11 Breathtaking Fall Color Tours in Michigan, Including The Ultimate Detroit Downtown Fall Color Tour

Home » Exploring » 11 Breathtaking Fall Color Tours in Michigan, Including The Ultimate Detroit Downtown Fall Color Tour

As we inch closer and closer toward my favorite time of year…peak fall season begins to slowly awaken. Do you notice the slight changes in color on the tips of the trees? Can you begin to feel and smell the crispness in the air outside? Can you feel the cool breezes begin to sprint down the streets? Before you know it, autumn will just jump right out with a giant “howdy!”

Peak colors are due to arrive here in the mitten state in less than a few short weeks. Do you have your plans for your fall color tour? Well, let me please be of assistance in helping you plan where you’re going to enjoy your fall color tour.

What is a fall color tour, you say? Think about a small road trip. A serene yet brilliant drive down some secluded winding roads during peak fall color season. A chance to drive slow, wearing hoodies, with the windows down to catch the cool breezes of the season, just to enjoy this vibrant show nature has prepped all year to perform.

It’s not worrying about the hustle bustle of our busy, busy daily lives. It’s taking in the little things that we miss in our normal state of being. It’s smiling and laughing about your children’s foozled attempts at their first steps as a toddler but picking themselves up and trying over and over again to success. It’s reminiscing at past family trips and vacations, watching the kids grow inch after inch, month after month, year after year. It’s bonfires and gatherings of years past with those friends and family nearest and dearest to you, with the redolence of burnt mallows, melting off the tips of the campfire sticks and the steam rising off the mugs of hot cider and cocoa, with soothing tunes in the background, muffled from the resonance of laughter. It’s the dreams of growing old with your soulmate, the one person you feel complete ease and tranquility with, who can make you smile or take your breath away with just a simple gesture or look, whose voice can soothe any pain away in an instant. It’s time spent creating memories with your loved ones instead of wasting it away on things unimportant like working or binge-watching shows on the boob tube.

Getting away, even if just for a weekend or a day trip, removing yourself from the stresses of your usual crazy daily routine can be revitalizing, medicinal even. It restores the mind and renews the soul. It calms the body and allows a system refresh to take place. The bright colors and cool, fresh air will stimulate your senses in some unimaginable ways.

A fall color tour is exemplary when you plan it for the right time, just when the colors in the leaves reach their boldest and brightest. An intertwined color palette everywhere you look. Both sides of the road, with the limbs of the trees on either side reaching over the top of you toward the other side of the road as if they were holding each others’ hands constructing a burrow, created solely for you. Natural, colorful tunnels created by nature’s static giants showing off their true beauty before dropping their leaves to decompose into the soil below.

Autumn is the exquisite gateway to rebirth, renewal, renascence. A stunning snapshot of the cycle of life, a blaze of glory just before death, only in order to be renewed with new life in the springtime, after the bitter winters of our region. Let’s get started in finding an amazing Fall Color Tour for you and your friends or family.

M-119; Tunnel of Trees

Drive Time: 45 minutes

Tunnel of Trees

If you haven’t heard of it, there is a 20-mile stretch of road that hugs the shore of Lake Michigan from Harbor Springs, just north of Petoskey, to Cross Village. Some call it spectacular, some say iconic, many say breathtaking. For just a short 20-mile piece of pavement, it is anything but boring. It will take you to another world. Just take the drive slow and let it whisk you away as you meander along the curves of this narrow 2-way byway with no shoulders and a missing, forgotten center line. Towering hardwoods and evergreens that grow right up to the sides of the road, knitted together atop for nearly the entire drive, only allowing small bursts of sunlight to peek through when the leaves are still full.

During peak fall color time, it is a dream drive that you just cannot duplicate in many other places in our region. Take in the simplicity it provides…take it all in.

Notable Stops: Gurney’s Harbor Bottle Shop (try the Train Wreck sandwich), Pond Hill Farm (fresh produce and homemade preserves, wine tasting room, and brewery), Legs Inn (iconic historic inn that sits on a bluff overlooking the great lake, perfect for sunsets).

