6 Autumn Road Tours in Sunset Country

Autumn in Sunset Country is short lived. And so is your window for a fall colour road trip. Get out and enjoy it while it lasts!

When you live north of 50 degrees latitude autumn is fleeting, to say the least! Within a four-week window, the colours of the leaves turn from green to yellow, orange, red, and even purple. Then, one really windy day, they all seem to blow off the trees at the same time. Your window of opportunity to see the fall colours in Sunset Country usually occurs between September 15th and October 15th–but that changes based on the weather each fall. For example, in 2021 we have a few trees still partly green and the colours are later than normal - and it is almost October 15th.

This article is about taking a day trip close to home with the sole purpose of seeing and marvelled at the spectacular colour change that happens in the boreal forest - there's nothing quite like it! For people who live in Manitoba or Northwestern Ontario, a road trip to Sunset Country is just what the doctor ordered. 

The fall colours in the boreal are spectacular. Photo: Kevin Palmer

Tips for Planning your Trip

Since your "colour tour" is likely going to be just a day or an overnight trip, there is not a lot of planning to do. However, you can maximize your time viewing the colours and avoid downtime as you drive by being prepared. Here are a few tips:

  • Go shopping before you depart, and ensure you have the needed snacks and beverages to avoid unnecessary stops. Ensure you have a full tank of gas as services in remote areas like Sunset Country are limited.
  • Plan out your route ahead of time. Depending on how long the trip is, having a set route will save you time and second-guessing. 
  • While you can do a fall trip solo, we recommend you have at least two people on the trip–a driver and a spotter. The driver drives and the spotter spots for places to safely stop for a better view. 
  • High ground like bluffs or accessible rock ridges makes for the best viewing platforms. Consider looking at a topographical map of your planned route to identify the high points where you can get the best view of the landscape.
  • Unless you know for sure, avoid going down old logging roads to look for fall colours. There are enough good spots near the main highways to see the blaze and the old logging roads can deteriorate quickly and you could get stuck or lost. If travelling down backroads is something you want to do, then you need to plan properly.
  • When pulling over to view an area, make sure it is a safe place to do so and never just pull over on the highway shoulder. Look for a rest area or a spot where you can get off the highway and a safe distance from moving traffic.
  • Bring a good pair of walking shoes (hiking boots are recommended) along with binoculars and of course, your camera.
  • Some of the most spectacular colours in our area are seen on small bushes, shrubs and annual plants so don't just look at the trees.
  • Consider viewing the fall colour change from a boat or better yet, a floatplane or helicopter. Local air services and some fishing guides can help you arrange this but make sure that you book this before you leave.
  • Consider stopping in one of our provincial parks along your route. They likely won't be crowded and you can access nature trails easily. Parks are great spots to view the fall colours.
  • If you are staying overnight or for a few days, book your accommodations before you leave as some facilities close by mid-September.

Explore these 6 fall foliage routes

Highway 599 Wilderness Corridor to Pickle Lake

This is the most remote route of any in the region and Highway 599 has the distinction of being the most northerly, all-season, and all-weather road in the Province of Ontario. This is an "in-out" route so you'll see the sights twice as you go north to Pickle Lake then back south when you leave. You're very likely to see a moose or a black bear along this route as well as a cascade of mostly yellow leaves contrasted with reds and oranges from the alders and shrubs.

Highway 105–The Red Lake Road

Also an "in-out" route, Highway 105 is definitely a great day or overnight trip with some amazing foliage viewing opportunities. You travel through Perrault Falls, Ear Falls and Red Lake and there are lots of things to see and do in those communities. 

Seeing moose off the side of the road is a real treat! Photo:
Halley's Camps

Highways 71 & 621–Lake of the Woods

A trip down Highway 71 takes you along the east side of Lake of the Woods and through the communities of Sioux Narrows and Nestor Falls. If you make a right turn and go west toward Highway 621, you'll end up in the beautiful community of Morson

Highway 11–Border Route

This route is an excellent choice for people coming out of the City of Thunder Bay. A trip to Rainy River and back will present many opportunities to see wildlife, lakes, and the fall colour ablaze. More reds and oranges will be mixed in due to the southern nature of this route. You'll also travel through the towns of AtikokanFort Frances and Emo as you traverse Highway 11.

Secondary roads like this one can lead to some good viewing opportunities

The Kenora-Minaki Route

The largest City in Sunset Country at 15,500 people, Kenora, and its neighbour on Hwy 596 to the north Minaki, are easily accessible day trips from Winnipeg and many other places in Manitoba. The rugged terrain around both communities makes for some amazing reds, oranges and even purple hues on some of the rock-hugging plants and shrubs so look out for those.

Highway 17 –The Trans-Canada Route 

As the name implies this route runs west-east on the Trans-Canada Highway. As the route passes between Vermilion Bay and Dryden, you'll get a glimpse of farmland in the region - a rarity - and some of the vistas over the rolling hills have spectacular views of the trees and their colours. East of Dryden you have to make a choice - you can continue on Highway 17 and go through Ignace or just after Dinorwic is the turn-off northeast on Highway 72 towards Sioux Lookout. Whatever choice you make the display of colours along the way will be fantastic! If you continue east to Kakabeka Falls, you will see a wonder of nature as the "Niagara of the North" is an awe-inspiring landscape in the autumn months.

Kakabeka Falls in Mid-September

Additional Resources

Ontario Tourism

COVID-19 and Travel to Sunset Country

"How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and colour are their last days."
–John Burroughs
About Gerry Cariou

Gerry is Executive Director of Ontario's Sunset Country Travel Association and is an avid fisherman and nature photographer. Gerry has been writing about Sunset Country's varied travel experiences for over 20 years and lives these experiences year-round in Kenora, Ontario.

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