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.
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.
This weathered farmhouse has certainly seen better days, but is still standing strong against the elements.
The setting sun sets the fall foliage on fire at Boathouse Vineyards.
A Leelanau cherry orchard aglow in warm evening light.
Reflecting on the colors of fall at the Lake Leelanau Narrows.
Take your time and don’t forget to stop and enjoy the view.
A cemetery south of the Village of Lake Leelanau.
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.
This Lake Michigan overlook is well off the beaten path, but is definitely worth the trip.
Colorful hardwoods mixed with junipers and pines along Lake Michigan.
Brilliant colors at a historic farm in Port Oneida.
The red barn of the Olson Farm blends with the colors of fall along M-22.
This sturdy barn at the Dechow farm in Port Oneida has seen more than a few fall seasons come and go.
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.
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