Fall for Michigan on an autumn escape

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Good timing: Fall is a wonderful time to visit towns in Michigan, such as Petoskey, when leaves are in full bloom. | Supplied photo

Each autumn when Mother Nature takes her paintbrush to Michigan’s 19.3 million acres of forests the results dazzle, as every country road becomes a leaf-peeping excursion in a fall color palette of crimson, orange, gold and brown. The seasonal show began in mid-September in the northern reaches of the Upper Peninsula and lasts through October at Michigan’s southern border.

On a long adventure-filled trip to the Lake Superior shore, a family-friendly pumpkin hunt, antiques shopping or romantic wine country getaway, you’ll fall for Michigan in autumn. Find color tour routes, information on wine trails, pumpkin patches, harvest-time events and getaway packages at the Pure Michigan travel website, michigan.org.

Michigan Travel Information: www.michigan.org

Phone: (888) 784-7328

Several of the better foliage-gawking, and other fun fall activities, areas in Michigan are fairly close to the Chicagoland area, including sites in the state’s Southwest, Northwest and Upper Peninsula regions. Among these are:

Southwest Michigan

Harbor Country

The sandy, fertile soil and moderating effect of Lake Michigan make this corner of the state ideal for grape growing and wine making. Take a self-guided tour of the vineyards and wineries anytime, or hurry to New Buffalo for the Harvest & Wine Festival from Noon to 10 p.m., Saturday, October 6. The long weekend, October 5-8, is packed with regional Harvest Days activities from art exhibits to pumpkin painting and hayrides.

Let the fall colors envelop you on your choice of 20 Backroads Bikeway routes, ranging from five to 60 miles, along paved roads through scenic Harbor Country.

South Haven

This Lake Michigan resort town doesn’t shut down after the summer season. Every weekend in October is bustling with fall festivals, and Saturday’s South Haven Farm Market will tempt you with local fruit and vegetables, jams and honey. Sample the fruit of the vine on a tour of area wineries, and sip fresh-pressed apple cider and hard cider at McIntosh Apple Orchards.

Bike or hike the Kal-Haven Trail, a 33-mile linear state park that travels through small towns, woodlands and countryside between South Haven and Kalamazoo. Afterward, watch the sunset over the Great Lake, spectacular any time of year.


Harbor Country is the area of Southwest Michigan just north of the Indiana border, less than a two-hour drive from Chicago.

Visitor Information: www.harborcountry.org

Phone: (269) 469-5409

Lake Michigan Shore Wine Country: www.lakemichiganshorewinetrail.com/

Backroads Bikeway: www.applecidercentury.com/backroad.htm

Harvest Days, October 5-8: www.harborcountry.org/harvestdays/

South Haven is a Lake Michigan community less than a three-hour drive north of Chicago.

Visitor Information: www.southhaven.org

Phone: (800) 764-2836

Kal-Haven Linear State Park: www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/Details.aspx?id=463&type=SPRK

Phone: (269) 674-8011

Northwest Michigan

Benzie County

Fall color driving tours in this area just south of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore are a town-and-country delight, with seven villages scattered along the two-lane roads that circle sparkling inland lakes, wind through painted forests and follow the Lake Michigan shoreline to Point Betsie Lighthouse, probably the most photographed among Michigan’s more than 100 light stations.

Each October weekend the Fall Festival fun ranges from giant pumpkin carvings to haunted hayrides. And it’s a gorgeous time of year to pedal the 22-mile Betsie Valley Trail or paddle the Platte River in a rental canoe or kayak from Honor Canoe Rental.


This Victorian resort town is a postcard-perfect setting for one-of-a-kind shops, cafes, fine restaurants and million-dollar sunsets. Take a guided tour of the haunts where Ernest Hemingway spent his boyhood summers, or bicycle the 26-mile Little Traverse Wheelway connecting Petoskey with neighboring Charlevoix and Harbor Springs.

Kids love Pond Hill Farm’s animals, weekend hayrides, pumpkin picking and a chance to fire the Squash Rocket. Afterward, follow scenic M-119 north through the “Tunnel of Trees” to historic Cross Village. Continue north to Headlands International Dark Sky Park and an unforgettable star show at one of only nine such viewing areas in the world.


Benzie County is less than a six-hour drive north of Chicago along Lake Michigan.

Visitor Information: www.visitbenzie.com

Phone: (800) 882-5801

Honor Canoe Rentals: www.honorcanoerentals.com

Phone: (231) 325-0112

Rates range from $28-$60 depending on number of riders, vessel and route.

Benzie Fall Festival: www.visitbenzie.com/fallfest-67/

Petoskey is about a seven-hour drive north of Chicago.

Visitor Information: www.petoskeyarea.com

Phone: (800) 845-2828

Petoskey Yesterday Hemingway Tours: www.petoskeyyesterday.com

Phone: (231) 330-9657

Tours are $15 to $20 per person.

Little Traverse Wheelway: www.trailscouncil.org/

Pond Hill Farm: www.pondhill.com

Phone: (231) 526-3276

Headlands International Dark Sky Park: www.emmetcounty.org/darkskypark/

Phone: (231) 348-1704

Admission is free, 24/7.

Upper Peninsula Michigan

Western U.P.

Bring your sense of adventure for the chair-lift and elevator rides to the observation deck 18 stories in the sky at Copper Peak, the only ski-flying hill in the western hemisphere. The spectacular view stretches miles across the Ottawa National Forest and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park to Lake Superior.

Rushing waters framed by fall foliage make memorable impressions at dozens of waterfalls in the Western U.P. Follow the Black River National Forest Scenic Byway (Highway 513 just north of Copper Peak) to five of the natural wonders; the waterfalls are accessible by trails of varying difficulty.

Keweenaw Peninsula

The northernmost point of Michigan juts into Lake Superior with dramatic scenery along its rocky shores and from Brockway Mountain Drive, a nine-mile roadway to a 1,000-foot high peak. At the tip of the peninsula the 1866 Copper Harbor Lighthouse stands guard, accessible by a short boat ride.

Mountain bikers appreciate Keweenaw as an epic ride and one of seven Ride Centers in the world and, according to Keweenaw Adventure Company owner Sam Raymond, autumn is a great time of year to tackle the challenging trail. Whether you bring your bike or rent one from his company you can take the Mountain Bike Downhill Shuttle to the top and save your energy for the breathtaking ride down.


The Western Upper Peninsula is about a seven-hour drive north of Chicago.

Visitor Information: www.explorewesternup.com

Phone: (800) 522-5657

Copper Peak Ski Flying Hill Adventure Ride: www.copperpeak.org

Phone: (906) 932-3500

Open weekends through mid-October while weather and fall color cooperate. Fee is $14; $7 ages 14 and under.

Black River Scenic Byway: http://byways.org/explore/byways/10780/

The Keweenaw Peninsula is about an eight-hour drive north of Chicago.

Visitor Information: www.keweenaw.info

Phone: (888) 766-0325

Keweenaw Adventure Company: www.keweenawadventure.com

Phone: (906) 289-4303

Rates vary depending on rental or service. Downhill Shuttle operates weekends through mid-October. Phone in advance to verify hours of operation.

Copper Harbor Lighthouse Boat Tours: www.copperharborlighthouse.com

Phone: (906) 289-4966

Four trips daily through mid-October; tours are weather and fall color-dependent; phone ahead to confirm schedule.

Fee is $17; $12 under age 12.