While fall hikes and backroad drives may be the most common ways to enjoy the brilliant fall colors, the North Shore offers another way to soak in the fall foliage: from the gondola at Lutsen Mountains. In fact, the Summit Express Gondola is the only gondola in the Midwest, making this aerial excursion a unique way to experience the best of this season.
Originally built in 1989 and then replaced in 2015, the Summit Express Gondola carries skiers over the Poplar River valley, between the main area of Lutsen Mountains to ski runs on Moose Mountain and Mystery Mountain. But the gondola is not just a means of transportation; with spectacular views of the Sawtooth Mountains and Lake Superior, the gondola is also a destination in itself, and peak color season even sees more users of the gondola than peak ski season.
To take the Summit Express Gondola, visitors can purchase tickets at the ticket office at Lutsen Mountains. (The gondola runs every day from early June to mid-October.) The ride is just over a mile long and takes about eight minutes to complete.
Jim Vick, Director of Operations, Marketing, and Guest Services at Lutsen Mountains said, “The gondola takes you right over the tree tops, which makes it a fully immersive fall color experience. It’s also accessible, making this one of the few spots where you can access a mountaintop without hiking.”
Once on Moose Mountain, visitors can stop by the Summit Chalet for a bite to eat, or explore the mountain top’s observation decks and short walks.
For those wishing to combine a gondola trip with a fall hike, Lutsen Mountains offers just that. Hikers can take the gondola one way to Moose Mountain. Once there, a spur trail connects Moose Mountain to the Superior Hiking Trail. Going east, the trail takes hikers down Moose Mountain, over Mystery Mountain, and across the Poplar River. The Superior Hiking Trail then intersects with cross-country ski trails that take hikers right back to the parking lot, for a hike that totals just over four miles.
For those that crave more adventure, hikers can do a shuttle hike starting at Lutsen Mountains and ending at Oberg Mountain, one of the most-loved fall hikes in the area. Hikers can leave one vehicle at the Oberg Mountain trailhead (the next trailhead to the west from Lutsen Mountains) and then return to Lutsen Mountains to take the gondola. At the connection to the main Superior Hiking Trail, hikers can go west to reach Oberg Mountain for more spectacular fall views.
Another unique way to experience the fall colors at Lutsen Mountains is to take the Alpine Slide, which is open on the weekends through mid-October. A ski lift takes visitors to the top of the slide, which offers commanding views and the added fun of a thrilling ride down the mountainside. Whichever mode of adventure you choose, the North Shore has opportunities for everyone to get out and experience the best of autumn.
For more information about Lutsen Mountains, including gondola operating schedules, visit lutsen.com.