M119 between Harbor Springs and Cross Village is a scenic heritage highway. Narrow and winding—with a few good belly-dipping hills—it follows the high bluffs of Lake Michigan’s shoreline. Hardwood forests and evergreens flank the asphalt, and the dense woods give way occasionally to golden fields and barns and a smattering of cottages.
I don’t remember when it became a ritual, but at some point I started seeking an annual day of experiencing M119’s autumn glory. A solo 40-mile roundtrip cruise on one of the most famous roads in Michigan. Here’s what you’ll experience along M119 at the peak of fall color …
If You Go … M119 Fall Color Tour Tips
Color tour drives make great day trips, but fall in Emmet County is worth a full weekend. Here are a few insider tips for your autumn getaway.
Stock up for the road with a famous Gurney’s Sandwich in downtown Harbor Springs, but don’t leave town without swinging up to the town’s bluff to take in the harbor, homes and downtown buildings below; we’re talking real life Norman Rockwell painting. We suggest leaving the car parked behind Gurney’s Bottle Shop and walking up the nearby Spring Street boardwalk, which includes a viewing platform at the top. Twelve miles north of Harbor Springs, stop at Trillium Woods Vintage Boutique for excellent expresso and antiques.
Pullover in Good Hart: One of the best chicken pot pies you’ll ever taste is found inside the Good Hart General Store, halfway between Harbor Springs and Cross Village on M119. This is a must stop spot for lots of reasons: the adorableness factor (bright red paint, striped awnings, white trim add up to a perfect photo backdrop); fun scenic highway souvenirs; you’ll get to meet Maggie the Hound and her humans, too. Right next door, stop by the crepe cart in front of Primitive Images for sweet and savory breakfast and lunch options, and enjoy a warm pot of tea out back at Good Hart & Soul Tea Room. Keep the car parked and stop by A Studio. The darling boutique has antiques, apparel and art.
Cross Village, 20 miles north of Harbor Springs along M119, owns the quirky-cool northern vibe. Three Pines Studio includes an eclectic and stellar collection of art. Owners Gene Reck and Joann Condino also make some mighty good coffee and better conversation. Lovers of Polish food and/or lumberjack-worthy decor need to head a block closer to the lake for a Legs Inn dinner. This beloved stone and timber establishment shuts down for the season on October 22. Order the Waugoshance Salad and Golabki, and stay for sunset on the lakeside lawn. You won’t be sorry.
Bring Your Hiking Shoes: In Emmet County alone, Little Traverse Conservancy boasts nearly 100 nature preserves—including 21 with trails and dedicated parking. An easy to use, interactive online map helps with spontaneous picnic stops and walks. We’re partial to Good Hart Farms in the fall, with its 7.5 miles of marked trails that include a maple, ash and beech forest. To get there when heading north on M119, turn right on Robinson Road (which is just south of the General Store) and head east about two-and-a-quarter miles to the Hannah Road parking area.
Celestial Magic: Appreciate autumn’s hues by day and the starscape at night at The Headlands, one of 10 International Dark Sky Parks in the world, located near Mackinaw City. Program director Mary Stewart Adams carries a bit of celestial magic, so catch an event if you can. October’s schedule includes a Harvest Moon program on the 6th and on the 21st, celebrate the peak of the Orionid Meteor Shower at the 9th annual Headlands Challenge. To get there from M119: continue onto West Sturgeon Bay Trail and Cecil Bay Road, then Wilderness Park Drive to Headlands Drive.
WHERE TO STAY NEAR M119
Boyne Highlands: For its fall specials and chairlift rides for ultimate color viewing. Trout Creek: Condos that include access to an indoor/outdoor pool and well-marked woodland trails. Best Western of Harbor Springs: Basecamp right on M119 between Harbor Springs and Petoskey. Nice rooms, nice pool, and nice employees with plenty of local knowledge on everything from the best cider and donuts to additional drives.
Kate Bassett is news director at the Harbor Light newspaper. Her first novel, Words and Their Meanings, is available in bookstores and on the web. midarkskypark.org. // Gretchen Dorian is a photographer with a passion for water and the landscapes provided in her backyard of Emmet County. Check out some highlights at www.gretchendorian.com.