How to Plan for the Perfect Pure Michigan Fall Color Tour in the Great Lakes Bay Region

Fall is in the air in Pure Michigan! Make the most of the vibrant changing colors by embarking on a fall color adventure on the waterways of the Great Lakes Bay region. Today, guest blogger Wil Hufton of Johnny Panther Quest Adventure trips tells us how to plan for the perfect Pure Michigan fall color tour. 

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

As the operator of a boating adventure tour company, people often ask me when is the best (or my favorite) time to go on a boat ride.  And for decades, my response has never changed.  “When you are BREATHING!”

This year marks my twentieth official one in a lifelong adventure of taking guests through the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge and some of my other favorite places on earth.  It’s part of my livelihood, my business –Johnny Panther Quests Adventure Trips.  More than that, it’s part of who I am.

When I was a young boy, my stepdad bought a set of hand-drawn, color-coded maps, and, with these, we spent five years exploring every river, creek, ditch, and bayou of the Refuge.  We came to know the waterways so well that I could navigate their twists and bends by heart, even at 2am with no moon and no light to guide me.  When folks ask how I do it, I reply, “By braille!”

I admit being partial to the spring, but fall on the waterways of the Great Lakes Bay has a magic all its own.  The air is sweet, the foliage is ripe, and the migrations are cranking up into full swing.  As the frost gets thicker and the days get shorter, the infinite shades of green transform into a kaleidoscope of color.  It becomes easier to pick out the wildlife through the trees and the water gets clearer, sometimes so full of leaves it looks like land.

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

The Saginaw River Valley is rich with wildlife in a way you couldn’t imagine until you’ve seen it. Sometimes so many birds fill the sky, you’ll wish you had a raincoat on, and you never… (I repeat, never)… look up with your mouth open!  Jokes aside, this is the “Everglades of Michigan” at its finest.  And it’s all here when you set out for a fall color tour in Pure Michigan’s Great Lakes Bay Region.

Going on a fall color tour doesn’t have to mean cramming into a car and hitting the tarmac, mile marker after mile marker, as you watch the beautiful fall colors fly past you through the glass.  In the Great Lakes Bay, we like to make our fall color tours a little more… vibrant.  That’s why, on Johnny Panther Quest Adventure Trips (and other Great Lakes Bay fall color tour experiences like those aboard Bay City’s Appledore Tallships) you can experience the beauty of the season as it was intended.  Naturally, freely, and however you please.

That’s because you can customize your fall color tour to be exactly what you want, and nothing you don’t.  If you’re looking for a romantic, relaxing tour, early fall is perfect. From Mid-September through late October the foliage changes dramatically.  At this time in the season, sunsets become more dramatic, and couples snuggle closer together sharing warmth as the world comes alive around them.  Sharing the romance of nature with others is what I live for, and if theirs is reignited in some way, then I’ve been successful!

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

To make the most of an early fall color tour:

  • See nature at its peak.  Here, the fall colors peak around Mid-October, so it’s the perfect time to witness the waterways in all their autumn glory.
  • Dress warm! You can never bring too many layers, and can always remove a few!
  • Bring coolers. Fill them with your favorite bevereages (warm or cold!), pack a picnic basket (with wine, cheese, and chocolate perhaps?) and don’t forget to stash a camera.
  • Pack your binoculars.  As the season progresses, the migrations increase along with other animal activity. We will start seeing more raptors and sometimes multiple eagles in the trees.

Rather opt for a little more of a trailblazing adventure?  You’re not alone.  Each year, I have more and more people who are willing to put on a snowmobile suit and brave the cold to go for a boat ride later in the season (late fall and even well into winter).  Why? Because the deeper in the season we are, the more stuff we see.  Good stuff.  Like the eagle, hawk, heron, and owl.  In the later months, their nests stick out like sore thumbs.  The air is full of birds, and some of the buck’s racks are nothing short of awesome. The solitude and tranquility of thirty-two square miles of rivers, marshes, and bayous beckons.

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

To make the most of a late fall (or early winter) color tour (November):

  • Don’t underestimate the late fall or early winter chill.  Dress warm and in layers. Bring spare clothes. A snowmobile suit or similar can be your best friend.
  • Keep things toasty.  Switch from cold beverages to something warm that won’t freeze!
  • Stick with the staples.  As always, stock your picnic baskets, bring cameras (and binoculars are always highly recommended).

By branching out on a late fall or early winter adventure, the colorful leaves will be gone and a totally different landscape awaits. Spotting wildlife will be far easier, and the chorus of ducks, geese, and swans will at full amplitude. The air will be brisk and sometimes biting, we don’t call them adventure trips for nothing!

For it all, you’ll will be rewarded with “tranquilitude.”  A life changing, battery-recharging experience far removed from the hustle and bustle of civilization. If you truly want to eliminate stress, get out of the mainstream, and go on a “quest!”  And your quest for the perfect fall color tour begins right here in the Great Lakes Bay.

