Road Trip: Experience a Michigan Fall Colors Tour - Complete Route

Heather Raulerson

tumn is my favorite time of the year with all the leaves changing colors. Fall Color enthusiasts will love seeing all the colors in the state of Michigan. There are so many options/roads for you to explore. I chose to drive around the whole lower peninsula to see the fall colors one weekend. This itinerary is one of my favorite Michigan Fall Colors tours.

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Colorful Fall Trees in MichiganHeather Raulerson

Driving north on I-75

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Fall Trees on I-75Heather Raulerson

Starting out in the lower part of the state, bottom of the mitten, most of the trees don’t turn until later in the fall season. Depending on when you go, the colors will start popping up in the landscape after Grayling. Most of the fall color will be scarce early in the season so; it is best to time your fall color road trip during peak season. If you aren’t sure when that is, some websites keep track of this for you. It is best to plan ahead to make sure that you have hotel reservations because the weekends fill up pretty fast due to the fall color road trips.

Mackinaw City

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Mackinac BridgeHeather Raulerson

Mackinaw City has plenty of restaurants for you to choose from and hotels to stay in overnight. I stayed at the Clarion Hotel in Mackinaw City which is right on the shores of Lake Huron. The ferries to Mackinac Island are still running at this time of year but, since I was planning to leave early the next morning, I skipped the ferry. Instead, I ate dinner at a local family restaurant then went exploring. I stopped at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse to get photos of Mighty Mac and the lighthouse.

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Old Mackinac Point LighthouseHeather Raulerson
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Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse at nightHeather Raulerson

I woke up early to get pictures of the sunrise before I started my drive around the northern tip of the lower peninsula. What a sight!

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Lake Superior SunriseHeather Raulerson
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Lake Superior Sunrise in Mackinac CityHeather Raulerson

The Great Northwest part of my Michigan road trip has an estimated length of 125 miles and 3 hours. This is a very scenic drive along Lake Michigan and goes through the infamous Tunnel of Trees. The Tunnel of Trees along route M-119 is between Cross Village and Good Hart. It is one of the most scenic roads in the states. Tunnel of Trees is 7 miles of narrow twisty road with tree branches arching over you as you catch glimpses of Lake Michigan between them. The full route is over 20 miles along M-119. Reminder to go slow through this stretch because of the narrowness. I tried to take a video but, it didn’t turn out very well…next time. There are places to stop at both ends, Legs Inn in Cross Village and the Good Hart General Store at the other end.

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Yellow Fall Tree in MichiganHeather Raulerson

Petoskey/Charlevoix

After the Tunnel of Trees, the Michigan Fall Colors continue through Harbor Springs to Petoskey. You can take a break in Petoskey at one of the beaches to hunt for the Petoskey stone. I decided to take a short break to take some photos of the Bear River Valley Recreation Area to stretch my legs.

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Bear River Valley Recreation AreaHeather Raulerson

As you follow US 31 south, you have to go around Lake Charlevoix. The shortest route is to go across it on the Ironton Ferry. The cost is approx $3 per vehicle. It is a small ferry so, there might be a short wait for you to get across. Once across the water, it is not far to Charlevoix (pronounced Shar-la-voy). A great place to stop and explore is Bier Art Gallery. Bier Art Gallery is in an old schoolhouse right on US 31. You can browse their shop and studio filled with pottery, art, and beautiful crafty gifts. I picked up a few Christmas presents while I was there. 

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Bier Art GalleryHeather Raulerson

The rest of the drive to Traverse City is filled with beautiful scenery of colorful trees dotting the hills. 

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Bright Orange Tree at a rest stopHeather Raulerson

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Michigan Fall ColorsHeather Raulerson
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Fall Colorful Trees in MichiganHeather Raulerson

Also on US 31, is Friske’s Farm Market in Ellsworth. The market is an excellent stop to pick up some locally made jams and cherry doughnuts. Of course, being an orchard, they sell plenty of apples you can pick yourself or buy at the general store. Friske even has a cafe where you can get lunch.

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Friske’s Farm MarketHeather Raulerson

Traverse City

The next leg of the Michigan Fall Colors road trip is the Cherry Coast of Michigan. The estimated length is 200 miles and 4.5 hours. I have never been to Old Mission Point before so, pleasantly surprised at how beautiful it is. Although I shouldn’t be surprised, the upper part of lower Michigan is quite beautiful, especially along the Great Lakes. Traverse City has many vineyards to stop and try a taste.

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Vineyard in Traverse CityHeather Raulerson

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Grapes at a Traverse City VineyardHeather Raulerson

First stop in Traverse City is Old Mission Point Lighthouse. Built in 1870, the Old Mission Lighthouse stands at the 45th parallel, halfway between the North Pole & the Equator. There is also an original log home built in the 1850s on the property. I happened to catch the tail end of a wedding when I visited the lighthouse. Very scenic venue right on the beach of Sutton Bay. Beautiful!

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Old Mission LighthouseHeather Raulerson

Within the center of the Old Mission Village is the Old Mission General Store. This general store has so much character that you have to visit I stopped in here to pick up some food for lunch; they do have a sit-down cafe inside. While I was waiting for my extra-large slice of pizza, I browsed around at all the Colonial oddities they have on display. From a Gramophone to a 1909 Sears Roebuck catalog, there is so much to see in this store. As they kindly remind the visitors, your patronage keeps this general store going.

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Old Mission General StoreHeather Raulerson
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Inside the Old Mission General StoreHeather Raulerson
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Fall Trees in Traverse CityHeather Raulerson

After lunch, I continued my way down the coast of Michigan making stops along the way when something caught my eye and then at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park and stopping for the night in Ludington.

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Sleeping Bear Dunes Covered BridgeHeather Raulerson
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Sleeping Bear DunesHeather Raulerson

And then finishing the weekend by driving through the heart of Michigan: following the Grand River – Grand Rapids to Detroit (estimated travel time 2.5-4 hours depending on backroads or expressway). All in all, it was a fabulous weekend fall road trip with three lighthouses, a couple of general stores, a cute art gallery, and more autumn colors on trees than I could have imagined.

What is your favorite fall color tour route?

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Heather is a freelance writer and photographer who loves slow travel where she can stay in one place to get to know the local scenery and culture. She is the owner of Raulersongirlstravel, a travel website sharing her solo adventures and photographs around the world.

Rochester Hills, MI
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