If you’ve seen our fall color map, you know the center of our state hits peak fall color before other regions (around the same time as the Upper Peninsula). To satisfy your early fall color cravings, head to Cadillac, where leaves often change days, even weeks, sooner than shoreline areas.

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If you want to know when peak color will hit, Tom O’Hare, chief meteorologist at 9&10 News, is the guy to ask. Each week throughout October, he shares the latest fall forecast with a handy map and tips for scenic drives.

Inland towns such as Cadillac see autumn’s vibrant hues much sooner than shoreline cities like Traverse City and Petoskey, thanks to higher elevations and cooler temps. “Inland spots can be past peak while lakeside areas are still fifty percent changed,” O’Hare explains. “The warmth of Lake Michigan keeps the trees greener just a little longer.”

Here, O’Hare maps out a Cadillac area fall color tour perfect for an early October day trip:

The Ultimate Cadillac Fall Color Drive

Approximate Drive Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

+ Head south on US-131. Take exit 162 to 14 Mile Road. Make a left and continue straight until you hit Mackinaw Trail (less than a mile).

+ Turn left on Mackinaw Trail, going north toward LeRoy.

+ Make a pit stop at Cadillac Winery on Rose Lake Road (also called 18 Mile Road). The raspberry dessert wine earned a gold medal at the 2022 Finger Lakes International Wine and Spirits Competition, and the Itasca and Frontenac Gris Blush both took home bronzes.

Fall color driving map of Cadillac
Fall views from the lake in Cadillac

Photo by Alice Shea

+ Back on Mackinaw Trail, continue north for 2 miles until you reach 20 Mile Road (also called Marion Road). Turn right on 20 Mile, heading east.

+ Here, you are near the highest point of the Lower Peninsula. The color pops early in this area with a lot of maple and oak groves. After about 15 minutes (10 miles) you’ll reach M-115. Turn left, driving northwest toward Cadillac.

+ Stay on M-115 for about 10 minutes until you reach 45 Mile Road.

+ Turn right on 45 Mile, going north. Take your time soaking up the color along this country road lined with sweeping hills and farmland.

Field of fall leaves in Cadillac

Photo by Alice Shea

+ Follow 45 Mile until you reach North Mitchell Street in Cadillac. (Note: 45 Mile turns into Paluster Street before intersecting with Mitchell Street.) Stop for lunch in downtown Cadillac—here are some of our favorites:

+ After lunch, head west along Granite Street/Sunnyside Drive back to M-115. Make a right.

+ Now, it’s time for a walk. Park at the Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center. Cross the street to stroll the canal connecting lakes Cadillac and Mitchell, or walk the Center’s 2.5-mile Heritage Nature Trail. The crushed limestone path with bridges and boardwalks is an easy hike around wetland areas. An elevated observation platform and small fishing pier offer views of the beautiful marsh.

Road with fall colors in Cadillac

Photo by Alice Shea

Fountain at the park in Cadillac

Photo by Alice Shea

Fall leaves in Cadillac

Photo by Alice Shea

+ Back on M-115, drive northwest toward Mesick. About 10 miles down the road, make a right on South 29 Road. After about 1 mile, you’ll reach a vista of rolling hills that always “pop” every fall.

+ Stay on South 29 until you reach 16 Mile Road (once called M-42). Turn right on 16 Mile toward Manton.

+ Make a right at the light in Manton and head south on old US-131, which will take you back to Cadillac.

Park in Cadillac

Photo by Alice Shea

Photo(s) by Alice Shea