At first glance, Michigan might not seem like a must-visit fall destination, but it has some secrets that might surprise you. Like many states, it bursts into color in the fall, making all of its attractions brighter.
From the breathtaking waterfalls in Tahquamenon Falls State Park to the excitement of football Saturdays in Ann Arbor, these Mitten State destinations are worthy of a road trip.
A view of the Peshekee River in the fall — Photo courtesy of Pure Michigan
So far into Northern Michigan that it might be easier to drive there from Wisconsin, Marquette (175 miles from Green Bay) offers plenty of places to see the changing leaves. The Harlow Lake Recreational Area has 19 miles of hiking trails and several biking trails to ensure a picture-perfect lake view.
Those less interested in hiking can see the view from the County Road 510 Bridge, just west of Marquette. The city is also home to the U.P. Fall Beer Festival in early September, where beer lovers enjoy their pick of hundreds of local beers.
The Village at Grand Traverse Commons plays host to Traverse City's annual Harvest Festivus — Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism
Situated on Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City has several areas where you can spot fall colors. One of the best is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the hike along Empire Bluff Trail. The 1.5-mile round-trip hike leads through the forest and offers multiple views of the dunes and Lake Michigan.
After hiking, a cool beverage might be in order. In early October, the annual German-themed Harvest Festivus takes place downtown and has seasonal wines and ciders to enjoy. Carriage rides and live entertainment round out the festival fun.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
The trees around Tahquamenon Falls make waterfall viewing an extra special sight in the fall — Photo courtesy of melodious707
It’s hard to beat the views at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in the fall, but it's quite the road trip. Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, starting somewhere north like Traverse City means 121 miles to the Mackinac Bridge which connects the upper and lower peninsulas, and then another 60 miles after that.
Visitors who make the trek are rewarded with The Upper Falls, which are 200 feet across and almost 50 feet high. In the fall, the surrounding trees make an even better scene.
Yates Cider Mill makes their cider on-site — Photo courtesy of Rory Finneren
Yates Cider Mill in Rochester Hills (27 miles from Detroit) makes their cider on-site, welcoming visitors to watch most Wednesdays-Sundays. Mid-October brings the Stone Wall Pumpkin Festival, with over a thousand carved pumpkins around the Rochester Hills Museum.
There’s a pumpkin lighting ceremony at night and pumpkin bowling during the day. Admission to the festival even includes a pumpkin. Just north of Rochester Hills, Rochester plays host to the Art & Apples Festival each year in early September, bringing the focus to local artists.
This "tunnel of trees" runs from Harbor Springs to Cross Village — Photo courtesy of Craig's Obsession
Road trips are almost guaranteed to be spectacular when they meander through something called the Tunnel of Trees. M-119 along Little Traverse Bay in Northern Michigan from Harbor Springs to Cross Village offers an array of colors along the route with views of Lake Michigan as well.
The nearly-30-mile route is also ideal for bicyclists. After the drive or bike, visitors can stop in Petoskey to see where author Ernest Hemingway spent summer vacations as a kid.
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Michigan Stadium, also known as The Big House, hosts home football games in the fall — Photo courtesy of VisitAnnArbor.org
Ann Arbor, about 43 miles west of Detroit, is home to the University of Michigan. In the fall, that only means one thing: football. The Big House, the university’s football stadium, comes alive on home football Saturdays, welcoming students and fans – up to 107,601 of them.
Nearby Saline has an Oktoberfest each September, featuring German food, music and plenty of beer.
Kayakers paddle in Tecumseh — Photo courtesy of City of Tecumseh
A talent show, carnival rides and games, a street fair and, of course, plenty of food – that’s what you’ll find at the annual Appleumpkin Festival in Tecumseh, a small town about 64 miles from Detroit. The festival is held in mid-October, the same time as Kapnick Orchards Apple Festival, which has cider, donuts and a petting zoo. A free shuttle runs between the festivals.
ArtPrize visitors look at The Last Supper by Julie Green — Photo courtesy of Drew Davis, courtesy of ArtPrize
Fall in the Grand Rapids area brings myriad festivals and family-friendly activities. The Great Pumpkin Run in nearby Greenville is held at Klackle Orchards in late September and includes a pumpkin and apple cider for all finishers of the 5k run or walk.
Though not specifically fall-themed, visitors to the city over several weeks in September and October shouldn’t miss ArtPrize. Art is placed around the city in places like restaurants and offices, then both judges and the public vote to determine the winners.
Kalamazoo's many pumpkin patches are ready for exploration in the fall — Photo courtesy of William Dolak
Kalamazoo, 50 miles south of Grand Rapids, is bursting with cider mills and pumpkin patches, several of which have annual festivals to celebrate the season’s bounty. VerHage Fruit Farms & Cider Mill hosts Apple Fest over two days in late September, and local artists, crafters and entertainers are featured.
Also in late September, the crowds gather at DeLano Farms for Fall Fest, which has wagon rides, cooking demonstrations, and farm animals to meet.
Two Bay Sail schooners on the water — Photo courtesy of Bay Sail Appledore Schooners
While other cities have fall hikes, bikes or drives, Bay City has the Autumn Color Tour River Cruise. In October, take a ride on an Appledore tall ship and see the changing leaves from the Saginaw River.
Those who’d rather go it alone should consider renting a kayak to take in the foliage. Ike’s Mobile Kayak Rentals in nearby Midland has sit-in or sit-on kayaks and offers tours and group paddle times.