6 Favorite Northern Michigan Color Tours

The aching beauty of autumn is difficult to resist. The air cools and sharpens, the sky takes on that thick October blue, the sunlight mellows to rich, honeyed tones. We are stirred, invigorated as the season shifts, then settles.

With those sentiments in mind, we sent our staff photographer to Cadillac to capture images for this year’s color tour. The quiet waterfront downtown is surrounded by a patchwork quilt of rolling farmland and stands of maples, oaks, aspens, all afire in that golden-harvest sunlight. Can’t get enough? We’ve included five classic leaf-peeping tours across the North, hoping you’ll be inspired to create your own colorful adventures this fall.

Cadillac

Cruise: First, find a good map of Cadillac-area roads, like DeLorme’s Michigan Atlas and Gazetteer ($19.95) or Universal Map’s Michigan County Atlas ($84.95). Then head south from Cadillac, on a trail of your choosing, to Tustin. Drive east on 20 Mile Road past forested valleys, swaths of autumn grass and silos standing guard.

Stops: In Tustin, pull over for jerky at Powell’s Grocery (231-829-3301). Find produce at the Amish farm stand at 20 Mile Road and 60th Avenue. detour: Where M-115 and 70th Avenue meet, find rustic log furniture and other decor items at Amish-owned Natural Log Products. Kitty corner, explore the Northwoods Country Store—also Amish—to grab a bag of granola (it’s their specialty), cheeses and more for the road.

Lake Charlevoix

Cruise: From U.S. 31, hang a right onto M-66 and skirt the south arm of the lake. When you hit East Jordan, head north on Advance Road to Boyne City, then meander northwest back to U.S. 31 and into downtown Charlevoix.

Stops: A quickie car ferry ride on Lake Charlevoix’s quirky Ironton Ferry ($3, charlevoixcounty.org); beach walking Young State Park (231-582-7523, michigandnr.com); dinner and shopping in Boyne City (248-582-6222, boynecity.com).

Detour: Along East Jordan-Boyne City Road, look for Wilson Road, a rural drive that meanders past ghost farms.

Tunnel of Trees

Cruise: From Harbor Springs, drive M-119 north all the way to Cross Village. This woods-flanked, tight-winding shoreline two-lane is one of the most scenic roads in the state.

Stops: Gallery hop in boutique-y Harbor Springs (231-526-5593, harborspringschamber.com); amble through thickets and along the beach at Thorne Swift Nature Preserve (231-347-0991, landtrust.org); art shop at Three Pines Studio in Cross Village (231-526-9447, threepinesstudio.com); hike glorious Wilderness State Park (231-436-5381, michigandnr.com).

Detour: Stutsmanville Road curves and dips its way inland; follow it east while making your return trip home, then cut south on C-77 to head back into Harbor Springs.

Check out this Tunnel of Trees guide with suggestions on where to eat, where to stop and what route to take.

Tip of Leelanau

Cruise: Follow M-22 north through Suttons Bay to Northport. Hop back on the highway as it arcs west near the tip and heads south to Leland, then cut across the peninsula via C-637 back to Suttons Bay. Expect undulating terrain, hilltop vistas and lots of braking for wineries, roadside farm stands and sweet Northern villages.

Stops: Wine tasting at dozens of local wineries (lpwines.com); shopping and strolling in Leland’s Fishtown (231-256-0079, lelandmi.com); tour historic Grand Traverse Lighthouse, the peninsula’s silent sentinel (231-386-7195, grandtraverselighthouse.com); hike to a spectacular vista at secluded Cathead Bay in Leelanau State Park (386-5422, michigandnr.com).

Detour: Head south on C-643 along the west shore of Lake Leelanau for sweeping views and out-of-the-way wineries.

Watch a Video of Leland’s Fishtown

5: The West Shore

Cruise: The southern end of M-22 skirts Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, snaking through forest and farmland past the Big Lake and inland beauties like Crystal Lake and Upper and Lower Herring.

Stops: Hike through fiery maple and golden aspen on the six-mile coastal Otter Creek loop (231-326-5134, nps.gov/slbe); walk the pier in downtown Frankfort (231-352-7251, frankfort-elberta.com); snap a sunset photo at the beloved Point Betsie Lighthouse, 150 years old this year (231-352-4915, pointbetsie.org).

Detour: Swing through the cozy village of Elberta, then take Grace Road to Paul Rose Road to Demerly Road for a languorous pastoral ride.

Watch Videos of Sleeping Bear’s Pierce Stocking Drive and of the Pt. Betsie Lighthouse

Old Mission

Cruise: Take M-37 (Center Road) north for a soaring drive up skinny, 22-mile Old Mission Peninsula. Orchards and wineries abound, and the peninsula is so narrow in some places as to afford views of both East and West Grand Traverse Bays.

Stops: Sip vino at Old Mission’s seven wineries (wineriesofoldmission.com); kick back on the sandy East Bay shore at Haserot Beach (oldmission.com); grab penny candy and nickel coffee at Old Mission General Store (231-223-4310); catch sunset at Lighthouse Park, at the very tip of the peninsula (231-223-7322).

Detour: Cut over to Peninsula Drive via Bowers Harbor Road for lovely post-sunset West Bay views all the way to the base of Old Mission.

Watch a Video of Old Mission’s Lighthouse Park

How to Capture the Color in Photos

  • Feeling snappy? Here’s a few tips for stellar fall foliage photos:
  • shoot in the early morning and evening, when the light is softest
  • get up close and try nontraditional angles
  • set your aperature to F-16 or F-22 (try the manual setting on your digi cam) for sharp panoramas
  • incorporate eye-catching elements like barns, tractors, fences and other structures.
Make it a Fall Color Tour Weekend! Find your hotel….your restaurantsa cabin on a lakewhere to wine tour!

Color Tours to Fill the Season

Article Comments

  • daylin09

    There is a charter company called Keweenaw Excursions in Charlevoix that does a color cruise from their boat. They take you from Round Lake out into Lake Charlevoix and then out into Lake Michigan. The tour is two hours of beautiful scenery and some history. They offer a full bar, rest rooms, and seating in a heated indoor cabin or you can sit outside and enjoy the breeze. Their website is http://www.keweenawexcursions.com The phone number is 231-237-9365. They do sight seeing cruises, color tours, and sunset cruises.