Beautiful Places in Michigan to Visit in the Fall
Relax over a glass of Pinot Noir at one of Michigan’s award-winning wineries or hike through the crunch of leaves along a state park trail. Whatever your destination, take the long way and enjoy a drive through Michigan’s explosion of color. After all, autumn only comes once a year.
The Lake Michigan shore may be at her loveliest along M-22 in autumn. Tracing the edges of the Leelanau Peninsula, M-22 passes through brilliant fall color, offering glimpses of Lake Michigan along the way. The route begins near Manistee, in Michigan’s prime fruit country. Admire trees heavy with ripe fruit and stop at a roadside produce stand before approaching the dramatic hills and blazing colors of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. In Leland, a small coastal town between the Big Lake and Lake Leelanau, quaint, weathered fishing shanties line the docks at Fishtown. Take a break at the cool-climate wineries that dot the Leelanau Peninsula, sampling Rieslings, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminers, and Chardonnays. Near Northport, M-22 promises the twists and turns popular with bicyclists and motorcyclists as well as automobile drivers before veering southward along the Leelanau Peninsula’s eastern shore en route to Traverse City, the largest city in northwest Michigan.
Old Center Road (M-37) travels up the center of Old Mission Peninsula, a thin sliver of land that reaches up into Grand Traverse Bay. The route twists and turns over hilly landscapes of tidy golden-hued vineyards and orange-and-red hardwood groves, all of it backed with views of sparkling Lake Michigan. Look for opportunities to buy locally-grown apples and pears or stop at one of a dozen wineries occupying Old Mission, including award-winners Brys Estate, 2 Lads Winery, and Chateau Grand Traverse.
US-31 hugs the Lake Michigan shore as it makes its way north from Traverse City. It can be tough to keep your eyes on the road, with turquoise-blue Lake Michigan to the west and brilliant autumn foliage to the east. Small resort towns like Elk Rapids offer an excuse to stop for a bite. A meal on the outside deck of Stafford’s Weathervane Restaurant in Charlevoix with a glass of Michigan’s best craft beer is a fun way to pass the time, overlooking the city’s drawbridge and its parade of pleasure boats. In Petoskey, scoop up a handful of the region’s famous stones for a local souvenir. Beachcombers scan the local shore for their own finds, but you can also look for Michigan’s state stone in the shops of Gaslight Village, where polished stones find their way into home décor, jewelry, and other household items.
West Michigan and the Blue Star Highway
There’s more than summertime beach getaways awaiting visitors to the Lake Michigan shore. Michigan’s favorite warm-weather retreat transforms into a riot of color in autumn. Follow Lakeshore Avenue south from Grand Haven, past summer cottages, through a tunnel of colorful maples and poplars. In Holland, take up the Blue Star Highway. The route’s sweeping curves appeal to Sunday drivers and motorcyclists in love with the rural landscapes A hearty breakfast or burger stop at Fennville’s What Not Inn—or an afternoon visit to a local winery—breaks up the drive, which finishes with the cool sands and Lake Michigan vistas of St. Joseph’s Lookout Park.
M-99 curves south from Lansing, traveling through small towns, alongside golden corn fields and colorful maple trees. Albion’s Whitehouse Nature Center allows the opportunity to enjoy the fall foliage on foot. Hiking trails meander through the forest, across amber-colored grasslands and past sparkling ponds frequented by birds and geese on their southern migration. Marshall’s large collection of meticulously-restored historic inns may entice you to spend the night before finishing the route along colorful, hilly Rte. 66 and US-43 to Grand Ledge. The 300-million-year-old rock outcroppings in Fitzgerald Park give the town its name and provide the perfect atmosphere for an autumn picnic.
