5 Tips to Enjoy Fall Colors in Northern Michigan

When most people think about chasing fall color, their minds usually go to places like New England first. After all, those states are the ones that are plastered all over social media.

But as lifelong residents of Michigan, we’re here to tell you that the fall colors you can view here are spectacular.

And you won’t have to fight the crowds as much as you would in on the East Coast.

Michigan has more than 75 native tree species and many which are non-native as well. So there are a wide array of colors displayed here.

Fall color is abundant in our beautiful state. But that being said, it can be tricky to experience it during the peak season.

Here are 5 Tips to Enjoy Fall Colors in Northern Michigan:

1 – Make Advanced Reservations – Late Sept to Mid October

If you’re heading out on a day trip, you don’t have to plan ahead. Check recent fall color maps and head for the areas which are closest to peak.

But if you’d like to spend more than a few hours enjoying the beauty, it’s best to at least stay overnight. The difficult part about this is that hotels and campgrounds are BUSY during the fall because everyone else wants to see the pretty leaves as well. Which means you need to try to figure out the best time to go in advance.

Every year is different – but Michigan usually experiences peak color from late September to mid October. The farther north you go, the earlier it tends to happen… but not always.

If you’re able, try reserving a couple of different trips during that timeframe for your best chance to have at least one of them be during peak color.

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2 – Go Off the Beaten Path

The Tunnel of Trees is the first place people tell you to go when looking for fall colors in Northern Michigan. While the tunnel is pretty, it is also extremely congested during peak season – especially on the weekends. And it’s right next to Little Traverse Bay which can delay the change in tree color.

Also, the road isn’t much wider than a one-lane road, even though traffic drives both ways.

The tunnel is pretty but most of the land next to the road is private property and the owners discourage people from pulling over by putting up cones. Also, there’s so much traffic that when people do pull over it makes it difficult for other drivers to pass.

While we wouldn’t discourage anyone from experiencing the tunnel, we do encourage you to turn off onto some side roads in the area to experience even more color and to have a chance to get out of your car and take some photos.

Watch the video below if you’d like to see more of the Tunnel of Trees so you can plan your trip!

Autumn in Northern Michigan - Tunnel of Trees - Wilderness State Park

3 – Look for Maples and Aspen

These trees produce the most vibrant colors in the fall. One way to find areas with lots of maple trees is to look for maple syrup farms. Another way is to search social media for colorful photos that others have taken.

The secret is to find people who say they haven’t used a filter and are posting a recent pic. We have found lots of photographers post pics from past years before they’re able to get any new fall color photos. No one is immune to chasing likes.

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4 – Find a Scenic Overlook

Look around while you’re up high to see where you can find pockets of color. Then head in that direction. Trees become colorful from many factors including elevation, temperature, amount of rainfall, etc. which means that different areas will hit peak color before others.

There are certain factors to take into account when looking for color every year but the best way to know for sure is to confirm it with your own eyes!

5 – Drive Inland

Most people say “drive north” to find the best fall color. We would change that to say “drive inland.”

The Great Lakes surrounding Michigan hold onto a lot of heat which tends to delay the change in color. In 2022, headed to Muskallonge Lake State Park, which is in the northern Upper Peninsula, the last week of September thinking the leaves would change more quickly up there and we were wrong. The best color we found was from Grayling to Gaylord, which are both inland areas with lots of maples.

We went on another trip to Hartwick Pines State Park a few weeks later and we were delighted to find the peak fall color we had been searching for on our previous trip.

Driving north AND inland gives you an even better chance of seeing a spectacular fall display.

If you haven’t personally experienced the beautiful display that Michigan puts on every fall then I highly recommend giving it a try.

BONUS TIP: If you head out on a sunny day, the colors will be even more vibrant!

With the above tips in mind, you’ll have the best chance to catch the colors at their peak and to look around in wonder like the rest of us.

If you’d like to check out our recent trip to Hartwick Pines State Park where we experienced some epic fall color, you can watch the video below.

Absolutely Stunning Fall Colors in Northern Michigan! Elk and Old Growth Trees in Hartwick Pines

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