M-37; Old Mission Peninsula

Drive Time: 1 hour

Old Mission Peninsula; photo credit: Traverse City Tourism

Just under 20 miles from Front Street in Traverse City, M-37 takes you north through the heart of the thin Old Mission Peninsula all the way to the Old Mission Lighthouse on this one-way and back ride. You will wind your way along multiple orchards and vineyards, with plenty of opportunities to stop for wine-tasting at any of the 9 wineries on this piece of land jutting out into Grand Traverse Bay. The road will take you up hills for grand views of the bay’s bright blue waters and meander down along the shoreline.

Once you arrive at the northern terminus of the peninsula, make sure to visit the Old Mission Lighthouse and take some time to hike some of the many hiking trails winding through old orchards and woods.

Notable Stops: Old Mission Lighthouse, Chateau Chantal (beautiful views from one of the highest points of the peninsula).

M-22; Traverse City to Empire

Drive Time: 2 hours

M-22; photo credit: Nick Nerbonne

For 116 miles, beginning downtown Traverse City, head north on M-22, traversing the eastern edge of the Leelanau peninsula up to Northport and continue south down the west coast of the peninsula to Empire. You will find a plethora of wineries and vineyards (there are 25 wineries in all), art galleries, scenic overviews, and small towns. When you arrive in Empire, take some time to explore Sleeping Bear Dunes by bringing your tent and setting up camp, hiking the trails, or if you’re up to it, climbing the dunes for some gorgeous views.

Notable Stops: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

US-23; Sunrise Coast (Pure Michigan Byway)

Drive Time: 4 hours

US-23; photo credit: Northern Living Photography

This 200-mile stretch from Standish to Mackinaw City, along the east coast of Michigan’s lower peninsula, is an undoubtedly beautiful drive if you have the time. Beginning in Standish, US-23 takes you north, hugging the coast of Lake Huron through many gorgeous small towns such as Omer (donned Michigan’s smallest city), Whitestone Point, Tawas City, Oscoda Township, Harrisville, Alpena, Ashland, Rogers City, Cheboygan, Grand View, and Mackinaw City. Also named the Sunrise Coast Tour, this stretch of gorgeousness will also take you along Thunder Bay River State Forest, Rockport State Recreation Area, and Thompson’s Harbor State Park. Make sure to make it a point to stop at some of the many, many small state parks right on the great lake for some amazing views, but you will want to make sure and bundle up as the winds can kick up quite a bit.

Notable Stops: Tawas Point Lighthouse in Tawas City, Sturgeon Point Lighthouse in Harrisville, Ocqueoc Falls and 40 Mile Point Lighthouse in Rogers City, and the Cheboygan Crib Lighthouse in Cheboygan.

Gaylord to Charlevoix to Boyne City

Drive Time: 2 hours

Lake Charlevoix; photo credit: Frank Wulfers

This 91-mile loop will take you through a number of small towns in the northern lower peninsula. It almost loops the entirety of Lake Charlevoix, through the woods backdropped with tall pines and exploding in bright yellows, oranges, reds, and browns of the hardwoods.  You will meet up with the shores of Lake Michigan for a beautiful view of the great lake waters, then head back toward Gaylord, but on a different road that will take you through the beautiful town of Boyne City.

Notable Stops: Gaylord’s City Elk Park, Fisherman’s Island State Park, Charlevoix South Pier Light Station, Boyne Mountain Resort.

Copper Country Trail National Byway

Drive Time: 2 hours

Copper Country Trail National Byway; photo credit: Jason Paul

A 47-mile drive from Houghton to Copper Harbor will take you to Michigan’s upper peninsula’s northernmost reaches. The drive alone will take 2 hours to drive, but you will want to plan much more time to stop and explore in these areas. You will see lighthouses, beautiful parks, local breweries, and many small-town businesses. The wilderness is aplenty in these parts of the state, and you can’t help but enjoy all of the natural beauty that surrounds you here.

Notable Stops: Brockway Mountain Drive (10-mile stretch from Eagle Harbor to Copper Harbor, the highest paved road above sea level between the Rockies and the Alleghenies), Keweenaw Brewing Company in Houghton, The Jampot Bakery in Eagle Harbor, Brickside Brewery, Manganese Falls and Copper Harbor Lighthouse in Copper Harbor.

