M-119’s Tunnel of Trees

M-119’s Tunnel of Trees in Harbor Springs: An Iconic Northern Michigan Attraction

M-119’s Tunnel of Trees  is a 16-mile scenic road that begins in Harbor Springs and ends in Cross Village. This narrow road, designated as a Scenic Heritage Route, lacks a centerline (caution: don’t drive this route if you are in a hurry!) and traces an ancient Native American trail along a spectacular bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Bordered by a thick hardwood forest that parts occasionally to offer tantalizing glimpses of  Lake Michigan, the Tunnel of Trees is beautiful four seasons a year—so bring your camera. In the spring morels and trillium carpeting the forest floor. Summer brings a thick green canopy that turns red and gold in autumn. In winter, views of the icy lake open up.

 

Here’s what to do and see along the Tunnel of Trees:

Pond Hill Farm

pond hill farm

Pond Hill Farm on the Tunnel of Trees.

Pond Hill Farm is about four miles north of Harbor Springs. This family-owned operation has a farm market where it sells its own farm-raised produce and meats. You’ll also find a vineyard, wine tasting room and seasonal cafe. Children can pet farm animals, feed fish in a trout pond and (great gourds!) shoot the squash rocket. 5581 S. Lake Shore Dr.,  231.526.3276; pondhill.com.

Thorn Swift Nature Preserve

Up the road from Pond Hill, turn onto Lower  Shore Drive and find Thorne Swift Nature Preserve—300 feet of sandy (and public!) Lake Michigan shoreline, three miles of trails to hike,  the Elizabeth Kennedy Nature Center, boardwalks, observation platforms and seasonal programs. The preserve and nature center are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, from 10 a.m. to a half hour after sunset. 231.347.0991

 

 

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve is a stop on the Tunnel of Trees.

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve is a stop on the Tunnel of Trees. Take time to explore its nature trails, or …

 

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve is a stop on the Tunnel of Trees.

…it’s stunning swath of Lake Michigan shoreline.

Devil’s Elbow

North of Thorne Swift Nature Preserve you’ll come around a hairpin turn with a sign that bears its name: Devil’s Elbow. The daunting name is probably a translation of the Native American name that meant, “Where the Spirits Live,” local legend has it that the curve has been the site of supernatural phenomena over the years.

Good Hart 

Don’t blink, because you might miss the charming hamlet of  Good Hart. The red building on the left is the Good Hart General Store (1075 N. Lake Shore Dr., 231.526.7661; goodhartstore.com), 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; primitiveimages.com) 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.

 Middle Village

You probably already spotted the sweet white steeple of St. Ignatius church peering above the tree line in Good Hart. The church is the heart of Middle Village, the site of an old Native American settlement. To get there, take Lamkin Road from Good Hart and head down the hill. Missionaries first set up shop here in 1741. An earlier church was built in 1823 but later destroyed by fire. The present St. Ignatius Church was built in 1889. Recently restored, the church is still rife with details of its Native American and French origin—not withstanding the Odawa cemetery that sits beside it. In July and August the church is open for Sunday mass. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to sunset.

Follow a path from the church to the Middle Village Beach on Lake Michigan—a truly sacred spot to watch the sun set.

The Area of the Old Council Tree

North of Good Hart, keep an eye out for the sign that marks the 18th-century site of an old tree where three tribes held council meetings.

L’Arbre Croche

In a couple more miles you’ll come to a sign that reads L’Arbre Croche. This sign marks the site of the large crooked tree—visible for miles around because of its perch on a bluff—that, in turn, marked the Odawa settlement that once stretched from north of Harbor Springs to Cross Village.

Cross Village

M-119 continues north for seven miles before ending at Cross Village and county road C-77, also known as State Road. Note the large white cross on the outskirts of Cross Village–it is a replica of one that the famous French missionary/explorer Father Jacques Marquette planted on a bluff here shortly before his death in 1675.

Legs Inn on the Tunnel of Trees in Cross Village

Legs Inn on the Tunnel of Trees in Cross Village.