Take a quick preview of what you can expect on a Great Lakes Bay fall color tour with Johnny Panther Quest Adventure Trips in the video below!

Wil Hufton - Guest BloggerWil L. Hufton III is the owner and operator of Johnny Panther Quest Adventure Trips, a AAA Gem Attraction that has specialized in ecotours by boat for over 19 years.  He is an outdoor enthusiast who loves sharing his “playground” with others and educating them on everything from waterways to wildlife. 

 

Catch a Shooting Star at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Did you know that Michigan is home to one of less than 20 certified International Dark Sky Parks in the world? The Headlands International Dark Sky Park is a 600-acre parcel of old-growth forest that sits on more than two miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline in Emmet County. Here you will find the darkest of skies, undiluted by light pollution.

Today, guest blogger David Harrell from The Crooked Porch shares his family’s experience marveling at the Pure Michigan Milky Way during a trip to the Headlands.

Photo courtesy of The Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Photo courtesy of The Headlands International Dark Sky Park

My nine-year-old daughter Riley had never seen a shooting star. She told me this a few days ago, as we were talking about the Headlands International Dark Sky Park’s ‘Lights Out Around the Bay’ challenge. She seemed disappointed in this fact, as if she were missing out one of life’s great joys. “That’s why the Dark Sky Park wants us to turn off our lights,” I told her. “So that we can see the full glory of the night sky. We’re lucky where we live [in Harbor Springs], our night sky is pretty magnificent. But the more light that is shone into the air, the less stars and shooting stars you see. And on Tuesday night, there is supposed to be a meteor shower. The park wants us to enjoy the show with as little light pollution as possible.” She quieted down, and I thought her mind migrated to more important topics, like whether or not her favorite boy band singer had posted a new Instagram pic. “Can we stay up and see the stars that night,” she asked a few minutes later. I could only answer yes.

Instead of staying home and watching TV until dark, I decided to take Riley and my twelve-year-old son David to the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, if the sky was clear. The weather forecast called for thunderstorm and rain, but by 8pm the sky was clear of all but a few lingering clouds. So we threw on sweatshirts and jackets, grabbed a towel as a blanket, packed up the camera and drove 40 minutes north to the park.

Emmet County’s Headlands Park was named an International Dark Sky Park in May, 2011, one of only 12 parks  in the US and 17 parks in the world with that designation.  The Dark Sky Viewing Area is located on a secluded shore along Lake Michigan about a mile into the park. We arrived at 9pm, and already the viewing area was packed with about 100 star-gazers. David grabbed his iPhone, ran down to the shore, and took this picture of the sunset.

Riley was intrigued by the park itself, especially the forest. We walked along the shore, stopping to watch the sun sink beneath the distant waves. We found some rocks stacked in funny little towers and a tangle of roots exposed along the beach. We took pictures, tossed around the football, sat in the grass and talked about the stars and why the twilight sky gets dressed in silken gowns of orange, purple, blue and red. When the first stars awoken in the darkening sky, we opened an app on David’s iPhone and learned their names. We were shocked to discover that two of the brightest stars visible in the early twilight hours were Saturn and Mars.

Photo courtesy of David Harrell

Photo courtesy of David Harrell

Once darkness enveloped the park, the show began. Twice this year my family has stayed up late to watch fireworks. I can’t count the number of times we watched movies past midnight. Yet, as I stared up into space, I couldn’t help but wonder why we never stay up to watch the stars. As exciting as fireworks are, or as entertaining a movie or TV show is, nothing could inspire the awe in my children as deeply as staring up into the heavens.

And what a sight we were greeted with. There was practically no ambient light from cities, parking lots or porch lights. There seemed to be more stars than blackness. The Milky Way, appearing like a ghostly cloud across the eastern sky, was visible. We saw numerous satellites. David used his app to point out several constellations. Two gentlemen from Illinois arrived with a massive telescope the size of a small cannon and allowed the three of us to gaze at Saturn’s rings and moons.

When the sky became fully dark, a park representative called for attention from the well over 200 guests. He talked about the park and gave a quick synopsis of the stars, planets, satellites and other objects in the night sky. My son was captivated by the program, especially as the speaker discussed the vast number of stars. My daughter kept a look out for a meteor.

As the night progressed, I tried to take a photograph of the night sky. Unfortunately, it takes more than a nice camera and a tripod to capture an image like the one above. If I was disappointed, it was fleeting. No photograph could ever capture the full majesty of the night sky as we were seeing it.

Photo courtesy of The Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Photo courtesy of The Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Before the advent of electricity, and the flood of light pollution, this was the night. It amazes me to think that there are people in major cities that may live their entire lives without seeing a single star. There are those who have never traced the outline of a constellation or, like my daughter, wished upon a shooting star. At the dawn of human thought, we stared up into the sky in wonder. The stars inspired us, guided us, and forced us into acknowledging how little we know about ourselves and our place in the universe. When I think of the big-box stores and their massive, overly lit parking lots, I grow saddened at the thought that the stars are an endangered species. We have become, as a nation, so afraid of the dark that we keep it at bay with flood lights on our porch. We are losing the night sky.

