Experiencing the Great Outdoors in a Traverse City Fall

Traverse City is best known as a fun summer destination of beaches, brewpubs and brilliant sunsets – but the best things here in Michigan’s “True North” linger long after the Labor Day weekend is over.

For those who are able to make the trip, in fact, autumn is usually Traverse City’s best season. Fall brings a kind of magic to this land of dunes, lakes and forests; the summer crowds have vanished with the heat, the hills are ablaze with crimson, gold and orange, and there’s a gentle, romantic feel to everything. It’s a time of crisp clear mornings, golden afternoons and cool, lingering evenings. (Thanks to the warming effect of nearby Lake Michigan, autumn here can be a sort of “extended summer” with plenty of balmy September days for sunbathing and even swimming.)

Set at the edge of America’s loveliest inland sea, this region’s characteristic landscape of rolling ridges, lush forests and wide expanses of open water is the perfect canvas for Mother Nature’s annual fall masterpiece. In this glacier-sculpted setting of wide panoramas, autumn color is simply the finishing touch to a dramatic vista of water, sand and sky. (TripAdvisor.com calls it one of America’s Top 10 fall foliage destinations!)

At the Sleeping Bear Dunes, an amazing transformation takes place each fall, as the towering bluffs and islands burst into sheets of flaming scarlet, orange and gold – made even more dramatic because they’re set against the deep indigo blue of Lake Michigan. Some of the other places to enjoy fall color in Traverse City are along the narrow Old Mission Peninsula or in Antrim County’s glacier-scoured Chain of Lakes region.

And while the area’s fall beauty can certainly be sampled by driving about, there’s no better way to experience the full sensory richness of autumn than by getting out to listen to the crunch of leaves, breathe the crisp autumn air and smell the spicy aroma of apples and woodsmoke. Hiking or cycling one of the region’s many non-motorized trails, or paddling a canoe or kayak down one of its gentle rivers, are great ways to have an intimate encounter with Traverse City’s fall beauty.

Anglers know that fall is one of the sweetest times to fish the teeming lakes and trout streams of the Traverse City area. And autumn golf in this part of the world is just about as good as it gets. (This is Michigan’s “Golf Coast,” an area Golf Digest named #12 on its list of the World’s Top 50 Golf Destinations.) 

Of course, after a day of adventuring it’s great to be able to relax in what is now known as one of America’s great “foodie towns.” Traverse City’s restaurants enjoy a national reputation for their fresh, innovative regional cuisine. The over 50 wineries and tasting rooms of the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas are known for the clean, elegant taste and bouquet of their wines, and the area is considered a craft beer mecca, with nearly 20 microbreweries and brewpubs.