PART ONE: SCENIC VIEWS
It’s that time of year again in Michigan when the leaves start changing colors, apples are in need of picking, pumpkins get carved, and you spend way too much money on pumpkin spice lattes. It’s fall time, and that means it’s time for fall festivities.
When I think of fall in Michigan, I can’t help but think about Tim Allen’s soothing voice over a Pure Michigan commercial, and I know I am not the only one.
If you’re a Michigander wanting to begin the festivities or an out-of-stater looking to get in on the action, the leaves don’t start changing colors until the first or second week in October, so keep that in mind before you venture out.
To kick this off, I want to focus on scenic destinations, hiking, driving, etc. then get into the fall festivities that are a must in Michigan, from haunted houses and corn mazes, to cider mills and wineries. Without further ado let’s get into it.
For starters, people are always curious about where the best places are to see the amazing fall colors in Michigan. If you’re willing to make a little road trip to the Upper Peninsula, you’ll more than satisfy your thirst for fall colors. Be sure to stop off at the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, and make a stop at the Lake of The Clouds to see the pristine reflection in the clear water.
Be sure to view the wilderness from the M-107 overlook which is fully accessible and a must to get the best views. This setting is made for hiking and exploring so be sure to take advantage of it. It’ll take a little over 30 minutes to the nearby historic town of Ontonagon, where tourists explore the county historical museum as well as the lighthouse.
While you’re up there, make a stop at the upper peninsula’s most northern tip in Copper Harbor to see the fall life on Lake Superior. You’ll also want to make some time for a 9+ acre exploration in Hunter’s Point park that features a loop trail perfect to satisfy your fall sightings. While you’re in the Copper Harbor loop, step on over to Lake Fanny Hooe where your selfies will look like a greenscreen.
After that excursion, make your way down through Houghton and around Keweenaw Bay and shoot East to Marquette, which is full of trails and different hiking trails for a scenic fall tour, as you have the Lake Superior shoreline on one side and surrounding forests full of biking and hiking opportunities.
At that point it wouldn’t hurt to get lost downtown to explore the local breweries as well as the galleries and shops before taking the trip farther east to Munising, which is a must see for the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore. Most tourists will typically start in Grand Marais and stroll down the coast to Munising and spend some time there, but if you want to keep the tour pushing East you could Venture through Grand Marais and Deer Park to find your way to Tahquamenon falls State Park where you can hike those trails and see the orange and red colors that surround the falls.
I know what you’re thinking, why would you want to go to all these awesome locations when it’s not warm and ideal? First off, you can’t be asking those questions until you experience it first hand. Not being in the “prime season” for tourists will make activities less crowded. Some activities may be affected seasonally, but there’s definitely some fall season specials throughout your tour.
Next, take your adventure back down through the Mackinac Bridge and along the east coast on US-23 of the mitten and drive inland to Ocqueoc Falls State Forest Campground which is home to the largest waterfall in Michigan’s lower peninsula, and it is actually the only universally-accessible waterfall in the United States. After you get your fix there, jump back on US-23 until you hit Alpena.
Alpena is definitely one of Michigan’s hidden gems, because when you pull up there it’s much more than most people expect. When people think about Michigan, they give the upper Peninsula all the credit for the scenic views, but the lower peninsula has some underrated destinations too.
Alpena is this quiet, Lake Huron Shoreline town that’s very historical and offers a lot of natural scenery from its beaches, parks, and little visible islands off of the shoreline. Hopefully you didn’t lose your hiking boots at Tahquamenon falls, because you’ll need to hit some of the trails in Rockport Harbor State Park to get a slice of the lower Peninsula fall foliage.
For whatever reason you’re not feeling the east coast of Michigan, veer off onto M-119 and take a scenic drive through the Tunnel of Trees which is 20 or so miles of brightly colored hardwoods. As you keep driving you’ll reach Charlevoix, where you can experience the breathtaking views of Fisherman’s Island State Park along the coast which opens up into Grand Traverse Bay, Elk Rapids, and then you’ll want to make a little pitstop in Traverse City to not only explore, but get lost in one of more than 40 wineries along the Traverse Wine Coast, as well as their fall color tour (which I will link in the description below).
You could even consider driving further west to the coast to experience the Sleep Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where you’ll have to drive south to North Bar Lake to experience the red and gold colors that contrast the deep blue of North Bar Lake. If you had time, you could stroll over to the little towns of Empire and Glen Arbor which offer a very scenic route.
As you keep driving south on M-31 you’ll get overwhelmed by Manistee, Ludington, Muskegon, and you could switch over to 96 and experience the fall life in Grand Rapids for an afternoon, and I will talk about a few things you can do there in Part 2 of this series.
Jumping back over to the east coast, after Alpena you can take a wonderful scenic drive along US-23 down and around Saginaw Bay where you can say you visited the most northern tip of the thumb, Port Austin. I know a few people in the area who say it’s unlike any other with its walkable waterfront that just so happens to be surrounded by forests and farmland. This could be a weekend trip to travel to Caseville and explore the downtown area and walk the pier if the weather is right of course. You’ll also want to take advantage of your stay and visit the Port crescent State park to get amazing views of Saginaw Bay.
As you make your way south, you’ll make a visit south of the webspace, aka the space between your index finger and your thumb to Frankenmuth where you’ll get bombarded with activities that I’ll go more in depth on later. While you’re out that way you can make your way farther inland to the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge that’s 10,000 acres of marsh, bottomland hardwood forest, and grasslands. A sanctuary for wildlife, a conservation of endangered species, and of course a great place to view wildlife.
