, if there is one place I wish I would have spent more time in, it would be Chippewa.

Superior National Forest would have ended up in the same category as Chippewa, a beautiful drive between state parks, if I had come a different time of year or ignored road signs. As it was, I was there in Autumn and noticed a little sign off of Hwy 61 that said "Fall Color Route". I made the decision to explore this mysterious road and in an afternoon Superior National Forest went from a throughway to a destination.

A canopy of gold on Superior National Forest's Fall Color Route. 

The 6300 square mile forest (the fourth largest in the nation including Alaska) contains more than 2000 lakes, 3400 miles of streams and rivers, the largest wolf population in the lower 48, and some of the best hiking and canoeing in the world. Although is would take weeks to even begin to explore this vast wilderness, it only takes a day to drive the fall color route. Following a series of forest roads taking you into the Sawtooth Mountains between Two Harbors and Grand Marais, the route is designed (unsurprisingly) to bring you through some of the best displays of fall color in the state. You'll drive though golden canopies of aspen, fiery swathes of maple, and to points overlooking virtually uninhabited wildernesses.

Dirt road through the fall colors in Superior National Forest. 

If you go on a weekday, you'll be virtually alone except for locals, but on the weekend, it won't feel uninhabited. The North Shore gets about two weekends of good color each year and people take advantage of it. You won't run into any traffic jams like you might in a New England fall color route, but you'll have to be patient if you want pictures without other cars in them. However, this is still hundreds of miles from the nearest large city, so if you're used to crowds, you probably won't even notice.

If you manage to hit the right time (late September / early October), take the time to explore Superior National Forest. If you come too early or too late, still take the time because wilderness is always worth it.