Autumn By the Sea

Above Image | The St. Louis River tumbles over rocky terrain in Jay Cooke State Park before flowing to Lake Superior.

The Great 8

September and October bring fire-hued foliage, migrating birds and avid outdoors-lovers to Duluth, a jewel of a city along Minnesota's Lake Superior shore. Here's how to make the most of a busy-season visit.

By Amanda Glazebrook
Photos by Ryan Donnell

If you only ever get to see Duluth once, see it in the fall. Gold and orange and russet foliage drapes the hills and valleys along the Lake Superior shore. It's still warm enough to appreciate how jagged boulders turn the inland sea's waves into a cooling mist and to stand in the shadow of a lighthouse to watch the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge rise to grant passage to freighters. But it's cool enough that the sharp-shinned hawks and peregrine falcons have started their trek south for the winter, pausing in the tree-topped bluffs of Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, where hikers and birders congregate to see nature's splendor. “It's just a great time to be here,” says Caitlin Nielson at Vikre Distillery. “The air is so… delicious.”

Duluth's charms make it a popular destination when fall color peaks in late September and early October. Each weekend, hundreds of visitors make their way here to see the colors, shop Canal Park's boutiques, watch the ships come in and dine on whitefish. But you don't have to fight crowds if you have a game plan.

Duluth in Fall: A Plan

See the sunrise on the Duluth Lakewalk.

It's just you and the early-morning joggers as the sun lights up the lake in sherbert shades of orange and pink. The hour is peaceful and quiet, and getting here now ensures you snag one of the in-demand $1/hour Canal Park public parking spots.

Nosh on scones and sip local roast.

Most shops and galleries in multilevel DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace don't open until 10, but the Amazing Grace Bakery and Cafe serves pastries, omelets and wild rice Benedict starting at 7 a.m.

Explore Canal Park.

Meet freshwater creatures at the Great Lakes Aquarium. Walk to the lighthouse at the end of the North Pier, or tour the William A. Irvin freighter. Sip aquavit and gin at Vikre Distillery. And shop! Duluth Pack sells leather totes, Siiviis curates local art, and Fizzy Waters stocks hundreds of bubbly craft sodas.

Get outta town.

By early afternoon, Canal Park will be packed. Now might be a good time to take in some nature. Four less-than-a-mile hiking trails lead to overlooks and prime spots to watch for migrating birds of prey at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory on the bluffs above Duluth. Nearby, Jay Cooke State Park's 50 miles of trails showcase fall color and a swinging bridge over St. Louis River rapids.

Dine in style.

Lines at the Canal Park eateries, like Canal Park Brewing Company, may be long. But there are off-park options. New Scenic Cafe, 14 miles north of Duluth, serves up grilled pheasant with lake views. In town, The Duluth Grill elevates diner food, whipping up salmon hash with eggs. At Fitger's Brewhouse, local bands with national cred, like Trampled by Turtles, play for guests enjoying craft brews and wild rice burgers.

Rest up.

Duluth has more than a dozen hotels, inns and bed-and-breakfasts to choose from, but in September and October, spots go fast. Plan two months ahead to get a spot at lakeshore lodging like The Inn on Lake Superior or Beacon Pointe Resort. For last-minute getaways, contact Duluth's convention and visitors bureau ( They'll know which places still have rooms, so you don't have to hunt for openings yourself.