If you can’t resist slowing down in front of the incredible structure built from driftwood, log, stone and yes, old stove legs,on the west side of the road, don’t. It’s Legs Inn (named for those stone legs), one of Northern Michigan’s more notable eateries. Built in the late 1920’s, the building was the creation of a Polish immigrant, Stanley Smolak.  Legs Inn is still in the Smolak family and is known for its live music events and Polish American fare. The gardens and bluff view of Lake Michigan are not to be missed. The restaurant is open from mid-May into  October. 231.526.2281, leggsinn.com.

Now that your stuffed with golumpki and pierogi, to browse Three Pines Studio at the corner of Levering Road. 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. 5959 W. Levering Rd., 231.526.9447; threepinesstudio.com.

 Zoo de Mackinac

On a mid-May weekend every year for the past 23 years, thousands of riders have enjoyed a 51 mile bicycle cruise from Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs to Mackinac Island (via M-119 and a ferry).  Since about half of the the Zoo de Mack is along the Tunnel of Trees, the ride is a fun way to get acquainted with this legendary road. Traditionally, bikers stop for lunch at the Legs Inn in Cross Village. For more information: zoo-de-mack.com.

 

Drive Northern Michigan's iconic scenic M-119 Tunnel of Trees.

Drive Northern Michigan’s iconic scenic M-119 Tunnel of Trees.

Petoskey, Harbor Springs and the Rest of M-119

While the actual Tunnel of Trees makes up just 16 miles of the  27-mile long M-119, the entire highway is well worth the trip. M-119  begins off U.S. 31 on the north side of Petoskey, just 32 miles south of the ferries to Mackinac Island in Mackinaw City.  If you are bound for a Mackinac Island vacation, taking M-119 instead of US-31 will take longer—but what you lose in time will be made up for in gorgeous scenery and charming stops. Watch the video and then read on for what to see and do on your tour of  M-119’s Tunnel of Trees.

Petoskey

Scenic M-119 begins in the charming town of Petoskey, Michigan.

Petoskey is a Northern Michigan attraction in and of itself. This small city on Little Traverse Bay offers fabulous shopping, restaurantscottages and other lodging—the perfect place to stage a Northern Michigan vacation. You can’t help but  notice the colorful gingerbread Victorian cottages along U.S. 31. These are part of the historic Bay View Association, a summer community founded in 1875 that boasts a world-class music festival each year, as well as other public events. Bay View has had a long list of notable residents and guests over the years, including the family of George Armstrong Custer, come to this serene enclave to grieve in the aftermath of the Battle of Little Bighorn, and a young and still unknown writer, Ernest Hemingway.

Harbor Springs

The Tunnel of Trees begins in the sweet and historic village of Harbor Springs.

The Tunnel of Trees begins in the sweet and historic village of Harbor Springs.

From Petoskey, M-119 wends into the charming Lake Michigan town of Harbor Springs. Here again, expect one-of-kind boutiques, galleries and antique shops, as well as intimate eateries. Also, find quaint cottages and other lodging for rent. Take time to browse the shops and visit the darling public beach with its artesian fountain. Harbor Springs has a rich heritage. The first European missionaries to venture here found a Native American settlement they called L’Arbre Croche—French for Crooked Tree. L’Arbre Croche stretched north from Harbor Springs, along the route that is now the Tunnel of Trees. French missionary Father Peter DeJean founded Harbor Springs’ first Indian mission on the site of what is now Holy Childhood Catholic Church in 1889. Note how the church still dominates the townscape as in traditional European villages.

By the end of the 19th century, Harbor Springs had become a summer vacation destination for wealthy resorters who traveled by steam from Chicago and rail from Detroit. Examples of  fabulous Victorian resort architecture abound throughout the downtown and along the bluff above town.

M-119 heads through downtown Harbor Springs as Main Street before it makes a couple dog legs to shoot up the bluff where it becomes the Tunnel of Trees.

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