H-58; Grand Marais to Munising

Drive Time: 1 hour

H58; photo credit: Bryan Mitchell Photography

This amazing 50-mile drive along the UP’s northern coast is a can’t miss. It will take you through and along the iconic Pictured Rocks, America’s first National Lakeshore. This winding, twisted drive has been updated within the last 10 years to make much more accessible than it once was, but the rustic beauty of the land it traverses is just as spectacular as it has always been.

Notable Stops: Dunes Saloon/Lake Superior Brewing Company in Grand Marais, Sable Falls just outside of Grand Marais, The Old Logslide at Grand Sable Dunes, The White Birch Forest about 15-16 miles west of Grand Marais, Warner Falls and Scott Falls in Munising.

River Road National Scenic Byway

Drive Time: 40 minutes

River Road National Scenic Byway

From Hale to Oscoda, this 30-mile drive with take you high upon the bluffs, overlooking many of the attractions along the route. The trip takes you into the Huron-Manistee National Forest, along the beautiful Au Sable River and will take you back into time when the lumberjacks ruled these parts.

Notable Stops: Iargo Springs in Oscoda (from the road, take the 294 stairs down or view from the overlook), Canoer’s Memorial and Lumberman’s Monument in Oscoda (the official home of Paul Bunyan), Eagle’s Nest Overlook on the outskirts of Oscoda.

H-513; Black River National Forest Scenic Byway

Drive Time: 25 minutes

H513; Gabbro Falls

Though, only 15 miles long, a there-and-back trip will not disappoint the truly adventurous travelers during the fall season as you will not want to miss any of the majestic falls along this route. From US-2 in Bessemer, take Powderhorn Road north. Make a left onto Black River Road which will begin your journey to where it ends at Black River Harbor, the only harbor and marina operated by the USDA Forest Service in the lower 48 states.

Notable Stops: Gabbro Falls/Bakers Falls, Great Conglomerate Falls, Potawatomi Falls, Gorge Falls, Sandstone Falls, Rainbow Falls.

Huron River Drive; Ann Arbor to Dexter

Drive Time: 25 minutes

Huron River Drive; photo credit: elATLboy

A little closer to home for many of us metro-Detroiters, this beautiful strip of concrete is a two-lane thing of beauty. It’ll twist and turn through gorgeous woodlands taking on the curves of the Huron River that travels right alongside it. Slow down a bit more than you are used to and just enjoy the ride. Stops at the several parks along the route will make this a real adventurous ride.

Notable Stops: Dexter Cider Mill, Bird Hills Nature Area, Hudson Mills Metropark.

Downtown Detroit/Belle Isle

Drive Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Detroit in Autumn

Now, for those of you city-dwellers who can’t ponder a long drive away from home for the most beautiful natural areas of our great mitten state, there is still a Fall Color Tour available to you. Our great city of Detroit is filled with wooded tracts and parks. All types of beautiful trees line the streets and yards of our ever-improving downtown area. With a bit of research, I have come up with The Ultimate Detroit Downtown Fall Color Tour. Beginning at Warren and Outer Drive in Rouge Park, the drive takes you along West and East Outer Drive, skirting the northern edges of the city and bringing you back down toward the Detroit River at Jefferson Avenue. From here, it takes you along Jefferson toward the inner city, but veering for a trip through the stunning Belle Isle Park. From here, you will follow Grand River Boulevard East and West. Take your time and enjoy the sights of all the beautiful colors of leaves on the trees during late October within our city limits.

The Ultimate Detroit Downtown Fall Color Tour Map
Fall Colors

Wherever you choose to enjoy the colors and sights of Autumn in Michigan, it’s tough to do without a smile on your face, a warmth in your soul, and no weight on your shoulder. This is a beautiful time of year that prepares us for the coming winter season by reminding us how beautiful life and nature truly is. Get your loved ones together, pack some snacks and yourselves in the car, and head out for an amazing Fall Color Tour. I also want to hear your stories in the comments below about your own adventure on one of the above-mentioned tours or a tour of your own that I may have missed. Happy Fall everyone!

Posted on