This east and west tour takes us to about mid-Michigan, and if you haven’t noticed yet, Michigan has some seriously awesome scenic views, and that really is just scratching the surface. So the next time someone says this state is nothing but a mitten, send them this video and educate them on their poorly executed assumptions.
PART 2: MICHIGAN DESTINATIONS
It’s time to be aware of the haunted houses, cider mills, pumpkin patches, apple orchards, corn mazes, winery, Oktoberfest(s), harvest festivals, and football season experiences you can enjoy in Michigan.
If you’re in Michigan during the fall, you know as well as anyone else that it’s football season, and in this state it’s a way of life and an experience you need to have just to get a front row seat to the atmosphere it creates. You can either get angry and want to break stuff watching the lions or you can follow U of M and Michigan State. You could also watch the puck drop at the new Little Caesars Arena where not only the Redwings play, but the Pistons too.
CIDER MILLS & APPLE ORCHARDS
As far as Cider Mills and apple orchards. There’s a few that you may have to try out. If you’re in Northern Michigan, you’ll want to make a visit to Knaebe’s Apple Farm and Ciderworks. It’s an amazing place for kids and they also have wood fired pizza, along with donuts, cider and other amazing options for the family. If you’re hanging out in Western Michigan, maybe on your fall color tour through Grand Rapids you should make time for Robinette’s Apple Haus & Winery. Not only is it very adult friendly, there’s also a petting zoo, corn maze, hayrides and nature trails to stroll around for a little while.
If you’re hanging out in southeast Michigan like I am, you’re probably going to the one and only Spicer orchards. I’ve been going there for years, but since I moved a little northeast, I would highly recommend Blake’s orchard and cider mill. Not only is it awesome during the winter holidays, you can enjoy one of their famous Blake’s hard ciders and do some of the haunted attractions along with food and merchandise. If you’re just in the mood for a nice pumpkin patch, Michigan is one of the states at the top of the list based on acreage with 4,700 – 5,600 acres.
If you’re out there looking for a haunted house that’s pants changing worthy. We have a few here in Michigan. Ranked the best haunted attraction in the country according to USA Today’s Readers Choice 2019, Erebus is a stop you don’t want to miss.
This 100,000 square foot, four story building in downtown Pontiac was ranked the longest walkthrough haunted attraction in the world in 2009, and since lost the title, but that doesn’t mean it’s anything short of scary with realistic costumes, and Hollywood special effects to top it off.
If you’re in the Madison Heights area, be sure to stop off at Azra Chamber of Horrors. A relatively new competitor to the haunted house industry, but that didn’t stop it from being ranked number one in the state based on scare factor and in the top 20 in the entire country.
Last but not least, The Hush haunted attraction. This elaborate haunt actually has three separate attractions: The Coven, where you explore a witches lair, the Descent, where you’re stuck in a mine, and Rosecliff Hall is just a good ole haunted house.
For those of you that have been to some awesome haunted houses in Michigan that I didn’t mention, drop them in the comments below to help everyone find a new attraction. If you’re looking for a good haunted corn maze, you’ll have to make the haul out to Williamston where Bestmaze is located to experience the Trail of Terrors.
NOT SO HAUNTED ATTRACTIONS
If you’re just not wanting to go full-in on the haunted attractions, relax and stroll out to Frankenmuth for their unforgettable Oktoberfest, where you can listen to live polka music, eat traditional German food and of course get a big glass of beer from the Frankenmuth Brewery.
If you like fishing and the peacefulness of nature, you’ll have to spend time salmon fishing on one of Michigan’s pristine rivers. You’ll be surprised when you reel in a salmon, steelhead or trout in one of the best rivers: Pere Marquette, Manistee River, St. Mary’s River and Grand River near Grand Rapids. Just to narrow down your search a bit.
Another way to entertain the family is to take them over to the Detroit zoo for some of their events, as well as the John Ball zoo in Grand Rapids, and the Binder Parks in Battle Creek. If you’re an artsy person, you definitely should spend some time at ArtPrize, one of the nation’s premier art festivals that showcases memorable art pieces all over Grand Rapids from fiber arts to kinetic sculptures, it will not disappoint.
Michigan also has numerous farmers markets that happen all throughout the state until the snow flies, so if you find a city or county that interests you, see if there is a farmers market you can stop by, I’m sure you’ll enjoy what they have to offer.
Well, I hope this helped you get a jump start on your fall bucket list. I know for you Michiganders that are reading this, I hardly scratched the surface as to what this great state offers seasonally, so if anyone out there knows of a destination or attraction that they are crazy about, throw it down in the comments below to give some of the other viewers some options.
Andrew McManamon is a Michigan REALTOR® with Signature Sotheby’s International Realty and provides real estate services to Buyers, Sellers and Investors throughout SE Michigan including Livingston County, Oakland County, Washtenaw County, Genesee County & beyond. Andrew has become one of the rising stars of Michigan real estate agents. Prior to his real estate career Andrew was responsible for managing a senior living facility in Brighton, Michigan as a dining supervisor and an activities assistant. Andrew’s passion to help people is unlike any other, and he continues to strive to be best resource he can be. Andrew graduated from Cleary University in Howell, Michigan with a double major and currently resides in White Lake, Michigan.