Minnesota’s Best Fall Color Hike: Oberg Mountain Loop Trail

Of course “the best” of anything is always up for debate. But in this case, the Oberg Mountain Loop hiking trail truly is in the running for Minnesota’s Best Fall Color Hike.

hiker looks over the guardrail and Oberg Lake on the Oberg Mountain Loop Trail
Oberg Mountain is truly one of Minnesota’s fall hiking gems (this photo was taken in early October one year)

This hike is known for it’s several spectacular views of Lake Superior as well as equally great views of the surrounding inland “mountains” and Oberg Lake.

If you’re a native Minnesotan, this hike needs to be on your bucket list for sure. Even if you’re not, put this on your to-do list when you come visit us. This is the North Shore hike I’ve done the most and I never get tired of it.

What Makes the Oberg Mountain Trail So Great

There are several reasons this trail is such a popular one:

Great for All Ages

I first did this hike many moons ago with our-then-preschool children and an uncle who was in his 70s. At 2.2 miles with a moderate elevation grade, everyone could handle it just fine.

While it’s short enough to hike it all in an hour, we suggest allowing a couple hours so you can take your time. Don’t rush these stunning views!

woman sits on a rock high above Lake Superior on the Oberg Mt trail
One of many stunning overlooks—Lake Superior is gray in the background here (photo taken mid-September)

[NOTE: If you have very young kids along, beware that there are several steep and long drop-offs! Keep them close by as you approach the overlooks.]

Several Spectacular Views of Lake Superior

Lake Superior is beautiful anytime of the year. I’ve been on this hike in every season of the year—including when the forest isn’t at its best (late fall and early spring).

But the Lake is always worth seeing. While you drive along it on the highway you get a sense of its enormous size. But when you’re a few hundred feet above it, even more so.

If you’re fortunate to choose a day when this inland sea is its deep, deep blue color, it’s especially amazing.

Magical Forest Trail

Have you read or seen Lord of the Rings? In the fall here you feel like you’re in Lothlorian with the maples along the trail all in bright yellow.

yellow maples adorn a wooded trail
Fall color lends a magical feel to this lovely trail

If there’s a light breeze wafting the leaves down gently through the forest—wow!

Most of the trail is wooded, and then it brings you out into the open at one of its overlooks (seven of them altogether, if I’m remembering correctly).

More Spectacular Views of the Inland Mountains and Oberg Lake

When you climb the early switchback section of the trail, you’ll hit a T. We like to head to the right for the views of Lake Superior first.

As you make your way around the summit along the loop, the inland vistas come into view. Steep cliffs, neighboring peaks and Oberg Lake all make that side wonderful, too.

Brilliant Fall Colors

Since we’re focusing on the autumn season here, we don’t want to leave this out. Part of why this trail is so amazing in the fall is because of the loads of maple trees in this part of the North Shore.

red maples with green pines along the Oberg Mt trail
Red maples along the trail on this view inland

The hills are absolutely ablaze with reds and yellows during the maple peak. There are lots of birch and aspen too, which are bright yellow and peak a bit later (more on that below).

When to Hike Oberg Mountain

Fall Is Peak Time

While it’s gorgeous anytime of the year, the peak of fall color is most popular. Especially when the maples are peaking, which is a week or two earlier than the aspen.

In fact, it’s so popular during weekends in late September and early October you may want to consider going up mid-week instead! My sister and I were there on a Saturday a few years ago and the fairly large (for the North Shore) parking area was full and overflowing onto the road.

Oberg Lake during fall color season
Lovely Oberg Lake is tucked away between the hills

If you must go on a weekend in the height of the fall color peak, try to get their early in the morning to grab a parking spot and avoid the biggest crowds. Or plan to go later in the afternoon.

But It’s Beautiful All Year Long!

If you don’t make it in the fall, another wonderful time is in early June when all the spring wildflowers are blooming.

My first time there ( the one I mentioned above when our kids were preschoolers—they’re now all adults) was the first week of June. We brought our Minnesota Wildflowers book and identified 17 different kinds of flowers blooming along on the trail.

In reality, this trail is always beautiful. If you hike after fall color peak in the fall you’re likely to meet far fewer people (except MEA Weekend, the third weekend of October each year).

View from Oberg Mt in mid-September
A mid-September hike with early color

Likewise, take it any time in the spring and it’ll be fairly lightly traveled.

During the summer, along with lots of people you’re guaranteed mosquitoes and probably flies. So be prepared with bug repellent or the appropriate attire.

Oberg is a popular cross-country ski and snowshoe destination during the winter as well. If folks have already been on it with snowshoes, it’s possible to hike it with boots—as long as you don’t step off the packed trail into the deep snow!

Snowshoe trail on Oberg Mountain in the winter
Oberg is a different world in the winter—but also beautiful!

How to Get There

The Oberg Mountain trailhead is located a couple miles up the Onion River Road, accessed off Highway 61 between Tofte and Lutsen. You’ll see a brown sign on 61 for the Superior Hiking Trail just before the road, coming from either direction.

There are signs posted for the trailhead (on your right) and the parking area (just across the dirt road on your left).

It’s definitely possible to do this as a half-day trip during your Okontoe stay if you’ll be with us for a few days. This would be a good way to take advantage of mid-week timing, actually. It’s a 64-minute drive one way from our driveway (including a couple miles on a dirt road).

Here’s a Trail Map for Oberg Mountain Loop and its close neighbor, LeVeaux Mountain. Both trailheads start from the same parking lot.

There are vault toilets there too, should you need them.

woman stands at the fence on Oberg Mt trail overlooking the inland mountains
If you time it right, you can also do this trail on your way up to Okontoe or on your way back home

Article and photos by Sharon Brodin.

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