Just as we were leaving, a brilliant shooting star streaked across the sky. David and I saw it, but Riley was looking away. If she was disappointed, it didn’t show. “I’ll see one next time,” she said as we worked our way back to the car. “Maybe we can stay up late tomorrow night too.”

Have you visited the Headlands? Tell us about your trip. 

David Harrell, is the founder and editor of an online magazine/blog entitled ‘The Crooked Porch‘. The Crooked Porch is about life in Northern Michigan, primarily in the Petoskey region.  After a decade as a museum historian, David nurtured a professional passion for discovering, and more importantly sharing, fascinating and inspiring stories. David lives with his family in Harbor Springs. He loves love local beers, whiskeys, ciders and wines, as well as folk rock and local bands. He is a Michigan sports fan who says every August, “This is the year the Lions will make some noise.” 

Maximize Fall Playing Time With These Michigan Golf Trails

Today, guest blogger Janina Parrott Jacobs tells us how to minimize travel and maximize time on the course by playing through a Michigan golf trail this fall. 

Treetops_12SMT046There’s strength in numbers. Golfers may not normally fly across the country to play just one great course but they’ll consider doing so to play an assortment of superb ones. The folks in Myrtle Beach figured this out years ago when they realized that by banding together, they could create one-stop shopping to promote a stellar array of courses, attractions, and restaurants to golfers who would visit from around the country.

In Alabama, the creation of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail – which runs the entire length of the state from north to south via 11 Trail sites complete with 26 magnificent and affordable courses – was originally fashioned to strengthen the state’s financial health by maximizing investments from retirement funds. Visionary Dr. David Bronner, former CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama and the brainchild behind this idea, borrowed his philosophy from the movie Field of Dreams: ‘if you build it they will come’. He did…and they did.

Yet no state or trail or destination anywhere can match the sheer numbers of courses available for public or resort golf in Michigan. Different regions of the state have connected with each other to attract a wider range of golfers – and not simply from their local area. Here, a number of trail offerings are available to maximize your golf and minimize your drive time so you can enjoy the shorter days of late summer and early autumn.

Photo courtesy of Gaylord Area CVB

Photo courtesy of Gaylord Area CVB

Most people know of the ‘Gold Coast’ resort courses on the west side of the state: Boyne, Grand Traverse, Shanty Creek, Arcadia Bluffs to name a few. North centrally, there’s the Gaylord Golf Mecca, headlined by Treetops Resort – where you can sample ‘The Masterpiece’ an original RTJ Sr. design.  Experience the same inspiration Jones had when looking at the formidable elevation drop to the 6th green when all he saw were treetops…and thus the resort’s name was born.

Further east along US-23 and adjacent to Lake Huron, the Sunrise Side is lesser known but offers a wonderful collection of splendid courses that are surprisingly affordable. Red Hawk, near Tawas, an Arthur Hills design (think ‘Bay Harbor’) is a perfect introduction to the quality of golf you’ll find in the area. Up the road is Lakewood Shores Resort, with the nationally top-ranked links-style Gailes as well as the enjoyable Serradella, Blackshire, and par-3 ‘Wee Links’ courses which sit adjacent to Lake Huron near Oscoda. Alpena Golf Club, River’s Edge (formerly Alpena CC), and Black Lake are must-plays as are Elk Ridge, owned by Honeybaked Ham – you MUST try the ham sandwich at the turn – and Thunder Bay Resort, which offers golf with the added attraction of elk viewing tours via horse drawn wagons in summer and sleighs in the winter…both culminating with a multi-course gourmet dinner cooked on a century-old stove.

Just north and west of Detroit, the Michigan Grand Golf Trail encompasses five upscale courses that are in close proximity: Whispering Pines and Timber Trace in Pinckney, Mystic Creek in Milford, Brentwood in White Lake, and Boulder Pointe in Oxford.

Municipal courses are also getting in on the combine-and-prosper act. The Michigan Municipal Golf Trail, part of the Michigan Recreation and Park Association consists of several public, city, county, and Huron-Clinton Metropark courses. At Dearborn Hills, $20 will get you 18 holes of golf, cart, and a hot dog, chips and pop Monday through Friday from 11am-1pm.

As Fall golf approaches – and this year it seems to be coming early, weather-wise – look for even better deals everywhere in Michigan. At all Boyne courses, fees are based on airlines-style pricing: it all depends when and where you want to play. Being flexible will pay off. Check out all 11 courses spanning 3 resorts at Boyne.

Janina-Jacobs-headshot12-186x250Janina Parrott Jacobs is a lifelong Michigan resident but her passion as a multi-media golf and business specialist and international golf and travel writer takes her all over the world.  Her website, features many other entrepreneurial adventures as a motivational speaker, professional musician and performer, owning Capers Steakhouse in Detroit, and volunteer efforts with the U.S. Navy where she advocates for and mentors young people concerning health, nutrition, and fitness issues.