Colors are calling. The sunny golds, rich reds and bright oranges, that is, which set our trees ablaze. Here are our picks for explorations and wooded accommodations revealing all of autumn’s glory on a Northern Michigan fall color tour.
Ellsworth to Alden
Begin your drive at Friske Orchards Farm Market (10743 N US31) for cider, donuts and a visit with the barnyard animals (find more nearby apple orchards here), then head south on US31 to Eastport and M88. Make time to walk the beautiful Lake Michigan beach at Barnes County Park before crossing US31 to pick up NE Torch Lake Road for a cruise along Michigan’s longest lake known for its shades of Caribbean blue. At CR593 head east to the Grass River Natural Area to stroll three miles of boardwalks and wood-chipped trails. Admission is free to this 1,325-acre natural area brimming with wildlife, including rare and endangered species. Find lodging near Alden, the tiny village on the southeast shore of Torch. Try the two-bedroom Alden Cottage (sleeps six, $995/week).
Grayling to Manton
Begin at the 60-acre Wellington Farm Park USA, on S. Military Road off US27 near Grayling. Experience a look at rural America during the Great Depression along with cider, donuts, a corn maze and free hayrides throughout October. Just south of the city lies North and South Higgins Lake State Parks, with spring-fed Higgins Lake bordering 700 acres of the parks’ maple, oak and pine forests. Hike a portion of the parks’ combined 13 miles of trails before traveling west to Grayling’s Lake Margrethe—take M72 west to McIntyres Landing Road, following the state campground signs, to a picnic area and boat launch. Then follow US27 south to M55 to Lake City, a region of 4,800 acres of inland lakes and luscious fall color viewing. End in the village of Manton, within three miles of the Pere Marquette State Forest to the north and the Huron-Manistee National Forest to the southwest. Book the secluded “Retreat in the Woods” near the North Country Trail and Manistee River Trail (sleeps four, $85/night). Before you go, check out this North Country Trail backpacking trip for hiking ideas.
Petoskey to Cross Village
Traveling the 27-mile long stretch that is M119, whether by car or bike, promises premium scenery no matter the season—but is unforgettable at fall color. The highway begins off US31 on the north side of Petoskey and includes the not-to-miss Tunnel of Trees, a 16-mile stretch between Harbor Springs and Cross Village. The narrow road, designated as a Scenic Heritage Route, lacks a centerline (take it slow and soak up the landscape) and traces an ancient Native American trail along a bluff with occasional overlooks above Lake Michigan. Check out Pond Hill Farm, about four miles north of Harbor Springs, for farm-raised produce and meats and a vineyard, wine tasting room and seasonal cafe. At Cross Village, enjoy Polish American fare at the iconic restaurant Legs Inn, open mid-May into October (read about Legs Inn here). Stay in your own cozy cabin in the woods, on 10 acres in Levering, between Cross Village and Mackinaw City (sleeps 6, $175/night, Sweet Trillium Cottage).
Boyne City to Charlevoix
Spend a day following the route around crystal-clear Lake Charlevoix, starting in Boyne City. This 15-mile stretch of the Boyne City Road reveals glimpses of Lake Charlevoix through the canvas of colors. Hike Young State Park, or stroll its sandy beach. Turning left on US31 takes you through Charlevoix and across the Pine River Channel drawbridge that joins Lake Charlevoix to Lake Michigan. As you continue south through Charlevoix, turn left onto M-66—either shorten your trek by taking the car ferry across the south arm of Lake Charlevoix in Ironton (MyNorth video below!) or continue following the road another eight miles south to the tip of the lake at East Jordan (or swap cars for bikes and ride the new Boyne City to Charlevoix Trail). Visit nearby Boyne Mountain, in Boyne Falls, where the ski hill chairlifts are operating for scenic rides. (Boyne Mountain Adventure Center, 231.549.7256) Check out the Rest Nest, a “woodsy and whimsical modest cottage” set on a hill not far from the Boyne resort (sleeps two, $47/night).
Beulah to Frankfort
Explore the southern run of M22, voted most scenic autumn drive by USA TODAY, with your weekend home base a secluded log cabin between Frankfort and Beulah and with views of Crystal Lake (sleeps 11, avg. $263/night, vrbo.com). Bike or hike the Betsie Valley Trail, with your start at the trailhead in downtown Beulah. Follow the path toward Frankfort, and savor the section along the shores of Crystal Lake, which includes a mile through the Benzie County–owned Railroad Point Natural Area, with access to the lake. The 22-mile stretch continues with crossings at Betsie River and views of Betsie Lake and marshlands near Elberta before ending in Frankfort.
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