Michigan’s M-119, also known as the Tunnel of Trees, is one of Northern Michigan’s must-see attractions, perfect for a scenic drive or bike ride. A magical, scenic road that wends from Harbor Springs, (north of Petoskey) to Cross Village, the Tunnel of Trees has been ranked among the most scenic roads in Michigan and holds its own with the great natural beauties of the entire nation. The Tunnel of Trees is especially breathtaking in spring when trillium carpet the forest floor that borders the road, or in autumn when the hardwoods along it are aflame in fall color.
M-119 begins at the north end of Petoskey, but doesn’t become The Tunnel of Trees until north of Harbor Springs. From Harbor Springs M-119/Tunnel of Trees becomes a narrow road that runs 20 miles along a spectacular bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, with especially sharp twists at Devil’s Elbow (reputed to be haunted by an evil spirit and voices after dark) and at Horseshoe Curve or Bend. Along the way you’ll find the unique shops, great food & drink, spectacular scenery and fascinating history that all add up to make M-119’s Tunnel of Trees, a perfect Northern Michigan vacation.
Here’s MyNorth.com and Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Guide to the Tunnel of Trees, chalk full of great travel ideas. Sit back and enjoy the ride!
A Little Background About the M-119 Tunnel of Trees
The Tunnel of Trees is named for the hardwoods and evergreens that crowd up to the edge of the road, their crowns knit into a comforting ceiling over motorists and bicyclists. But this isn’t like a tunnel through a mountain, where the view is basically the inside of a cave.
M-119/Tunnel of Trees offers glimpses into the forest and through wide openings to inspiring vistas. I have traveled this route for years, hundreds of times, in every season, and with each trip something new catches my interest—maybe a spectacular view of the lake, or snow cloaking the dark green hemlocks in winter. In spring, the number of trilliums on the forest floor is beyond estimate. In autumn, sunlight filters through the trees, electrifying the fall leaf colors.
If you can, make the trip on a weekday, a day when you have plenty of time to let the scenery inspire (and the patience to be courteous to cyclists and pokey drivers). Allow your mind to wander to consider the area’s history—the original Native Americans and their traditions, as well as the early European settlers.
The old church at Middle Village, on the shoreline below Good Hart, dates from the 1880s and is near a Jesuit mission from the 1700s. What did the forests look like then, before logging? Where did the Civil War veterans who got land grants to farm this area come from, and what did they find when they arrived?
Tourism is the main industry now, but that has changed, too. Generations ago, summer people from Chicago or St. Louis would arrive to spend the entire summer. Modern travelers zoom north on a freeway for a fast weekend getaway. And freeway is precisely what the Tunnel of Trees is an antidote for. The feel is slow, soft, curvy and intimate, a two-lane keepsake, a byway from a long gone era, a road that is itself a destination.
The Guide to the M-119 Tunnel of Trees
Petoskey to Harbor Springs
About two miles north of downtown Petoskey, US-31, turn left onto M-119 toward Harbor Springs. After a mile, there is a small mall on the right. The first store is Crooked Tree Breadworks (2264 M-119, 231-347-9574), where you must purchase a few pepper Parmesan rolls and some granola to share as trail mix.
At the other end of the same row of stores is Toski Sands Market and Wine Shop (2294 M-119, 231-347-1571), justifiably famous for its smoked whitefish spread as well as homemade beef and turkey jerky.
Lunch In Harbor Springs
Fabulous to-go sandwiches and other food finds begin in at the southern end of the Tunnel of Trees in downtown Harbor Springs. Stop at Gurney’s Harbor Bottle Shop (215 E. Main, 231-526-5472), where the Train Wreck sandwich is highly recommended. Other in-town choices include Turkey’s Cafe and Pizzeria (250 E. Main, 231-526-6041) and Mustang Wendy’s for yummy fresh Tex-Mex pulled pork of a Baja chicken wrap (131 State Street, Harbor Springs, 231.242.4546).
North of Harbor Springs
After getting back on M-119 and continuing north from Harbor Springs, watch about four miles ahead on the right for Pond Hill Farm (5581 S. Lake Shore Dr., 231-526-3276). This family-owned operation has a market with its own fresh produce as well as homemade preserves like hot garlic pepper jelly. While there, check out the new vineyard and wine tasting room. Pond Hill’s Garden Cafe makes a wonderful lunch stop from late May through October.
Back heading north on M-119, the road narrows with trees growing up to both sides of the thoroughfare. While the driver remains vigilant (remember, this narrower-than-normal two lane road lacks, for the most part, shoulders or a center line), passengers get to ogle the scenery, which includes stately hardwoods and conifers, picturesque homes and glimpses of Lake Michigan.
