Full moon is September 30th, so evening skies won't be spectacular until 3-5 days later. Northern lights don't put in regular appearances in northern Minnesota. It takes a fairly strong solar storm to bring them overhead this far south. We've made a lot of Boundary Waters trips and can count maybe three random times we've seen aurora in the distant north.
We spent 5 nights at Grand Marais' municipal campground a week ago. Susie always says 'Take me to Grand Marais, I'll tell you when I want to leave.' She hasn't bailed yet. Dang home duties! Grand Marais campground has too many lights for decent stargazing. For the water-electric sites, we like 157, 158 or 159
. Ask when they turn water off in the loops - Oct 1? Oct 15? But they do allow camping year around IIRC. Brr! The Angry Trout restaurant is open May 1 to Oct 28th -- fresh Lake Superior fish is always good there -- herring or whitefish beats lake trout hands down. The other good restaurant we like is Crooked Spoon on Wisconsin Street -- the main downtown street facing the bay. The Pie Place is a great spot for breakfast or take-out scones or pie. Gunflint Tavern is decent, serving better-than-bar-food from a menu that never changes -- fair enough for the first few visits.
We've camped at the first-come-first-serve national forest campground at Kimball Lake a dozen miles up the Gunflint from Grand Marais. I'd think you'd have no trouble finding space at any campground this time of year. It has good pit toilets and you fill water alongside the lane driving in. Nice trout fishing can be had there or on adjacent Mink Lake. Mink Lake has a fishing dock but we usually have a canoe along. There are a lot of trees in this campground but it is a good dark sky site.
Trails End campground
all the way at the end of the Gunflint is nice. It is reservable and does tend to be popular. Sites 4 & 5 work well and have great elevated views of the lake and sky. 6-9 are too small and one risks having to back all the way out if you pull a trailer down there. Canoeing is the only significant activity out there. There are several outfitters within a short distance that might rent a canoe for day activities but you'd have to call ahead this late in the season. The last 22 miles out the Gunflint are rather desolate from a number of fires over the years, but trees in Trails End RV loops have escaped for the most part. Landscape pictures here
We've driven through most nat'l forest campgrounds along the Gunflint -- a forest & lake experience in general.
Leaves are a mixed bag. It's been very dry in the Arrowhead this year and locals up there don't know what this will do to timing. A moderate hike with spectacular leaf viewing is Oberg Mountain ~ 20 miles SW of Grand Marais. This was last Oct 2nd -
A bit more rigorous all-day hike is up Eagle Mountain -- the highest point in MN. A pretty straightforward hike for fit individuals carrying their own food & water. Nice views from up there but not a place you'd be after dark.
The local radio station morning talk covers a lot of small town topics from 7-10 AM Central Time -- WTIP North Shore Community Radio, Cook County, Minnesota
[on edit: Realize that Trails End is 57 miles inland from Grand Marais and literally is the end of the road. You can pay a modest sum to dump at the Grand Marais campground when you come back down to the shore. Free dumping is available in Silver Bay 55 miles toward Duluth from Grand Marais. Full list of sites at Trails End that would work for travel trailers:
1, 2 & 3 are large sites that will fit a large motorhome with plenty of room left over. I think site 1 has a view to water through light forest cover.
4 & 5 - on a rocky prominence high above the water
10 - about a 50' elliptical opening at end of narrow campground lane
11 - maybe just big enough for a 25' trailer & TV? 22-23 footer - more of a sure thing. The pad area still is small and confined between rock and trees. Some slope to pad. Nice overlook over a backwater and easy, somewhat open roaming downhill.
The second loop at Trails end is for tenting or very small pop-ups only.
There is a small, interesting local history museum
near Trails End.]