Michiganders know one of the best things about living here is getting to enjoy four distinct seasons, and Autumn is on the way. Days are getting shorter. Soon the air will be crisp, and the forests will start to show their blazing red, orange and yellow fall colors. Taking a Michigan Fall Color Tour is a whole new way to experience all The Mitten State has to offer.
Weather affects when the trees put on their Technicolor show every fall. We had lots of rain in late summer and temperatures are expected to be bit warmer than normal this fall. Forecasters say those two elements will cause colors to peak about a week later than normal this year across the state of Michigan.
Michigan is such a big state you could take a month and follow the fall colors at they peak from from top to bottom. Here’s a region-by-region guide with estimated peak color dates to help you plan your fall color tour.
Upper Peninsula – Peak October 7 – 14
Autumn comes earliest to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s not hard to find trees in this part of the state where the pristine forests are vast and seemingly endless.The area’s unique landscape provides a dramatic backdrop for fall color.
Head to the Keweenaw Peninsula and drive 41 north, starting at L ‘Anse through Houghton all the way to Copper Harbor at the tip of Michigan’s U.P. Along the way, you’ll have beautiful views of sparkling Lake Superior with several opportunities to stop and enjoy and photograph the fall colors along the shoreline. You’ll find unusual art galleries and unique dinning in all the small towns along the route. If you’re in search of a hardy fall meal, you can’t beat a classic pasty from a local diner. You’ll also be in mining country with several historic sites to visit along the way like the Quincy Mine in Hancock and Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor. As you near Copper Harbor, trees grow close to the road creating a canopy of color over head. When you reach Copper Harbor, be sure to drive to the top of Brockway Mountain where you’ll get a panoramic view of the lake and peninsula in all its autumn glory.
The Upper Peninsula’s many waterfalls also make for some spectacular fall scenery. Head to Alger County where there are no less than 17 stunning waterfalls. Munising Falls is just a short walk from the parking area. You can see Alger Falls at the intersection of M-28 and M-94 without even getting out of your car. Rock River Falls requires a bit of a difficult hike through the woods and is for the more adventurous leaf peeper.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
The U.P. is also home to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Autumn foliage sets the high sandstone cliffs surrounding Lake Superior on fire every year. Kayaking is a popular way to view the scenery as you paddle through caves, past more waterfalls and Miner’s Castle, the famous rock formation. You can also see Pictured Rocks from shore at several viewing locations in the area.
Northern Lower Peninsula – Peak October 14 – 21
Mid-October the Northern Lower Peninsula comes alive with fall color and it features some of the state’s most scenic drives.
Make Petoskey your homebase where can shop, dine and enjoy Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan. But sure to stop at Grandpa Shorter’s before you leave Petoskey. From there, take US-31 North to M-119 North. On M-119 you’ll find yourself twisting and turning through the famed Tunnel of Trees with a view of Lake Michigan on the west. A portion of the road rides along a ridge rising above the lake. Woods thick with trees on either side envelope M-119, surrounding you with fall color. You’ll pass through Harbor Springs where you’ll find more unique downtown shopping. Down the road is Pond Hill Farm where you can stop for a wine tasting, sample craft beer and shop for seasonal produce. Net you’ll find the authentic 1930’s Good Hart General Store. End your day with authentic Polish cuisine at the legendary Leg’s Inn in Cross Village. The route features several other small galleries and shops as well as stops to take photos.
M-22 is another popular fall color drive in Northern Michigan. Be sure to see the North Breakwater Lighthouse before you leave Frankfort. Then head north on M-22 onto the Leelanau Peninsula. The drive will take you through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Stop in Empire and take the 1.5 mile round trip hike along the Empire Bluffs Trail. At the end you’ll find an incredible view of the dunes, Lake Michigan and fall color as far as the eye can see. After you leave Empire, you’ll pass The Dune Climb where you can climb the towering sand all the way to Lake Michigan if you wish. Drive on to Glen Arbor and the many quaint galleries and shops, including Cherry Republic where you can stock up on Michigan cherries. You’ll come to Leeland next. Take a tour of historic Fishtown, docks and buildings that were once a part of the commercial fisheries on Lake Michigan. Finally, end in Northport at Leelanau State Park where you can take a tour of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse.
Central Lower Peninsula – Peak October 21 – 28
The central Lower Peninsula will peak the third and fourth weeks of October. There you can follow the color from beachtown to beachtown, starting in South Haven. Walk along Lake Michigan and out to the famous lighthouse on the pier. In town there are plenty of options for dining and shopping. From there go north to Fennville and stop at Crane’s Orchard and stock up on U-pick apples, cider, wines and craft beer. Cranes’s also has a bakery with goodies like donuts and apple pie. Saugatuck/Douglas is the next stop on the route where the Kalamazoo river meets Lake Michigan. The streets are lined with galleries full of original works of art. Head to Saugatuck State Park, and you can take a hike through the woods to a deserted Lake Michigan Beach. Then keep going north to Holland and tour the authentic Dutch windmill at Windmill Island. The top of the windmill gives you a great view of the area’s fall colors. Finally, end your trip in Grand Haven where you’ll find another lakeside downtown filled with shops and galleries as well as a postcard perfect beach and lighthouse.
Southern Lower Peninsula – Peak October 23 – 30
Take a fall color tour in the city in Ann Arbor where colors will peak at the end of October this year. The city features 150 local parks and tree lined streets that turn brilliant colors every autumn. Nichols Arboretum, Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Gallop Park and Dexter-Huron Metropark are some of the best places to see color around the city. West Huron Drive between Dexter and downtown is one of the area’s most scenic drives in the fall. Several bike paths in the city provide another way to view the trees. Even downtown, where you’ll find plenty of shopping and dining, is filled with colorful trees. Outside of town, local farms and orchards provide an opportunity to take hayrides and pick apples. Ann Arbor also hosts several festivals in the fall. And if it’s a home game weekend, you can always head to The Big House and watch the University of Michigan Football Team play.