Color Tour the West Coast of Leelanau County

STOP 4: Hike Alligator Hill

Of all the trails on the 70,000-acre Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Alligator Hill—with its hilly terrain and spectacular vistas—proves itself again and again a local favorite. But never are its accolades more deserved than when fall forces it into full-blown Crayola color. Alligator Hill’s forested trail is thick with beech trees and maples, making for a wildly colored excursion among its looping trails, especially when the foliage breaks open to reveal wide swaths of blue from Lake Michigan and Big Glen Lake below.

The trail is divided into three interconnected loops. All trails lead to the Islands Lookout, a big-water vista that stretches over Sleeping Bear Bay out to South and North Manitou Islands and, on clear days, all the way to South Fox Island. Squint and set your gaze just offshore of South Manitou Island’s southern end—the black dot is what is left of the Francisco Morazan, a freighter that ran aground in a snowstorm in December of 1960. Look to the north, between the northern tip of North Manitou Island and the mainland. The white dot is the North Manitou Shoal Light, more commonly known as the Crib. GET THERE: FROM M-22 IN GLEN ARBOR, FOLLOW M-109 EAST TO STOCKING ROAD. THE TRAILHEAD IS 3/4 MILE DOWN ON YOUR LEFT.

STOP 5: Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

The pinnacle of a Leelanau fall color tour is Pierce Stocking Drive, a winding scenic drive along the top of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Named for the nature-loving lumberman who envisioned it, the 7.4-mile long road kicks off by slipping beneath a covered bridge and leading to several stunning overlooks. Get out at the Glen Lake overlook, and look near Little Glen Lake (in the foreground) at the alligatorshaped hill to its left. That’s the site of your recent hike, and that’s how it got its name. Cruise on to the dune overlook, where the seemingly sky-high golden dunes are crowded along the shoreline, and North and South Manitou Islands float in the distance. If the scenery inspires you to park and stroll, the Cottonwood Trail will take you 11/2 miles across the dune landscape.

Back on the road, course under vibrantly colored clusters of sugar maples, American beech, hemlock, basswood and even a few black cherry trees. The final flourish? There are two: the Lake Michigan overlook, which lets you look down from 450 feet above the water, and the Sleeping Bear Dune overlook. Although erosion has made its once-unmistakable bear shape difficult to see, the Native American legend behind it lives on. As the story goes, the Sleeping Bear Dune is a mother bear watching over her two cubs that fled into Lake Michigan with her to escape a forest fire on the Wisconsin shore. The cubs drowned on the way to the Michigan mainland, but rose to become North and South Manitou Islands. GET THERE: ACCESS THE PIERCE STOCKING SCENIC DRIVE FROM THE ENTRANCE ON THE WEST SIDE OF M-109, JUST SOUTH OF WELCH ROAD. THE SLEEPING BEAR DUNES NATIONAL LAKESHORE CHARGES $10 FOR A VEHICLE PASS, GOOD FOR A WEEK. 231-326-5134.

Sneak a peak at what awaits you in this video of the Pierce Stocking Drive

STOP 6: La Bécasse

The perfect end to a perfect day is an evening at La Bécasse in Burdickville. There’s just one rule: Don’t be intimidated by the red velvet curtain you enter through or the fact that your meal is masterminded by Paris-born Chef Guillaume Hazaël-Massieux, who declares: “We are not fancy, but we aren’t Applebees either. We have a charming, cozy dining room. We are fairly priced, we are mom and pop, and we do everything very simply. It’s simple food, and we do it right.”

You’re in for a menu anchored with classic, uncomplicated but choice cuts of veal, lamb, duck and beef, and inspired by fresh, local, and in-season foods. This October, look for autumn-inspired cassoulettes, stews and soups.

One to try? The roasted squash soup, a blend of butternut squash, sweet potato and pumpkin roasted with a touch of cinnamon and drizzled with maple syrup. Also try the year-round favorite main dish, duck breast and confit with vanilla demi-glace and sweet potato gratin. If you’re feeling daring, instead of a glass from La Bécasse’s extensive French and American wine list, try a French pastis—a licorice liqueur made of star anise, mixed with water—or some French absinthe, which is served in a small glass and mixed with water drizzled slowly through a sugar cube. GET THERE: LA BÉCASSE—OPEN TUESDAYS THROUGH SATURDAYS, WITH SEATING BETWEEN 5:45 P.M. AND 9:15 P.M.—IS LOCATED AT THE CORNER OF COUNTY ROADS 616 AND 675 IN BURDICKVILLE. 9001 SOUTH DUNNS FARM ROAD, 231-334-3944. www.restaurantlabecasse.com

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