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. 


From Our Community: Fall Colors in Pure Michigan

This fall season has been a great one for taking in the majestic fall colors with a brisk stroll, scenic drive or fall color tour. Our Pure Michigan fans on Facebook have been very busy this autumn capturing terrific shots of gorgeous fall color around the state. To celebrate this, the photo theme on our Pure Michigan Facebook page this week was fall color in Michigan. Since we received so many great submissions we wanted to share some of our favorites in the gallery below. For more Pure Michigan fan photos, check out our Pure Michigan Flickr

What is your favorite way to experience Michigan’s fantastic fall colors? Share with us below! For more information on fall in Michigan, visit

7 Must-See Fall Color Views

Today, featured blogger Jesse Land describes seven scenic locations in the Upper Peninsula where visitors can take in the blazing autumn colors. 

When the leaves are turning, as they are now, the Upper Peninsula is loaded with beautiful fall color. And one of the unique things about the Marquette area is the vast number of scenic vistas scattered around the county.

Sugarloaf Mountain

Photo courtesy of Marquette County CVB

I wrote about Sugarloaf Mountain recently but it’s worth mentioning again here. The summit of this popular local landmark offers gorgeous views of the entire surrounding area. It’s only a fifteen or so minute walk to the top up a well marked trail and the view from the top of Sugarloaf is one of the best in Michigan.

Directions: Sugarloaf Mountain is 6-7 miles north of downtown Marquette on CR 550. Get there by taking Front to Washington, turn west and go to Fourth Ave. Turn north onto Fourth, which becomes Presque Isle Ave. At Hawley turn west. It turns into CR 550. Look for sign by parking lot.

Mount Marquette

The bedrock mountain towers several hundred feet over it’s surroundings and offers a number of vantage points. Accessible by car, bike, or hiking path, the top offers a spectacular view of the city of Marquette, Lake Superior, Hogsback, Sugarloaf, and other peaks in the Huron Mountain Range. Please note: The unpaved road to the top is moderately difficult on your vehicle.

Directions: From South Marquette, travel on US-41 about 1.5 miles south, up the big hill and partly down the other side to Cliff’s Power Road on the right. Go right,then down the hill and along the river for about a mile until you see a sign on the right indicating Mount Marquette. Take this dirt road and proceed on way up the winding hill to the summit.

Thomas Rock

Photo courtesy of Marquette County CVB

Formerly “Gobbler’s Knob,” The Thomas Family has donated this favorite destination to Powell Township. There’s now a wheelchair-accessible trail winding around and up to the scenic lookout, which has a grand view of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Big Bay and Lake Independence. Interpretive signs identify plants along the trail. It takes about 20 minutes to walk around, up, and down. There are picnic tables and restrooms near the parking area.

Directions: From the intersection of Presque Isle Avenue and Hawley Street (CR 550), go approximately 23.5 miles to CR 510 (about 2.5 miles before Big Bay), turn left (south) onto CR 510, go approximately 1 mile on CR510 for parking on the right. Note: WIth the fall 2013 construction on CR 550 you may way to take CR 510 all the way to Thomas Rock.

The View from the new 510 Bridge

Photo courtesy of Marquette County CVB

This historic bridge over the Dead River is near Marquette. And while the “old bridge” is no longer used for vehicle traffic, the new bridge offers a great view of the old one. There’s plenty of space to pull over and take photos and you can even walk across the old bridge if you like.

Directions:  If you are in Marquette, take US-41 West, and turn right onto Midway Drive, and watch for the CR-510 sign. Turn onto CR-510 and you’ll see soon see the bridge off to your right.

View over Baby Lake

Tucked away behind a little brick church in Ishpeming, this view of Baby Lake is a great (and lesser known) spot to see fall color.

Baby Lake

Photo courtesy of Marquette County CVB

Directions: In Ishpeming, while traveling west on 41 from Marquette, turn right on N 2nd. Street (opposite the Ski Hall of Fame), N 2nd. street becomes Prairie Avenue, you will see a little brick church on the right hand side at the end of the road. Head toward the wooded area behind the church, you will then see some rocks that look like steps. Walk up the rocks and veer towards your right and take it to the rock outcrops.

Japser Knob

Enjoy this great view above the city of Ishpeming while checking out the colorful Jasper-Hematite mineral formation. Called Jaspilite, the shiny iron ore outcrop is said to be the largest gemstone in Michigan. The ten minute hike is easy to moderate in difficulty.

Photo courtesy of Marquette County CVB

Directions: In Ishpeming, heading west on US-41, take a left at the light near the Country Village onto Lakeshore Drive. Head south on Lakeshore, at the caution light (intersection) the road becomes Division Street. Proceed on Division for a few blocks, past the High School to Jasper Street on the right. Go right on Jasper up the hill and around the bend until you see a rock wall on the left. Park on the side of the road, near an opening in the rock wall. Take the steps and then follow the trail up to the top of the hill.

Have you visited any of these scenic vistas in Michigan? For more information on fall colors in Michigan, visit 

This post was written by Jesse Land, publisher of the Upper Peninsula travel website Things to do in the U.P. on behalf of Travel Marquette Michigan.