On a clear day, you can see Beaver Island from some view points. About six miles beyond Pond Hill Farm is Trillium Woods Antiques (811 S. Lake Shore Dr., 231-526-6569 or 231-838-0649), on the right, known for its eclectic collection.
A mile or so to the east, at 112 W. Townline Rd., is Good Hart Glass Works. Call or email in advance (231-526-7283, [email protected]) to make sure artist Lynn Dinning is available to show you around. She also offers classes and demonstrations.
Back on M-119 in Good Hart, the red building on the left is the Good Hart General Store (1075 N. Lake Shore Dr., 231-526-7661), a popular stop for touring bicyclists as well as motorists. The general store’s chicken or beef pot pies are available for purchase or shipping.
Next door is the Good Hart and Soul tea room at the rustic furnishings store Primitive Images (1129 N. Lakeshore Dr., 231-526-0276) and next to that is a collection of seasonal gifts and home accessories at A Studio (1135 N. Lake Shore Dr., 231-526-7110). Call for current hours.
M-119 continues north for seven miles before ending at Cross Village and county road C-77, also known as State Road. Take State about a block to the corner of Levering Road to find Three Pines Studio (5959 W. Levering Rd., 231-526-9447). This art gallery features the work of more than 40 northern Michigan artists and offers classes and workshops. Outside is a beautiful sculpture garden. Three Pines also has a rental cottage in Cross Village. The first Saturday in October Three Pines Studio features its Great Lakes Pumpkin Patch Day. Watch this great video taken on that special day:
Back on the main street is the Legs Inn (6425 N. Lake Shore Dr., 231-526-2281). The historic inn sits on a bluff overlooking the lake so catch a sunset and visit the garden. Indoors is a blend of European and Native American decor. Authentic Polish food is the specialty. Legs Inn also has five rental cottages.
North of Cross Village
If you have time, continue on the same road about three miles north and, when it ends, bear left toward Lake Michigan. This takes you into parks, including Wilderness State Park, along Sturgeon Bay, where the long, pristine beach is great for walking and wading.
Parking is available and beach access is free. The main entrance to Wilderness State Park is about 16 miles away (903 Wilderness Park Dr., Carp Lake; 231-436-5381). Through Sept. 30, a day pass to the park is $6 for Michigan residents ($8 for non-residents). The park covers nearly 10,500 acres, has 26 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and includes hiking trails, campsites and nine rental cabins.
Heading Back to Harbor Springs
After the beach, retrace your route south to Cross Village. You can drive back to Harbor Springs through the Tunnel of Trees, maybe switching drivers so the previous one can rubberneck this time.
Or you can take State Road (C-77), which is a shorter and faster route preferred by locals. About 1 ½ miles south of Cross Village on the right is a roadhouse-style family restaurant called the Crow’s Nest (4601 N. State Rd., 231-526-6011), where pan-fried perch is a favorite.
Three miles south of Cross Village, also on the right, is Kauffman Flower Farm (2897 N. State Rd., 231-526-6948). The owners grow and sell annuals and perennials for use as cut flowers. As the flowers wind down after Labor Day, hours are less predictable, so call before stopping. Kauffman also has a rental cabin that sleeps six.
Dinner and Lodging in Harbor Springs and Petoskey
Head back about 12 miles on State Road to Harbor Springs, where dinner choices include Stafford’s Pier (102 E. Bay St., 231-526-6201); in good weather, you may also dine outside overlooking the marina and pick out your dream yacht. Other dining choices include the New York (101 State St., 231-526-1904), the Bar Harbor (100 State St., 231-526-2671) and the aforementioned Turkey’s.
Accommodations are available about three miles west of town on M-119 at the Birchwood Inn (7077 S. Lake Shore Dr., 231-526-2151); four miles east of Harbor Springs on M-119 at Best Western of Harbor Springs (8514 M-119, 231-347-9050), and at many locations in Petoskey.
Planning your own M-119 Tunnel of Trees tour for a Northern Michigan vacation? Find more hotel choices in MyNorth’s Hotel Directory….more restaurants choices in MyNorth’s Restaurant Directory….rent a cabin or cottage in MyNorth’s Cottage Rental Directory….find out what’s going on in MyNorth’s Calendar of Events, the largest in Northern Michigan.
This article was edited for the web based on a Traverse Magazine story by former Detroit Free Press staff writer Marty Hair. [email protected]