When terms like “blue mind” and “forest bathing” enter the cultural lexicon, there’s plenty of agreement on the benefits of time spent by trees and water. Explore these outdoor Northern Michigan art parks full of color and joy any time of year, but be sure to put these inspired parks on your Northern Michigan fall color tour.


Visitors describe the work of Tom Lakenenland as a mirage when they hike down a wooded trail only to come upon an elephant with pink stripes and yellow polka dots plus a pair of Paul Bunyan-sized lumberjacks next to wolves doing handstands. Lakenenland’s creations are now an official art park with 60-plus pieces inspired by his oversized personality. A bonus is the coffee and hot chocolate Tom provides, on the house.


Meet Ernest Hemingway in a new way—well, a few new ways—as you wander 30 acres of ever-changing woods where 50 sculptures are strategically placed along 1.6 miles of trails. “Hemingway Haunts” lets you meet a young Hemingway through human-like shadows on trees made from walnut dye. Elsewhere, stones suggest a river and showcase works from the author’s Big Two-Hearted River.


“The Spirit of Ludington,” a sculpture of a weathered captain at a ship’s wheel, pays tribute to the city’s maritime heritage and celebrates all Ludington sailors, past, present and yet to come. Nearby, a sculpture of the car ferry sits where you can watch the current-day S.S. Badger going in and out of port—it’s the last coal-fired, steam-powered car ferry operating in the U.S. There are 20 sculptures on the trail, which wanders throughout Mason County, all with stories you’ll hear by scanning the QR code (or calling the number) on each marker sign.


On a beach just south of Elk Rapids, two men in hats portaging a canoe look almost real—save for the fact you can make out the knots in their wood legs and arms. Thirty rotating sculptures by nationally known artists are displayed along a forest dune and a quarter-mile of beach frontage making for a gallery surprise within the Elk Rapids Day Park.


Four steel sculptures by Detroit’s Robert Sestok are set along the trail near Oryana Community Co-op. The sculptures will be on display for two years and future displays are planned once the trail is completed around the lake.

Kim Schneider is a long-time travel writer specializing in Michigan adventures, food and wine. The Midwest Travel Journalist Association has named her Mark Twain Travel Writer of the Year, and she’s the author of the recently published book, 100 Things to Do in Traverse City Before You Die. kimschneider.net