A Michigan fall color tour is a unique way to experience the Mitten State and enjoy autumn in all its Technicolor glory. With many large forested areas, there are some incredible views to be seen, often with a Great Lake in the background. Michigan is such a big state. It’s a 10 hour drive from Copper Harbor, the farthest point north in Lake Superior, to Temperance in the southeast corner, near Ohio. You could easily spend a month on the road, following the fall colors as they peak, from from top to bottom.
Weather affects when the trees put on their show every fall. Too much rain, a summer drought or temperatures that are warmer or cooler than average can affect the dates that colors peak. Generally they’re only off by a week, so plan a visit on or a few days after the average peak date, and you’re pretty sure to see a lot of color. Even at 75 percent color, it’s spectacular. Michigan meteorologists track the color change every year. If you really want to be sure to hit peak, do a quick online search for their yearly forecasts.
Upper Peninsula Fall Color Tours
When: Average Peak, first week in October
Autumn comes earliest to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The the area’s unique landscape with vast, pristine forests, waterfalls, mountainous terrain and Lake Superior beaches provides a dramatic backdrop for a Michigan fall color tour .
Where: Copper Peak – Ironwood Michigan
Copper Peak is a ski flying hill located in the western Upper Peninsula, but you don’t put on skis to enjoy the amazing view. First, you ride up 800 feet on a ski lift. Then an 18-story elevator transports you to the main observation deck. The view from there is already pretty amazing, but the truly adventurous can climb steps another 8 stories high to the starting gate at the very top. The view from there is an unobstructed vista of the Upper Peninsula’s forests, ablaze in fall’s deep orange, yellow and red colors. On clear days, you can see as far away as 2,500 square miles, including three states and even Canada.
Where: Porcupine Mountains
Porcupine Mountain State Park is in the western U.P., along the southern shore of Lake Superior. This 60,000 acre park contains the largest remaining old growth northern hardwood forest west of the Adirondacks. It’s arguably the best place in the entire state of Michigan to view the fall colors.
Almost 2,000 feet above sea level, the Summit Peak Observation Tower is the highest point in the park. A 3/4-mile hike from the parking area takes you to the 50-foot tower. There are several sets of steps along the trail, including 54 to the top of the tower. From the top, the view includes the Porkies, their pristine forests awash in color and Lake Superior. On a clear day, you can see the Apostle Islands and Isle Royale.
The Lake of the Clouds Overlook in Porcupine Mountain State Park is another scenic spot to take in the fall colors. The fully accessible trail, a short distance from the parking area, takes you to a ridge high above the valley that cradles the beautiful, blue Lake of the Clouds. The lake is the perfect backdrop for the red, orange and yellow shades that color the thick, surrounding forest.
From mid-September to mid-October, fall color chair lift rides are also available at the Porcupine Mountain Ski Area. The ride is just $7 per person. Once you reach the top of the ski hill, you can see the fall colors against the backdrop of Lake Superior. You can ride the lift back down, or hike down if you want to enjoy the fall color a little longer.
Where: Copper Harbor
When: Average Peak, Mid-October*
*The unique position of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior means colors peak later there than other parts of the U.P.
Copper Harbor is the farthest north you can go in Michigan, unless you take a boat across Lake Superior to Isle Royale. Your drive to Copper Harbor takes you along the Keweenaw Peninsula, a unique land mass with mountainous terrain, volcanic formations, remote forests and the surrounding waters of Lake Superior.
Head north on Michigan 41, starting at L ‘Anse. You’ll pass several small towns that are filled with Michigan’s copper mining history. You’ll also have views of Keweenaw Bay on your right for most of the first leg of the journey.
Eventually, you’ll arrive at Houghton, the home of Michigan Tech University. The downtown has some unique restaurants and shops that are worth a stop. Then you cross the Portage Lift Bridge, and you’re in Hancock on the other side of the river. U.S. 41 takes you past the historic Quincy Copper Mine. It’s also worth a stop. A tour of the mine takes you deep below ground, and you’ll learn about the industry that is an important part of the Upper Peninsula’s heritage.
Continue your drive on U.S. 41 to Copper Harbor. Just before your reach the tiny town, you’ll find yourself in a tree tunnel, surrounded by fall color. In town, you’ll find shops with unique gift items and souvenirs, art galleries, a coffee roaster and a few dining options.
Head to Fort Wilkins State Park day-use area where you can tour an 1844 military outpost. While there you can also take in the scenic views of Lake Fanny-Hooe and the fall colors. You also won’t want to miss the the views from the top of Brockway Mountain. The drive takes you 735 feet above Copper Harbor. You’ll have a 360 degree view of the town, Lake Superior and the surrounding forests awash in autumn hues.
Northern Michigan Fall Color Tours (Upper Lower Peninsula)
When: Average Peak – Second Week of October
Where: The Tunnel of Trees
The Tunnel of Trees is one of the most famous scenic spots for a Michigan fall color tour. Located on M-119, between Harbor Spring and Cross Village, hardwoods line a 20-mile stretch, forming a colorful canopy overhead in fall. There are also glimpses of Lake Michigan as you drive high along a bluff. Stop at the old-fashioned general store in the small town of Good Hart for pie and other refreshments. Then have dinner at the famous Legg’s Inn, known for Polish cuisine and interesting decor, in Cross Village.
