By Shelby Gonzalez
Two reasons people travel to Africa are the dramatic landscape and the wildlife. Travelers shell out for airfare and safari fees and arm themselves with cameras in hopes of absorbing the beauty of the savanna and the majesty of the Big Five: lions, leopards, buffalos, rhinos and elephants.
You don’t have to cross an ocean to experience awesome animals. The Northern Wilds boasts its own Big Five: moose, wolves, black bears, lynx, and eagles. If you are sharp-eyed and lucky this fall, you may spot one of these creatures against the backdrop of the forest in full color.
Here are eight places and ways to enjoy the changing leaves—and wild denizens—of the North this autumn.
Get Wowed at Ouimet Canyon
Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park, Dorion
Ouimet Canyon is two miles long, 350 feet deep, and lures visitors with spectacular beauty and a tragic origin story. The canyon floor is said to be the resting place of Naninboujou’s daughter Naiomi, who was killed when the top broke off a mountain being moved by the giant Omett. Arctic flowers and plants inhabit the cool microclimate at the canyon floor; stick to the platfoms to protect the fragile fauna. Privately owned attraction Eagle Canyon is nearby. More information at www.ontarioparks.com.
Drive the Gunflint Trail
The Gunflint Trail is actually a road – County Road 12, to be specific – winding its way from Grand Marais to the Canadian border lakes through the Superior National Forest. The 57-mile-long Gunflint is designated as a Minnesota Scenic Byway. Enjoy seemingly endless miles of autumn-fiery wilderness scrolling past your windows. Keep an eye on the sides of the road for leaping deer and maybe, if you’re lucky, a moose. The Gunflint is studded with lodging and dining options, Boundary Waters access points, and historical sites, including the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Details at www.byways.org
Meet the Wolves
International Wolf Center, Ely
Have you ever met an ambassador? How about an “ambassador wolf”? Check out the International Wolf Center, where you can meet Aidan and Denali, the two northwestern subspecies wolves who inhabit the main outdoor enclosure, and explore the new “Our Shared Planet” exhibit featuring life-size sculptures by Jim Ramsdell. Special events happen periodically, such as classes and the annual Howl-O-Ween Family Slumber Party. More information at www.wolf.org.
Hang Out with Bears
Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, Orr
Bears are the stars of the show at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can stand on a wooden viewing platform with a 270-degree view of black bears going about their lives. The sanctuary comprises a diverse landscape—aspen woods, meadows and cedar swamps—welcoming over 80 bears each year. Bobcats, lynx, eagles and timber wolves are occasional visitors. More information at www.americanbear.org.
Hike Hawk Ridge
Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, Duluth
The star of the show at Hawk Ridge is undoubtedly the main overlook on Skyline Parkway, where on a good day in the fall you can see thousands of broad-winged hawks, rough-legged hawks, golden eagles, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and northern goshawks winging along the North Shore. Visit in the middle of the day on a day with west or northwest wind to maximize the number of birds you are likely to spot. Bring binoculars! Within Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, there are a dozen different short and medium trails ripe for exploration. More information at www.hawkridge.org.
Ride the Red Dot Trail
ATV newbies and veterans alike can enjoy weaving through the colorful, critter-populated woods of Finland State Forest and Tettegouche State Park on the Red Dot Trail, 28 miles of woods broken up with bluffs and Lake Superior vistas. Connect with the Moose Run and Moose Walk Trails to lengthen your ride to 54 miles. Details at www.dnr.state.mn.us.
Take the Autumn Train
The Depot, Duluth
Sit back and let the colors come to you with a ride on the North Shore Scenic Railroad Fall Colors Tour. The train – a historic model from the Lake Superior Railroad Museum – departs the Union Depot at 10:30 a.m. on select dates in September and October, weaving along the lakeshore at a leisurely pace. After a two-hour layover in Two Harbors for lunch, shopping and sightseeing, hop back aboard for the return to the Depot and one more chance to take in the changing leaves. More information at www.northshorescenicrailroad.org.
Summit Eagle Mountain
Eagle Mountain Trailhead, Lutsen
Fill your lungs with fresh Boundary Waters air on the way up Eagle Montain. Find the trailhead off Cty. Road 4 (before Lutsen), register for a free day permit, then follow the trail and signs 3.5 miles to the highest point in Minnesota, passing the blue gem of Whale Lake. Pack a picnic and look for the summit plaque. Detailed directions at www.summitpost.org. Want the views without the workout? Ride the Lutsen Mountains gondola to the summit of Moose Mountain instead. More information at www.lutsen.com.