There is only one thing to do as Michigan’s air grows crisp, temperatures fall and trees turn from green to glorious shades of yellow, orange and red: Revel in it.
Michigan’s 19.3 million acres of forest land are ready to put on their annual show for leaf peepers, beginning now in the Upper Peninsula and spreading southward through October.
View the fall color map to see where the best foliage is each week.
Enjoying fall color may be the perfect pastime for 2020, given the coronavirus pandemic. Take an outdoor hike or hit your favorite bike trails with appropriate social distancing, or stay in the bubble of your vehicle and enjoy a fall color drive along winding country roads.
“Fall color season is an incredible time to enjoy what Michigan’s forests have to offer,” says Jeff Stampfly, acting chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Resources Division, which manages 4 million acres of state forest lands. “From U.P. waterfalls to the forests of the northern Lower Peninsula, there’s something everyone can enjoy.”
Leaf colors vary by tree species. For example, oaks turn red or brown, aspen turn golden yellow and dogwood, purplish red. Maples turn scarlet, orange-red or yellow, depending on species.
Explore the Porkies
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Ontonagon and Gogebic counties is 60,000 acres of forest that includes a backdrop of old-growth hemlock trees. The spectacular Lake of the Clouds is nestled among color-covered hills and includes an accessible viewing area. The park’s visitor center off South Boundary Road near the County Road 107 intersection, is open with reduced hours this season. It offers exhibits and programs that tell the story of the U.P.’s forests and mountains. Off-road vehicle enthusiasts will surely enjoy the Bill Nichols Trail, which features triple trestles over the Ontonagon River.
The Keweenaw is Cool
You’ll see plenty of fall color just getting to the Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan’s northernmost tip. Learn some history while you’re at it with a visit to Fort Wilkins Historic State Park. Catch great views from Brockway Mountain Drive or trek to your choice of lighthouses with fall color as a backdrop.
Watch for Waterfalls
Waterfalls are also popular spots for catching fall color in the western U.P, including the Presque Isle River falls—there are three separate waterfalls in a close series—in the Porkies, where old-growth maple trees provide plenty of color. Also, check out Bond Falls and Agate Falls state scenic sites. Bond Falls includes an accessible boardwalk with six viewing locations. Bond Falls includes an accessible boardwalk with six viewing locations. Below the Mackinac Bridge, Ocqueoc Falls in the northern Lower Peninsula has an accessible trail and viewing deck.
And then, of course, there is the big kahuna of Michigan waterfalls, Tahquamenon Falls north of Newberry. Two sets of falls are the centerpiece of a 48,000-acre park that offers 40 miles of hiking trails, including a portion of the famed North Country National Scenic Trail, 13 inland lakes and 24 miles of the Tahquamenon River. The Upper Falls is the largest waterfall east of the Mississippi at 200 feet across with a 50-foot drop. The tea-colored water that flows over the falls is the result of tannins leached from cedar swamps.
Pigeon River Country
The Pigeon River Country State Forest covers more than 107,000 acres in the northeastern Lower Peninsula and is home to Michigan’s elk herd. The century-old forest offers stunning fall color opportunities, fishing, camping and hiking. Visitors need to be aware that the area is managed to maintain the wilderness feel that Ernest Hemingway glowingly described a century ago, and cell phone maps don’t always work.
Majestic white pines help create a stunning backdrop for fall color at Hartwick Pines State Park. The 9,672-acre park overlooks the AuSable River’s East Branch, includes four small lakes with evocative names like Bright and Glory and rolling hills clad in orange, yellow and russet tones. A visitors’ center and old-time logging camp help tell the story of Michigan’s rich forest history for park guests.
Ludington State Park includes more than 18 miles of trails, a canoe trail, Lake Michigan shoreline, the Big Sable River and inland Hamlin Lake, all packed onto 5,300 forested acres. Hike, paddle and camp your way into fall colors.
State parks, recreation areas and state forest campgrounds offer a variety of fall camping experiences, from modern and rustic campsites for tents, recreational vehicles and pop-up campers to lodging in the camper cabins, yurts, cottages and lodges available in some state parks. Fall camping offers some unique advantages, including the fact that reservations at popular locations are easier to find. Check availability or make a camping reservation, or call 800.447.2757.