When the air turns crisp and the leaves transform into a breathtaking mosaic of reds, oranges, and yellows, you know that fall has arrived in Michigan. There’s no better way to embrace the beauty of the season than by embarking on a scenic road trip through the Great Lakes State.
From the northern reaches of the Upper Peninsula to the charming Lower Peninsula, Michigan offers an array of picturesque routes for those seeking the perfect fall color drives. In this article, we’ll take you on a journey through four of the most stunning routes, all of which showcase the magic of autumn.
So, grab your camera and a cozy sweater, and let’s hit the road to discover the incredible fall foliage that awaits on these unforgettable fall color drives in Michigan.
M-22 Lake Michigan Scenic Drive
Our first Michigan fall color drive brings us to the scenic M-22 highway in the Lower Peninsula. Known as one of the most scenic drives in the country, M-22 offers a delightful blend of charming coastal towns, pristine beaches, and, of course, stunning fall foliage.
“Absolutely beautiful and fun along the way.”– Wendy Ward
Beginning in Manistee and winding its way along the Lake Michigan shoreline, M-22 offers a captivating journey through the heart of northern Michigan. As you drive north, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the lake, with the vibrant fall colors on full display.
One of the highlights of this route is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a place of unrivaled natural beauty. Take a break from your drive to explore this national treasure. Hike up the dunes to catch panoramic views of Lake Michigan, or take a stroll through the forested trails, which come alive with autumn’s fiery palette.
“Make sure to visit the beach and lighthouse at the top of the peninsula, Suttons Bay, Northport has a cute bar called Mitten Brewery. We love that place. Stop in Fish town is a must.”– Susan Morin
As you continue your journey along M-22, you’ll encounter charming towns like Empire, Glen Arbor, and Leland. These towns are known for their welcoming hospitality and a range of artisan shops and cozy eateries. Be sure to stop and savor the local flavors, whether it’s a delicious whitefish sandwich or a scoop of homemade ice cream.
Glen Arbor, in particular, is a must-visit during the fall season. The village square is adorned with vibrant fall decorations, and you can pick your own apples at nearby orchards. It’s an idyllic spot for a leisurely afternoon of shopping and indulging in seasonal treats.
Another unforgettable stop along M-22 is the picturesque town of Suttons Bay. Nestled on the eastern shore of Lake Leelanau, this charming village offers a lovely backdrop of fall foliage as you explore its quaint streets. Visit the local wineries and cideries to sample some of Michigan’s finest beverages while taking in the stunning views.
“M22 is my favorite Michigan drive. Beautiful scenery, light houses and fun little towns. Leland is one of my favorites, Fishtown.”– Mary Huerta
M-22 is a fantastic route to experience the magic of fall, with its combination of scenic beauty, charming communities, and the ever-changing colors of the season. Whether you choose to spend a day or a weekend exploring this West Michigan lakeshore drive, you’re sure to create unforgettable memories.
M-119 Tunnel of Trees Scenic Byway
Our next stop on this autumnal adventure takes us to the picturesque Tunnel of Trees Scenic Byway. Nestled along the western coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, this iconic drive is renowned for its captivating scenery.
As you embark on this route, prepare to be enchanted by the vibrant hues of the fall foliage that line the road.
“This was such a relaxing and beautiful trip we took a few years back with friends. It was just Heavenly all the fall colors and the Beautiful horse farms and the huge pastures of white fencing and the little town we stopped at to by souvenirs….It really was a great day and time I’ll never forget!!!”– Colleen Carbery
As you start your journey at the northern tip of Lower Michigan in Harbor Springs, you’ll find yourself on M-119, a road that meanders along the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s this serene stretch that’s famously known as the “Tunnel of Trees,” thanks to the dense canopy created by the overarching branches.
The drive begins slowly, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the vibrant fall colors. The maples, oaks, and birches put on a show of crimson, gold, and burnt orange, inviting you to stop and capture their splendor.
Along the way, you’ll encounter charming villages like Good Hart and Cross Village, each with its unique character and quaint shops. These are perfect places to stretch your legs and enjoy a cup of warm cider or freshly baked apple pie.
“Thanks to tips in this group we ventured up to Good Hart today. Stopped at the Good Hart General Store. What a treat! Lady working there was so sweet. Said there are about 100 full time residents, and showed me their annual tile collection behind the counter. Neat history there- including one of the oldest missionary churches in the US.
“We bought some yummy sandwiches from them and asked where was a good place to go eat them and take in the area- she directed us to a mile drive behind their store with a super cool old church, and a local park with beach access. Was so cool! If in the area – go check it out!!”– Marie Lamberson
One of the must-visit spots on this drive is the Legs Inn, a unique restaurant nestled in Cross Village. Offering Polish-inspired cuisine, it’s a delightful place to refuel while taking in the panoramic views of Lake Michigan.
“It’s a one of a kind place, excellent food and service, gorgeous garden and overlooking the lake and a pretty drive to get there!”– Laura Wolfe
Don’t forget to snap some photos of the breathtaking lake vistas, with the vibrant fall foliage providing a striking contrast against the blue waters.
As you continue along the Tunnel of Trees, you’ll eventually reach the historic town of Petoskey. Here, you can explore charming streets lined with boutiques, art galleries, and cozy cafes. Take a stroll along the waterfront and breathe in the crisp fall air while enjoying the scenic beauty of Little Traverse Bay.
This route is perfect for a leisurely day trip or a romantic weekend getaway. Whether you’re an avid photographer or simply a nature enthusiast, the Tunnel of Trees Scenic Byway promises a memorable experience and an opportunity to witness the mesmerizing fall colors of Michigan.
