Late summer often showcases Lake Superior at its sweetest. The August sun sparkles on sapphirine water that offers a cool refuge from the heat of the day. But when fall rolls around, a change comes over the lake.
Suddenly the water is the dull gray of a knifeblade. The wind skimming the lake’s surface has teeth in it, ripping through your light sweater as if it wasn’t even there. Raindrops feel like tiny snowballs. Warm, moist air collides with cold air from the Arctic to produce relentless winds that goad the water into a roaring, crashing, dangerous frenzy.
Upwards of 350 wrecked ships litter the bottom of the big lake, many the victims of fall storms. Lake Superior waves can reach up to 30 feet in height.
There is something magnetic about the fall storm season on Lake Superior. Sure, we all love the sunny, playful days. But to see the lake thrashing in its bed reminds us of the unimaginable power of nature.
Storm Watching Tips
Where you choose to watch the storms from depends upon your personal recreation style. For example, if you are the kind of person who hears a tornado siren and runs to the nearest window, hoping to spot a funnel cloud, then bundle up and get close to the action.
Stroll along the Duluth Lakewalk—or as close to the Lakewalk as you can get without getting soaked. Or head up the shore to Stoney Point (on Stoney Point Road north of Duluth, near Tom’s Logging Camp). Park alongside the road, sit on a handy rock, and maybe even see some surfers navigating the tumbling waves. Bring a zoom lens and a Thermos full of hot cocoa. Relish the way the ground vibrates whenever a wave crashes on the shore.
Squeeze in a workout and a storm-watch with a quarter-mile hike along the cliffs of Shovel Point in Tettegouche State Park, just north of Silver Bay. The hike becomes an exhilarating challenge when the wind is howling and huge, icy waves are pounding the rocks below. Just stay well away from the cliff edges for safety.
If you prefer the exhilaration of watching the storm while being warm, dry and well-fed, plan a lunchtime or late afternoon excursion to one of the many restaurants and coffee shops along the North Shore that offer lake views. If you’re heading to a restaurant, call as far in advance as possible and ask to reserve a table with a view of the lake.
With a coffee shop, you might have to take a less-than-ideal seat and wait for a lake view spot to open up. But if you’re sipping, say, a perfectly brewed mug of Alakef Coffee (roasted in Duluth), who needs to rush?
The ultimate place to watch a fall Lake Superior storm is from the window of your own hotel room. Book a room—or, better yet, a deluxe suite with a fireplace and a hot tub—at a hotel perched on the edge of the shore. Everything booked? Try reserving a room for a short midweek vacation. A standard Monday-Friday work week will feel much shorter if you take Tuesday and Wednesday off, and you’ll be able to take advantage of smaller crowds and lower rates. Snuggle up with your sweetheart and a bottle of good wine and savor the contrast of wildness and civilized indulgence.