Where: M-22 and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
When: Average Peak, Fourth week of October*
*This is another area where proximity to the lake causes colors to change later than the rest of the region.
M-22 is another popular fall color drive in Northern Michigan that takes you past lighthouses and through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Start at the southern end of M-22 in Frankfort. Stop at the North Breakwater Lighthouse before you head out of town.
Continue north to the Arcadia Dunes Lookout for amazing views of Lake Michigan and large sand dunes. Next, you’ll come to Point Bestsie Lighthouse, another view worth a stop.
Drive father north and you find yourself on the Leelanau Peninsula and in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, part of the National Parks system. Stop in Empire and take the park’s 1.5 mile round trip hike along the Empire Bluff trail. At the end, you’ll find another incredible view of the dunes, Lake Michigan and fall color as far as the eye can see.
After you leave Empire you’ll pass The Dune Climb where you can climb the towering sand all the way to Lake Michigan. It’s a long, strenuous hike that can take four hours, so plan accordingly.
After you leave The Dune Climb, drive on to Glen Arbor and the many quaint galleries and shops, including Cherry Republic where you can stock up on Michigan cherries and other tasty foods. You’ll come to Leeland next. Take a tour of historic Fishtown, docks and buildings that were once a part of the commercial fisheries on Lake Michigan. Finally, end in Northport at Leelanau State Park where you can take a tour of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse.
The Thumb Fall Color Tours
The Thumb is the Northeast side of the Lower Peninsula, on the shores of Lake Huron.
When: Average Peak, Second Week of October
Where: Port Crescent State Park
Port Crescent State Park is at the tip of the thumb near Port Austin. It has three miles of shoreline along Lake Huron. Trails at the park take you along Saginaw Bay, through forests and over sand dunes. The white sands and blue water make a stunning backdrop for fall color.
West Michigan Fall Color Tours
When: Average Peak – Third Week of October
Where: Hart-Montague Trail
This 22-mile, paved, linear trail originates in Hart and travels through hardwood forests, passing through Shelby, New Era, Montague and Whitehall. It’s a unique way to take a Michigan fall color tour, since you’ll be hiking or biking instead of driving a in car. Scenic overlooks and picnic areas provide plenty of opportunity to enjoy the fall scenery along the way.
Where: South Haven to Grand Haven
Take a Michigan fall color where you chase the colors from beachtown to beachtown along Lake Michigan, starting in South Haven. There you can walk along the lake and out to the famous lighthouse on the pier. In town, there are plenty of options for dining and shopping.
From there, go north to Fennville and stop at Crane’s Orchard and stock up on U-pick apples, cider, wines and craft beer. Cranes’s also has a bakery with goodies like donuts and apple pie.
Saugatuck/Douglas is the next stop on the route where the Kalamazoo river meets Lake Michigan. The streets are lined with galleries full of original works of art. Head to Saugatuck State Park, and you can take a hike through the woods to a deserted Lake Michigan Beach.
Keep going north to Holland and tour an authentic Dutch windmill at Windmill Island. The top of the windmill gives you a great view of the area’s fall colors.
Finally, end your trip in Grand Haven where you’ll find another lakeside downtown filled with shops and galleries as well as a postcard perfect beach and lighthouse.
Southwest Michigan Fall Color Tours
When: Average Peak – Fourth Week of October
Where: New Buffalo to Coloma via Red Arrow Hwy
For this Michigan fall color tour, skip the I-94 expressway, and take scenic Red Arrow Hwy (M-63) from New Buffalo to Coloma. You’ll travel along lake Michigan, passing through the lakeshore towns of Union Pier, Bridgman, Stevensville, St. Joseph, Benton Harbor and finally end in Coloma. You’ll see plenty of fall color along the way and each town has restaurants, shops and galleries to visit. At Grand Mere state park near Stevensville, you can climb sand dunes for an amazing view of Lake Michigan. You’ll also want to stop at St. Joseph, a resort town with an incredible beach, lighthouse and beach side carousel.
Southeast Michigan Fall Color Tours
When: Average Peak, Fourth Week of October
Where: Belle Isle Park
You can even take a Michigan fall color tour in metropolitan Detroit. Belle Isle Park is a 987 acre island sitting in the Detroit River. 150 acres of woodlands and three lakes make a lovely show of fall colors with the city’s beautiful skyline for a backdrop. You can also visit the zoo, conservancy and aquarium while you’re on the island.
Where: Ann Arbor
Take a fall color tour in the city in Ann Arbor. The city features 150 local parks and tree lined streets that turn brilliant colors every autumn. Nichols Arboretum, Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Gallop Park and Dexter-Huron Metropark are some of the best places to see color around the city. West Huron Drive between Dexter and downtown is one of the area’s most scenic drives in the fall. Several bike paths in the city provide another way to view the trees. Even downtown, where you’ll find plenty of shopping and dining, is filled with colorful trees.
The countryside near around Ann Arbor offers local farms and orchards where you can take a hayride or pick apples. Ann Arbor also hosts several festivals in the fall. And if it’s a home game weekend, you can always head to The Big House and watch the University of Michigan Football Team play.