Northern Michigan Color Tour at Port Oneida in Sleeping Bear Dunes

Port Oneida in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a premiere Michigan getaway location filled with spectacular beauty any time of the year, and especially in fall. Autumn color touring in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is something not to be missed.

You could spend a lifetime in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and not tire of revisiting the beautiful things. Autumn is, naturally, the perfect time to take a weekend and explore the charms—follow our advice and go.

Hiking and Overlook

Bay View Trail: Find the trailhead off Thoreson Road, on the peninsula’s southwest side, for this lovely, hilly 8 miles that leads past old farmsteads and Lake Michigan views. Along the way, stop in at the Charles Olsen Farm—headquarters of Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear.

Pyramid Point Trail: This 2.7-mile trek heads to Pyramid Point lookout, delivering an unforgettable view of South and North Manitou Islands. Find the trailhead on Basch Road, just east of where the road doglegs at Camp Leelanau Kohahna.

Tour Historic Farms

Just a couple miles northeast of Glen Arbor, is protected not only as part of the National Lakeshore, but also as a historic district. So the first thing you notice when you cross into the peninsula realm by turning north from M-22 onto Port Oneida Road or Basch Road, are classic farmsteads, some dating back to the 1800’s, their collections of outbuildings still standing prim (the milkhouse, the chicken coop, the wagon shed, the shop, the granary, the barn, the ice house, the outhouse, the main house—farmers like buildings). Many reveal the signs of recent improvements—shiny metal roofs, fresh planks—as the park continues its campaign to keep the buildings on the landscape.

A few of the farms are still privately owned, so be careful not to trespass, but feel free to wander the grounds of farms owned by the park. Learn more at the interpretive center run by Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear, in Port Oneida’s Olsen House, 3164 W. Harbor Hwy (M-22), 231-334-6103. Fall hours are unpredictable, but weekends often have docents on duty.


Shell Lake, tucked into the forest in the northeast portion of Port Oneida, makes for a beautiful evening of fishing. Follow the winding two-track through the forest on the lake’s east side to the launch. Well, not so much a launch, because you’ll probably have to carry your boat to the shore over 50 feet of sand. But that’s what makes it good. No motors, small boats. Decent smallmouth bass action. A marvelous place to be on the water as sunset evolves to an orange and turquoise dusk above the ridge, and then dims into night.


Most of Port Oneida’s roads are gravel, so cyclists are advised to ride their fat tires. Also, know that bikes are not allowed on the hiking trails—you must stay on roads that cars are allowed on. Only about 10 miles of roads trace Port Oneida’s lovely but compact geography, so avid cyclists will want to clock some miles along M-22, which is also beautiful, but can get busy during peak tourism times, like fall color season. For an M-22 cycle outing, we suggest early morning.


Port Oneida’s two small inland lakes, Shell and Narada, make for easy, drifting, poke-around-and-examine-stuff kinds of experiences, and are wonderful for that. But the more obvious draw is the big water of Lake Michigan. Launch from anywhere a road reaches the shore. Find the most popular put-in at the northern end of Lake Michigan Road, at the bottom of

Good Harbor Bay. The giant lobe of Pyramid Point protects the water here from blowing westerlies; good to know if you are looking for some quieter water on windy days. We’re compelled to state the obvious: weather is unpredictable come fall (remember the Edmund Fitzgerald?), so pack the right gear, know your limits, and keep an eye on the horizon.


Get to know the stories of some of the distinctive people who lived in and farmed Port Oneida through a set of publications called Images and Recollections from Port Oneida, based on oral history interviews conducted by longtime National Park ranger Tom VanZoeren. Specific titles include: The Burfiend and Baker Farms, The Werner Farm and Its Neighbors and The Thoreson Farm and Its Neighbors. Rich perspective on remarkable people in a remarkable place.

Find these books at local booksellers: Cottage Books, Glen Arbor, Horizon Books, Traverse City, Visitors Center of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire. Or


Homestead Resort: A self-contained world adjacent to Port Oneida, with hotel rooms, condos, restaurants, Lake Michigan
beach, pool, tennis courts and more. Expansive, but well scaled and fitted into the land. From $85/night. 231-334-5000,

Sylvan Inn: Historic bed and breakfast a short stroll from downtown Glen Arbor. Country luxe. $80–$115/night. 231-334-
4333, sylvaninn .com.

Glen Arbor Bed & Breakfast: Historic inn right downtown, Glen Arbor. Refined rustic. $89/night (off-peak) and $120/night (peak) and up. 231-334-6789,

The Lakeshore Inn: Classic mom-&-pop motel in Glen Arbor. $79/night (off-peak), $129/night (peak) and up. 231-334-3773,

Fine Dining

Many inspired choices for fine dining near Port Oneida—that cuisine-in-the-countryside feel, outstanding menu choices.

Blu: Eclectic, elegant menu. On Sleeping Bear Bay. 5705 South Lake Street, Glen Arbor. 231-334-4640,
La Bécasse: Classic French cuisine. 9001 S. Dunn’s Farm Rd., Burdickville. 231-334-3994,
North: Eclectic, elegant menu, 149 E. Harbor Highway (M-22), Maple City, 231-228-5060,
Trattoria Funistrada: Northern Italian–style trattoria. 4566 W. MacFarlane Rd., Burdickville. 231-334-3900,

Casual Dining

Art’s Tavern: Timeless Up North bar with full menu. Serves breakfast. 6487 Western Ave. Glen Arbor. 231-334-3754.
Boonedocks: Loggy setting, bar and family restaurant. Music on the deck. 5858 Manitou View Blvd., Glen Arbor, 231-334-6444.
Riverfront: Inventive sandwiches and pizza. Deck on the Crystal River. 6281 Western Ave, Glen Arbor, 231-334-4420.

Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse. [email protected]

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