Michigan Travel Ideas freelance writer Elaine Glusac shares some of her favorite discoveries from the northeast side of the Lower Peninsula while searching for fall color.
When I ask former Michiganders who have moved away what they miss most they universally reply, “Fall color.” Like these friends, I think of fall as nature’s grand finale, a spectacle of reds, oranges, golds and browns that briefly glow before all goes quiet behind a curtain of snow.
It’s the season of the road trip. In summer, I lack ambition, sticking to my patch of sand or my fishing line or my hammock between the birches. But the shifting weather incites curiosity, offering peeks through the thinned forest to the neighbor’s cabin, the does in the woods, the lighthouse down the shore and the birds in the high branches. Drawing a roughly 44-degree-latitude line across the state map just below Traverse City, my family and I crisscrossed the tip of the mitt, soaking in fall color while seeking out the best of Michigan at its most brilliant.
Some favorites on the northeast side of the Lower Peninsula:
“It’s the season of the shipwreck,” says a docent at Alpena’s Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, which tells the story of the “Shipwreck Century,” the period between roughly 1825 and 1925 when boats were the fastest way to travel and the Great Lakes were the country’s busiest highways. Some 200 wrecks lie on the bottom of Thunder Bay. Down the street at Fletcher Street Brewing Company we see dozens of vintage black-and-white photographs of Alpena in its logging heyday while sampling the microbrews—thumbs up to the light pils, the not-too-heavy porter and the fragrant root beer—in the former mill-turned-riverside watering hole.
The Great Lakes’ many beacons aimed to prevent wrecks, and two historic examples make the Presque Isle peninsula – French for “almost an island” — about 20 miles north of Alpena worth a detour. First is the squat, 1840 vintage Old Presque Isle Lighthouse , eventually replaced as outmoded by the “new” light, built in 1870, about a mile north. Both are open seasonally to climbers. We save our energy for the 130 steps that spiral up the newer model for a spectacular view of the shoreline.
“We know all the artists personally, they’re all our friends,” says Tim Pritchard, owner of Domaci Gallery in Rogers City, a find 20 miles north of Presque Isle, where most of the 30-something artists in the shop are Michiganders. In keeping with our shipwreck theme, we admire heavy wood boxes fashioned from wreck-salvaged wood, alongside art ceramic tiles from the owner’s Hammond Bay pottery up the road, unique bracelets made of birch bark, and paintings of wooden boats and landscape prints by Ypsilanti painter John A. Copley. For picnic fare Pritchard directs us to Plath’s Meats, a third-generation butcher shop famed for its house-smoked pork loins, bacon, braunschweiger and smoked whitefish. The man in front of us in line has come all the way from Cadillac—that’s how good the food is here.
Detroit native Elaine Glusac is a freelance writer for Michigan Travel Ideas. Her favorite Michigan experience is a geologic split between searching for Petoskey stones and skipping those that aren’t on the Burt Lake shore where her family has a cabin.