On Fall's Trail in Michigan

What to Do & Where to Do It

Canoe the Au Sable River

The Au Sable is a National Scenic River in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, and one of Michigan's prized river paddling destinations. The water here is generally flat and peaceful, giving you lots of time to take in the fall color along the banks. There's wildlife in abundance, too: keep your eyes peeled for eagles, ospreys, and loons. The officially designated scenic portion of the river is 23 miles long, starting in Mio, but it's possible to take much longer trips over its 100-plus-mile course.

Access: Mio lies at the junction of Michigan 33 and Michigan 72 in northeastern lower Michigan. Grayling, off I-75, is another popular put-in.
Peak color: Late September to mid-October
More on Huron-Manistee National Forest

Paddle Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

In upper Michigan, massive sandstone cliffs rise up along the shores of Lake Superior, topped with brilliant fall foliage. The hard and soft maple here turn during the first two weeks of October, with aspen and birch following during the second half of the month. There are also broad expanses of white sand beach along Pictured Rock's 40-mile stretch of preserved shoreline. Put a sea kayak in around Munising, and you'll find the cliffs are just a short paddle away.

Access: Munising lies along Michigan 28 in the Hiawatha National Forest.
Peak color: Mid-September to late October
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Mountain bike the Vasa Pathway

Just outside Traverse City on the Lower Peninsula, the Vasa Pathway in the Pere Marquette State Forest offers a serious mountain biking challenge among colorful hardwoods. The pathway actually consists of three loops in all—a 1.8 mile, a 6.6 mile, and a 15 mile—as well as 13 miles of single track paralleling the main trail. The eastern and southern portions of the trail are better for beginners, but for the most part be prepared for some serious hill action. The main trailhead is located in Acme Township Park near Acme.

Access: US 31 east from Traverse City to Acme. Follow Bunker Hill Road to Bartlett Road to find Acme Township Park.
Peak color: Late September to mid-October

Take a Scenic Drive in the Porcupine Mountains

For a great fall color tour, find your way to the extreme northwest corner of the Upper Peninsula. Heading northwest on US 2 from the town of Marenisco, you'll already be in the Ottawa National Forest, one of the most remote areas in the state. When you reach Wakefield, you have two choices. If you leave US Rte. 2 and head north, you'll come to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, a 60,000-acre preserve and recreation area with 90 miles of hiking trails, cliff-top vistas, and old growth forest. If you continue on US 2, you'll come to Bessemer and the entrance to the Black River Parkway National Scenic Byway, which leads to Black River Harbor on Lake Superior.

Access: From the Lower Peninsula, take I-75 north to US 2 (first exit after reaching the Upper Peninsula).
Peak color: Mid-September to early October

Camp on North Manitou Island

Ferries from Leland on lower Michigan's northwest shore will transport adventurers to 15,000 acres of isolated autumn wilderness on North Manitou Island in Lake Michigan. Part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, North Manitou Island promises solitude in a primitive setting, as well as miles of hiking trails. The terrain here varies from high-blown dunes in the south to rocky bluffs in the north. A large deer herd also calls the island home. You must purchase a permit for backcountry camping, and there is a small campground near the village of North Manitou on the island's northeast side.

Access: Manitou Island Transit is private tour operator that provides ferry service to North Manitou Island from Leland. Call ahead for rates and schedules.
Peak color: Late September to mid-October
More on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Bike the Seney National Wildlife Refuge

Known locally as the Great Manistique Swamp, these 95,212 acres on the central Upper Peninsula shelter an incredibly diverse array of wildlife, including bald eagles and sandhill cranes, otter, black bear, deer, beaver, and coyote. Much of Seney is wetlands, but it also encompasses forests of birch, maple, and oak, whose fall finery is accessible via the refuge's 100-mile network of biking trails. The terrain here is relatively flat, so you'll be able to focus your attention on your surroundings.

Access: Seney National Wildlife Refuge is located 5 miles south of the town of Seney on Michigan 77.
Peak color: Mid-September to early October

Hike Isle Royale National Park

Accessible only by boat or floatplane, Isle Royale National Park is a true wilderness retreat in Lake Superior. There are 166 miles of hiking trails on this 40-plus-mile-long sliver of swamps, bogs, lakes, and forests. There's also a thriving moose population and a healthy pack of wolves to keep them in check. By autumn, cold temperatures return quickly, but stands of maple turn this untamed island fiery red.

Access: See GORP's Isle Royale National Park for more information on ferry and floatplane service to the park.
Peak color: Mid-September to early October

Drive From Manistee to Arcadia

The National Geographic Travelers Society called the stretch of Michigan 22 between Manistee and Arcadia"the most scenic route in Michigan." The road runs through prime leaf-peeping country, past rolling woods, farmland, and quaint lakeside towns. Along the way, take a side trip to picnic at Orchard Beach State Park, which looks out from a scenic bluff over Lake Michigan. When you reach Arcadia, be sure to visit Scenic Lookout, the highest point on Lake Michigan's shore.

Access: To reach Michigan 22, take US 31 north through Manistee. Pass the side road to Orchard Beach State Park in Parkdale. Michigan 22 is on the left.
Peak color: Late September to mid-October

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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