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Prime time for fall colors in the Northland

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Maple leaves in downtown Duluth are showing peak color Thursday evening. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fall color website fall color in the Duluth area is at about 75-100 percent. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 5
A vehicle travels through a hardwood forest showing near peak fall color along Skyline Parkway at Hawk Ridge in Duluth Thursday evening. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fall color website fall color in the Duluth area is at about 75-100 percent. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com3 / 5
Fallen maple leaves in downtown Duluth are showing peak color Thursday evening. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fall color website fall color in the Duluth area is at about 75-100 percent. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com4 / 5
Tahirih Bushey and Ron Bushey both of Duluth walk through a hardwood forest showing near peak fall color along Skyline Parkway at Hawk Ridge in Duluth Thursday evening. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fall color website fall color in the Duluth area is at about 75-100 percent. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com5 / 5

The Northland's fall foliage is reaching peak pigmentation.

While some canopies have kept their traditional green hue, many trees are now blanketing the region with a blend of warm colors. For those eyeing the best time see Minnesota's many shades of fall, now is that time.

"That peak doesn't last very long, maybe two weeks," said Val Cervenka, a forest health program coordinator with the Department of Natural Resources.

Birch and aspen trees will shine bright yellow, sugar maples will adorn a vibrant orange and red maples will be dressed up in deep rouge hues. Lower canopy shrubs like sumac will also wear a blend of red and orange, while some of the oak trees further inland will turn a dark shade of purple.

Cervenka said there are two key variables that catalyse the Northland's transformation: shifting hours of sunlight and cooling night temperatures.

"Nighttime temperature is a big factor," said Cervenka. "What you want are warm and sunny days where leaves are still photosynthesizing and creating sugars. Then with a cold night, a 35 degree night, those sugars get trapped in the leaves."

While some of the colors — like red — stem from trapped sugars, other colors like yellow are always present, masked only by the green pigment. When photosynthesis slows down, the shades of green fade and the yellow emerges.

Those cooling temperatures are compounded by a lengthening night time. As the sun starts to rise later and set earlier, cooler temperatures have more time to establish themselves. Couple that with the occasional frost that comes with early-season snow fall, like the storm that fell last week, and some colors really begin to pop.

These peak viewing times have been occurring later in the season. The DNR's website shows at this time last year, there were segments of northern Minnesota that were already "past peak." Two years ago, even more of the state had shed its best colors. This year, no part has eclipsed that threshold.

"This year, it's been delayed," said Cervenka. "We have warmer temperatures in the day, and cold night temperatures are also coming later."

Despite the hindrance, much of the Northland is on display for anyone willing to travel. Sites like Bear Head Lake State Park, Savanna Portage State Park and Tettegouche State Park all offer fall colors.

As a last resort, if readers can't make it to any peak fall colors in person, they can still enjoy the beauty through the lens of a rotating webcam placed on the Sawtooth Mountain ridge. It updates photos every 10 minutes. Anyone interested can click here to see the fall colors.

Best sites to see peak fall colors:

Bear Head Lake State Park: Walk the Norberg Lake Loop to get sights of Bear Head Lake and Norberg Lake. With a backdrop of the fall colors, visitors might get a chance to see waterfowl searching for food. The Bear Head Park Road also features a tunnel of color that can't be missed. Make sure to look out for young tamaracks, the only Minnesota conifer tree to shed its needles in the fall.

Savanna Portage State Park: Look out for plenty of colorful maples that are peaking on Loon Lake, Lake Shumway, Beaver Pond Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. There's also a chance at seeing one of the area's many birds, such as warblers, flickers, robins, bluebirds, jays and small hawks.

Tettegouche State Park: Take the loop around the park on Lax Lake Road as well as some hiking into tettegouche Camp from the north trailhead. While the shore is starting to see some real color, the most vibrancy is further inland, with sugar maples close to peak in some areas. Keep an eye out for wild mushrooms growing along the trails as well.

Jay Cooke State Park: While the swinging bridge will unveil colors along the river, visitors won't even need to exit their cars to see some most of Jay Cooke's colors with the 8-mile drive from Thompson to Highway 23 offering plenty to see.

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