Traverse City - Northport - Frankfort

From late September to mid-October the Traverse City-Northport-Frankfort areas are ablaze with autumn hues. The Grand Traverse area encompasses more than 250 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, certainly providing some spectacular fall color viewing. It's a great time to take a hot air balloon ride to see the colors from above, or to climb aboard the twin-masted schooner Manitou for a sail across Grand Traverse Bay.

Best Enjoyed: Late September to Mid-October
Approximate Length: 190 miles

Fall is the season of the grape, where local vineyards harvest the future Chardonnays, Rieslings and Pinot Grigios. Combine a color tour of the region with a visit to Michigan's wine country - a feast for the eye and the palate.

Choose one or several of the 19 wineries of Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas for a very special fall vacation. Old Mission Peninsula has much to offer the autumn leaf-peeper: delicious apples can be found at roadside stands, charming restaurants, and the Old Mission Lighthouse.

"Land of Delight" is the English translation of the Indian wood "leelanau," and it's easy to understand the reason for so naming the Leelanau Peninsula, especially in fall. Circling the perimeter of the place many call Michigan's "little finger" is a color tour that has been popular for decades. An easy and interesting route, M-22 takes you along the shoreline through the quaint villages of Suttons Bay, Peshasbestown, Omena and Northport, with water views almost the entire way. North of Suttons Bay the sign reads: Northport 12 miles. Northport, situated near the tip of Leelanau Peninsula, overlooking Grand Traverse Bay, is a picture-perfect town, with a marina, waterfront, unique shops, galleries and restaurants.

Each port town has its own unique charm, and each is a perfect place for shopping, dining, trying your luck at the casino or just breathing the crisp fall air. Tour the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, a living museum. Along the western coast, Leland and Glen Arbor offer still more options, and spectacular autumn color can be expected in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a 71,000-acre national park that includes 35 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. Go barefoot "one last time" when you encounter the massive sand dunes and stunning sunset beaches.

According to the National Park Service, many of the best spots for viewing fall colors at Sleeping Bear are easily reached by car or by a brief hike. The park's popular Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, for instance, gives motorists a bird's-eye view of areas like Alligator Hill, where brilliant fall foliage is set off by Glen Lake's tropical shades of turquoise, jade and cobalt blue.

The Frankfort-Elberta area has much to offer, and is the gateway to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan in Benzie County, the Frankfort and Elberta communities encompass beautiful Betsie Bay, a historic sailing harbor.

The Point Betsie Light Station is one of the most visited and photographed in Michigan, and is considered to be the most popular visitor site in Benzie County. For mariners, Point Betsie (or originally: Point Aux Bec Scies), has been one of the most prominent and utilized lights on Lake Michigan.

Another great side trip is to the Gwen Frostic Prints Company in Benzonia (located between Frankfort and Benzonia). This 250-acre wildlife sanctuary on the Betsie River is home to Frostic's studio with 15 Heidelberg presses using the original Frostic blocks to print a variety of paper arts.

Kids will love a stop at the Homestead Sugar House in Beulah, just five miles from the top of the hill on US-31. Open until November 30, enjoy delicious hand-dipped candies, fruits and even thick sugarless syrup.

You're likely to hear the sounds of music mingling with the rustling of fall leaves on a color tour of Benzie County. The Interlochen Center for the Arts offers year-round education for young people interested in the performing arts. Situated on Green Lake, the Center provides excellent professional entertainment, as well as student performances. The campus itself consists of tree-lined pathways that take on vibrant personalities during the autumn months.

Mission Point Lighthouse
20500 Center Road
Traverse City, MI 49686
Phone: (231) 645-0759
Built in 1870, this light is now maintained by Peninsula Township and short-term keepers are allowed to live in the lighthouse. It is half way between the North Pole and the Equator exactly on the 45th parallel. It was decommissioned in 1933. Hours are 10am to 5pm, daily, May - October and weekends only November. Park, beach and trails always open. Self-guided tours are available seven days a week from which includes access to the tower. To confirm these times call first. Available at no charge is the Hessler Log Cabin, a restored turn of the century log cabin on the lighthouse grounds. Adults - $4, Children - $2, Children five and under - free. Grounds open, dwelling/tower open in season.
 
Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum
15550 N Lighthouse Point Road
Leelanau State Park
Northport, MI 49670
Phone: (231) 386-7195
This lighthouse marks the end of the Leelanau Peninsula and has guided ships in the Manitou Passage of Lake Michigan for nearly 150 years making it one of the oldest on the Great Lakes. This lighthouse is sponsored by the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Foundation and features a historic and educational museum resembling a lighthouse keeper's home of the 1920s and 30s with a variety of exhibits depicting a broad spectrum of maritime and local history. You can also now become a Guide and a working hand at the light house, so contact the volunteer keeper program for more details.
 
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
9922 Front Street
Highway M-72
Empire, MI 49630
Phone: (231) 326-5134
The National Park Service turns 100 on August 25, 2016. As we lead up to the centennial, we invite you to participate in Find Your Park Experiences to learn, discover, be inspired, or simply have fun in national parks. Find Your Park Experiences offer unique opportunities to explore national parks both in person and online. Check out Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and share your national park story at FindYourPark.com.

Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore encompasses a 60 km (35 mi.) stretch of Lake Michigan's eastern coastline, as well as North and South Manitou Islands. The park was established primarily for its outstanding natural features, including forests, beaches, dune formations and ancient glacial phenomena. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore also contains many cultural features including an 1871 lighthouse, three former Life-Saving Service/Coast Guard Stations and an extensive rural historic farm district.

You will find a wide variety of activities for every age available to you at the Lakeshore. Climb the Dunes, swim at one of the many beaches, or take a hike through the Maple/Beech forest to some beautiful overlooks. Maybe you will want to spend some time in the museums or tour Port Oneida to learn about the rich history and culture of the area. The new Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail provides over four miles of paved trail. For more info visit our website.
 
Point Betsie Lighthouse
3701 Pt. Betsie Road
4 mi North of Frankfort
Frankfort, MI 49635
Reservations: (231) 651-0862
Phone: (231) 352-7666
This oldest standing structure in Benzie County, built in 1858, marks the all-important entrance to southern end of the Manitou Passage, a once-vital maritime shipping channel. Although the lane is no longer used by large commercial vessels, the operating light signal remains a US Coast Guard aid to navigation to this day, and the site shines as a treasured landmark to mariners and landlubbers alike. Because the USCG automated the light in 1983 and subsequently vacated the buildings in 1996, by 2004 it was possible to transfer title to Benzie County who, in turn, leased the site to the all-volunteer organization, Friends of Point Betsie Lighthouse, Inc. In a strong partnership, the County and the Friends have set about renovating the deteriorating buildings. By 2006, they had completed a nearly $1 M exterior restoration phase. Further work continues on a barrier-free access, the Fog/Signal structure, and the interiors of both major buildings. The site has been open for tours and gift shopping, primarily on weekends from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, since 2002. The public beach adjacent to the site is easily accessed, although roadside parking is problematic and there are no public facilities available until reaching Frankfort, 4 mi south, or Platte River, 8 mi north, on M-22. Assistant Lightkeepers Quarter is now available for weekly rentals in season.
 
Gwen Frostic Prints
5140 River Road
Box 300
Benzonia, MI 49616
Phone: (231) 882-5505
Come and shop for a unique gift made by hand by the Gwen Frostic Prints Company in Benzonia. Located six miles east of M-22 in Frankfort and two miles west of US-31 in Benzonia, this quaint shop offers many types of writing papers, matted prints, napkins and other items designed by Gwen Frostic.
 
Cherry Hut Restaurant
211 North Michigan Avenue
Beulah, MI 49617
Phone: (231) 882-4431
Come and enjoy table booth service and be able to purchase jams or jelly's to go, cherry pies are also available. Great dinners complete with a meat, soup, salad and potatoes or wild rice, luncheon specials along with just sandwiches or Entrees. Season is from the end of May until Mid-October during each year.
 
Interlochen Center for the Arts
4000 Hwy M-137
PO Box 199
Interlochen, MI 49643
Reservations: (800) 681-5920
Phone: (231) 276-7200
We present some 750 concerts, visual art exhibits and theater and dance productions a year. Annual performers include students, faculty, staff and guest artists. Many guest artists offer educational opportunities for students through workshops, lessons and lectures. Includes Kresge and Corson Auditorium, Dendrinos Chapel and Harvey Theatre.