A Fall Color Tour on the Highways and Byways of Leelanau County

A Fall Color Tour on the Highways and Byways of Leelanau County

Fall in the Mitten can mean many things: cider and donuts, seasonal Michigan craft beers, college football and tailgating, corn mazes and haunted houses, and of course, fall color tours.

For many of us who live in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, fall is a favorite time of year. After Labor Day, the air begins to cool and the days grow shorter. Hiking trails, favorite beaches, and scenic drives become quieter as summer residents and visitors return home. As September gives way to October, the northern woods come alive with color, and it’s time to explore.

If you’re in Traverse City, your options for fall color tours are virtually limitless. Drive in any direction from downtown and within minutes you’ll find yourself winding through rolling hills and wooded valleys ablaze in yellow, orange, and red. For me, neighboring Leelanau County is a personal favorite. From M-22’s coastal splendor to overlooked back roads that lead to hidden vistas, the Leelanau Peninsula offers plenty of room to roam.

The plentiful sunshine and mild temperatures of the fall of 2011 offered ideal conditions for capturing Leelanau’s beauty. Heading west on M-72 from downtown Traverse City one sunny September day, I didn’t have to go far before spotting this stand of trees displaying a full spectrum of blazing color.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo courtesy of Nick Nerbonne

Turning north toward Cedar, I stopped to photograph this ridge-line, which seems to deliver year after year. From there, I headed north with no particular destination in mind, and as usual, Leelanau did not disappoint.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo courtesy of Nick Nerbonne

This weathered farmhouse has certainly seen better days, but is still standing strong against the elements.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo courtesy of Nick Nerbonne.

The setting sun sets the fall foliage on fire at Boathouse Vineyards.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo courtesy of Nick Nerbonne.
The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo courtesy of Nick Nerbonne.

A Leelanau cherry orchard aglow in warm evening light.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo courtesy of Nick Nerbonne

Reflecting on the colors of fall at the Lake Leelanau Narrows.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo courtesy of Nick Nerbonne.

Take your time and don’t forget to stop and enjoy the view.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo by Nick Nerbonne.

A cemetery south of the Village of Lake Leelanau.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo by Nick Nerbonne

Turning down an unassuming dirt road can reap colorful rewards, like this scene in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo by Nick Nerbonne

This Lake Michigan overlook is well off the beaten path, but is definitely worth the trip.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo by Nick Nerbonne

Colorful hardwoods mixed with junipers and pines along Lake Michigan.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo by Nick Nerbonne

Brilliant colors at a historic farm in Port Oneida.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo by Nick Nerbonne

The red barn of the Olson Farm blends with the colors of fall along M-22.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo by Nick Nerbonne

This sturdy barn at the Dechow farm in Port Oneida has seen more than a few fall seasons come and go.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo by Nick Nerbonne

The D.H. Day Farm along M-109 near Glen Haven is a favorite subject of photographers all year long, but contrasts nicely with the warm hues of fall.

The Awesome Mitten - Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour
Photo by Nick Nerbonne

While a map and an itinerary can be great for a fall color tour in Leelanau County – or any Michigan locale – the best places are often those that are discovered on the way to no particular place at all. Get out and explore Michigan this fall – and don’t forget your camera!

~Nick Nerbonne, Contributing Writer

The Awesome Mitten was born when I moved back to Michigan from Nashville, TN in September 2010. Almost immediately, I became frustrated. I couldn’t figure out why there weren’t more Michigan residents singing our states praises! I was so irritated, I wrote a Letter to the Editor. Three weeks later, I had started a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a landing page for the website, determined to do something to make Michigan residents aware of all the cool things going on in their own state. Email me: alex@awesomemitten.com