M-29 from Detroit to Port Huron
US-23 from Tawas City to Alpena
M-26 and the Keweenaw Peninsula
The Upper Peninsula’s color crescendos along the Keweenaw Peninsula on an autumn drive along M-26. Follow the two-lane road past glimmering Lake Roland, winding your way through the Copper Country State Forest. The colors explode along the way, en route to Houghton for a bite to eat and a glass of Michigan craft beer before crossing Portage Lake to M-41 and Calumet. This is Copper Country, and the indelible traces along the route recall the men who mined this region in the 19and 20 centuries. Continue on beneath a canopy of stunning autumn color and the town of Copper Harbor or veer off for a detour, revisiting M-26 through Eagle River and Eagle Harbor. The side trip promises sparkling Lake Superior shoreline and glimpses of elegant lighthouse towers. At day’s end, make time for a drive up Brockway Mountain in Copper Harbor, with legendary sunsets and a view that seems to go on forever.
Michigan’s only claim to mountains lies here, in the western U.P., where the Porcupine Mountains jut up above the Lake Superior shoreline. Heading west from Ontonagon follow the sparkling Lake Superior shore along M-64, past vibrant-hued hardwoods and over tiny creeks that snake their way to the Big Lake. In Silver City, M-107 leads into Porcupine Mountains State Park, where untouched forests are crisscrossed by hiking trails especially beautiful with the fall color. The route ends at a pull-out overlooking Lake of the Clouds. Breathtaking at any time of year, the turquoise-blue lake is rimmed with a riot of colors—red, orange and yellow—in autumn.
Lake Superior’s most striking landscapes lie along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Hike the North Country Trail if you have time, past Chapel Rock and Spray Falls, along Twelvemile Beach, across Hurricane River and out to the Au Sable Light Station, a route that winds beneath brilliant autumn foliage as it hugs the Lake Superior shore. By car, follow H58 east from Munising, through the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and its canopy of fragrant white pine and colorful maples. Pull-offs allow short walks to Miner’s Castle and the Au Sable Light en route to Grand Marais. After a photo stop at the Grand Marais Lighthouse, you can continue your color tour south via Routes 77, 28 and 123 to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Michigan’s favorite waterfall, Tahquamenon’s Upper, and Lower Falls always take on the color of root beer. In autumn, the water’s rich brown hue stands in vivid contrast to a backdrop of orange-and-gold hardwood leaves.
Visitors admire the lovely chocolate color of the Tahquamenon Falls in any season. But in autumn, when surrounded by stately white pines and vivid hardwood trees, the scenery really pops. Route 123 winds beneath a colorful canopy, through Tahquamenon State Park eastward to Whitefish Bay and the lakeside town of Paradise. Follow the Lake Superior shoreline north, admiring the whitecaps that grow in strength with autumn’s arrival, en route to Whitefish Point. Here, the brilliant white-and-red buildings of the Whitefish Point Light Station sit surrounded by dune grass. The excellent Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum sits within the buildings, sharing dramatic stories of Michigan’s Shipwreck Coast—some 200 wrecks lie offshore. Whitefish Point’s 80-foot lighthouse offers unforgettable views of Lake Superior and the surrounding autumn foliage. Following route 123 south, connect with the Lewis Memorial Highway to hug the southernmost shore of Whitefish Bay en route to Sault St. Marie. Settled in 1668, the city ranks as Michigan’s oldest city. Enjoy time at the Soo Locks and a view of the fall colors across the river, in Ontario, before relaxing over a Pure Michigan dinner: roasted root vegetables, fresh whitefish, and a Michigan-made wine or craft beer.
US-2 from St. Ignace to Manistique
A trip across the “Mighty Mac” never disappoints, no matter the season. Drive the spectacular white Mackinac Bridge north, then head west along US-2 for a tour of Lake Michigan’s northern shore. With the sparkling lake to the south and a blaze of autumn color to the north, you’ll find ample reason to stop to shoot photos or enjoy a lakeside picnic. Keep your eyes open for the Cut River Bridge Overlook, just east of Epoufette, a spectacular 150 foot-high span over the brilliant foliage of the Cut River gorge. And consider another stop in Naubinway for an authentic Upper Peninsula pasty.