H-58 Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Heading north, our next fall color drive in Michigan takes us to the breathtaking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula. This area is famous for its dramatic sandstone cliffs, pristine waters, and lush forests that come alive with vivid autumn hues.
“I finally drove the entirety of M-22 last spring, and I’m gonna state an unpopular fact: Alger County Highway 58 (which travels alongside the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore) > M-22.”– Mean LaTour
To start your journey, make your way to Munising, a cozy town on the southern edge of Lake Superior. This serves as the gateway to the Pictured Rocks area. The drive along H-58 offers glimpses of the lake and its rugged shoreline, adorned with colorful foliage.
As you enter the national lakeshore, you’ll be treated to one of the most awe-inspiring displays of fall colors in the region. The dense forests that line the cliffs burst into shades of red, orange, and gold, creating a breathtaking contrast against the deep blue waters of Lake Superior.
“It’s awesome in the fall! H-58 used to be a dirt road but has been paved! Smooth and curvy!”– Tom Wall
A boat tour is a must when visiting Pictured Rocks during the fall season. These guided tours offer unique perspectives of the towering cliffs, arches, and waterfalls. Your camera will be working overtime to capture the beauty of Chapel Rock, Miners Castle, and the famed Painted Coves, where the sandstone formations are adorned with vibrant mineral streaks.
For the more adventurous traveler, Pictured Rocks offers numerous hiking trails that lead you through the heart of the autumn wilderness. The Chapel Loop and Mosquito Falls Trail are particularly popular during the fall, offering an opportunity to get up close and personal with the stunning fall foliage.
“Drive H58 road from Grand Marais to Munising, or vice versa, and it’s fantastic! Lots of opportunities to hike and take in views of the lake, waterfalls, outcroppings and land formations, and lighthouses. Many great restaurants in this whole region. Lots of waterfalls and scenery up near Marquette too. Yesterday we rented a side by side ATV for a half day and adventured out into the woods and countryside and even hit up a waterfall on the route, too!”– Rhonda VanEerden
The Munising area is also home to a variety of cozy cabins and lodges where you can unwind after a day of exploring. Enjoy the warmth of a crackling fireplace as you recount the day’s adventures and sip on hot apple cider.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore truly shines in the fall, making it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking a unique and memorable fall color drive in Michigan. It’s a place where the grandeur of nature meets the vibrant colors of the season, creating a magical experience that will stay with you forever.
The Keweenaw Peninsula
Our final fall color drive in Michigan takes us to the remote and captivating Keweenaw Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula. This region, known for its rich mining history and rugged beauty, offers a unique and off-the-beaten-path fall experience.
To start your journey, make your way to Houghton or Hancock, two charming towns on the shores of Portage Lake. From here, you’ll embark on a scenic drive that takes you through the heart of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
“Take an 18-mile scenic drive from Houghton toward the Redridge Dam. Just west of Houghton off Houghton Canal Road, ride down the tunnel of trees and take in rural views of fall colors.”– Jesse Wiederhold, Visit Keweenaw
As you traverse the peninsula, you’ll witness the transformation of the dense forests into a vibrant tapestry of fall colors. The mix of hardwoods, conifers, and birches creates a stunning contrast of reds, yellows, and greens.
One of the highlights of this drive is the Quincy Mine, a historic copper mine that offers guided tours. Descend into the depths of the Earth and learn about the copper mining history that shaped this region. The views from the mine’s location atop a hill provide a spectacular vantage point to admire the surrounding fall foliage.
The town of Copper Harbor, located at the tip of the peninsula, is a quaint village with a welcoming atmosphere. Visit Fort Wilkins State Park, where you can explore well-preserved historic military buildings amidst the autumn beauty.
Take a ride along the scenic Brockway Mountain Drive, which offers panoramic views of Lake Superior and the vibrant fall colors below.
“Explore a 9.5-mile route taking you high above the Keweenaw to the top of Brockway Mountain. There are many viewing areas along the way and a main parking area at the peak. Keep an eye out for soaring birds above and see the Keweenaw’s inland lakes, as well as Lake Superior.
“On the way to Brockway, drive up US-41 to Copper Harbor taking in over 45 miles surrounded by turning trees and mountains. Take the “scenic route” along M-26 for more tree-covered roads and views of the Lake Superior shoreline. Stop at the Jam Pot and look at the neighboring Jacob’s Falls just up M-26 from Eagle River.”– Jesse Wiederhold, Visit Keweenaw
For a unique twist on your Keweenaw adventure, consider taking a ride on the Keweenaw Star, a cruise that offers stunning views of the coastline from the water. This perspective allows you to see the fall foliage in a whole new light.
The Keweenaw Peninsula may be a bit off the beaten path, but it’s well worth the journey for those seeking a remote and captivating fall color drive. Here, you can immerse yourself in the rich history and breathtaking natural beauty that define this hidden gem of Michigan.
Which Fall Color Drive in Michigan Will You Traverse?
Michigan’s fall color drives offer a magical journey through a kaleidoscope of colors, from the fiery reds of the maple trees to the golden hues of the birches.
Whether you choose to explore the Tunnel of Trees Scenic Byway, embark on the M-22 lakeshore drive, discover the wonder of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, or venture into the rugged Keweenaw Peninsula, you’ll be treated to an unforgettable experience that captures the essence of autumn in the Great Lakes State.
So, pack your bags, hop in your car, and hit the road to witness the breathtaking fall foliage that Michigan has to offer. Don’t forget your camera to capture the memories and the beauty of this enchanting season.
Fall color drives in Michigan are not just road trips; they are journeys through nature’s own masterpiece, where every twist and turn of the road reveals a new and captivating vista of autumn’s splendor, making them one of the best fall things to do in Michigan!