Autumn in Michigan brings shorter days and crisper air partnered with pumpkins, cider mills and corn mazes popping up everywhere. It also means that the colors of fall take over the landscape to many Michiganders’ delight. Just south of Jackson and west of Ann Arbor lies Irish Hills, a popular tourist destination and region all year, but especially in the fall.
The beautiful countryside, hills, and the dozens of lakes that make up Irish Hills create a beautiful scene and backdrop in autumn. To take it all in, I followed a self-guided Fall color tour where I let my feet and the wheels of my car go off in different directions as the mood struck me.
Hidden Lake Gardens
My color tour started right off M-50 at this Michigan State University-owned botanical garden and arboretum in Tipton. You’ll find expansive and open fields with flowers and shrubs along with gardens, thick woods, oak-hickory forests, wetlands and so much more. After paying the $3 entrance fee, I drove the six miles of one-way streets and walked through some of the many miles of trails to soak in the 755-acres of Hidden Lake Gardens and its autumn colors and natural beauty.
Along the way, I found many places to park my car or stop for a picnic. While walking, I discovered myself going back-and-forth along the west end of Hidden Lake capturing the vista of water as it peaked through the fall foliage.
Irish Hills Fall Color Tour
Exiting the gardens and turning right onto M-50, I was ready to start my road trip through the Irish Hills and its fall colors. Using the self-guided tour, I found myself on paved and dirt roads with hills and curves throughout. I passed by countless lakes and found myself randomly pulling off onto the side of the road every time a photo opportunity presented itself.
Joining M-50, the famed US-12 (Michigan Avenue) runs through the heart of Irish Hills and was featured a lot on this trip. The journey took me from Tipton to downtown Brooklyn, passing right through Michigan International Speedway (MIS). Along the route sits Hayes State Park which offered some beautiful shots of Wamplers Lake with fall colors sitting in the foreground.
Tip: As you turn north onto Pentecost highway off M-50, you will immediately see a colorful tree in the shape of a mitten to the left. Now that’s what I call true Michigan autumn beauty!
What Else To Do Along the Way?
The self-color tour was driven as laid out, but I indeed mixed in some random stopping and side trips along the way. I enjoyed a pumpkin spiced latte and donut at the homey Theresa’s Coffee & Tea House in Brooklyn. The smoker at Randy’s Road Side Bar-B-Que along US-12 immediately caught my eye (and stomach). The basic smoked pulled pork sandwich is the way to go there – simply delicious.
I veered off M-50 and the the main tour to travel down Onsted Highway to capture the scene in the village of Onsted. There are also numerous scenic dirt roads marked as a “Natural Beauty Road” along the way and are listed at the bottom of this Irish Hills color tour guide. There was no traffic so I was able to get out of my car in the middle of one of them, Marsh Road, to capture the hilly, remote fall scene.
The side trip that had my eyes wide open was turning onto Taylor Road by MIS and going a mile or two down to Kooters Creek Side Camp Ground. I saw the brightest colors of my entire visit to Irish Hills here lining both sides of the road.
View more of the colors you can expect to see while roadtripping in Irish Hills in autumn: