The Best Time to See Fall Colors in Upper Michigan

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As the leaves begin to change color and the air becomes crisp, we know that fall is on its way. For many of us, that means taking a trip up north to see the leaves change color, and if you’re planning a trip to see the fall colors in Upper Michigan, you might be wondering when the best time to go is.

Michigan will forever be my home. It’s my home state and where I grew up. I love when The Husband and I go back home during the holidays and the fall season to catch the leaves changing colors – it’s truly a magical experience.

In this post, I’ll share with you some of the best places to visit to catch the spectacular show of the changing foliage in the UP, as well as some other tips and tricks I’ve learned while living in Michigan!

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you make a purchase. You can learn more about my affiliate policy here. Thank you for your support!

Peak Season

Peak fall colors viewing in Upper Michigan is typically from mid-September to early October. This is when the leaves of hardwood trees (such as maples, oaks, and beeches) change color. The peak season can vary slightly from year to year depending on the weather, but this is generally the time frame when you’ll see the most vibrant reds.

So, if you’re planning a trip to see the fall colors, be sure to check the Fall Foliage Prediction Map. This scientifically-backed map predicts when leaves will reach their peak color in each state, so you can plan your trip accordingly.

The forecast is updated weekly, so be sure to check back often! The fall foliage map is based on a number of factors, including rainfall, temperature, and sunlight. So, whether you’re planning a road trip or just looking to enjoy the autumn scenery, be sure to check the map for Michigan’s fall colors.

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Here are a few other tips for seeing the best fall colors in Upper Michigan:

  • Aim for weekdays if possible. Weekends tend to be crowded, which means you’ll have to share the best viewing spots with others.
  • Get an early start! The earlier you can get on the road, the better. This will help you avoid traffic and arrive at your destination before the crowds do.
  • Be prepared for changing weather conditions. Michigan has unpredictable weather. Pack layers so that you can stay warm and dry no matter what Mother Nature throws your way.
  • Have your camera ready! The fall colors in Upper Michigan are truly breathtaking, so make sure you have your camera (or phone) charged and ready to go.
  • Finally, relax and enjoy yourself! Seeing the fall colors is a wonderful experience, so take some time to savor it. Slow down, take deep breaths, and soak up all the beauty around you.

Shoulder Seasons

If you can’t make it up during the peak season, don’t worry—the shoulder seasons (late September/early October and early October/mid-October) can also be beautiful. During these times, you’ll still see a lot of color, although it may not be quite as intense as it is during the peak season.

Plus, there are usually fewer crowds during the shoulder seasons, so it’s a great time to visit if you’re looking for a more relaxed experience.

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Off-Season

Once mid-October hits, most of the leaves will have already fallen off the trees. So, if you’re planning a trip after this point, you probably won’t see much in terms of fall foliage.

That being said, there are still some things to do in Upper Michigan during the off-season (hiking, snowshoeing, etc.), so it can still be a great place to visit even if you’re not interested in seeing fall colors.

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Here are some trip ideas to enjoy Michigan fall colors and places you can visit this season:

Scenic Fall Waterfalls

Every year, as summer fades into autumn, the leaves of the hardwood trees in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula change color, creating a spectacular scene at Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The park is home to two waterfalls: the lower falls, which is nearly 200 feet wide, and the upper falls, which cascades over a series of ledges.

While both waterfalls are impressive, it is the lower falls that really puts on a show in the fall. The water takes on a reddish hue, creating an unforgettable sight. If you’re looking for a truly unique autumn experience, a visit to Tahquamenon River is sure to deliver. Plus, there are also numerous hiking trails that wind through the park.

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Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

The lakeshore is located on the shores of Lake Superior, and it offers the best views of the surrounding sandstone cliffs and sparkling beaches. There are also several hikes that you can take to get up close and personal with the autumn foliage.

 

All hikes begin at the Chapel/Mosquito Trailhead parking area. Here, you’ll get to explore two beaches, waterfalls, and some popular landmarks in the park, such as Chapel Rock and Grand Portal Point.

Where To Stay Near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

If you’re looking for a luxury stay during your visit to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, your best bet is to book an Airbnb in the local area. The hotels and motels are basic at best. If you’re okay with basic amenities, here are some of the top picks located in Munising, MI.

Pictured Rocks Inn & Suites

Located at: 420 M-28 East, Munising, MI 

 

Located about half a mile from Pictured Rock Cruises and only 2 miles from Pictured Rock National Lakeshore, this modest hotel is perfect for those who want to enjoy the outdoors and spend time in nature. Featuring an indoor pool and hot tub, guests can unwind and relax at the end of a long, adventurous day.

  • Star Rating: 2-star hotel
  • Guest Rating: 8.4 / 10

 

Au Train Island View Lodge

Located at N7869 Sunset Road, Munising, MI

 

With the perfect location right on Lake Superior, this vacation home is perfect for couples or families that want to spend quality time together. This lodge features balconies, lake views and 4 bedrooms that sleep 14.

Star Rating: 5

Guest Rating: 10 / 10

When Is The Best Time To Visit Michigan?

Fall is the perfect time to enjoy all that Michigan has to offer, from the weather and colorful leaves to pumpkin farms and apple orchards. For a truly memorable fall experience, head to Belleville to visit DeBuck’s Corn Maze and pumpkin patch.

 

With over 30 acres of corn to get lost in, it’s an excellent place to spend an afternoon. For those looking for a more traditional pumpkin farm experience, check out Riley’s Farm in Romeo to pick pumpkins for your fall harvest.

In addition to pumpkin picking, you can also take part in old-fashioned activities like hayrides and apple cider pressing. Lastly, no visit to Michigan in the fall would be complete without a stop at one of the many apple orchards.

For a unique twist on apple picking, head to Parmenter’s Northville Cider Mill, where you can pick your own apples and then watch them be made into delicious cider right before your eyes.

Whichever pumpkin farm or apple orchard you choose, you’re sure to have a good time.

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Take A Ferry To Mackinac Island

Nature lovers across the Midwest turn their attention to the lake Michigan shoreline. For many, fall is the best time of year to enjoy the Great Lakes. The cool weather and changing colors make for perfect hiking and camping conditions, and the lake huron is often at its most beautiful in the autumn months.

 

Mackinac Island which is technically floating on Lake Huron, between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan is one of the most beautiful places around this time. The surrounding waters accentuate gorgeous fall colors and watching the leaves drift downstream is just magical. There’re so many ways you can experience this spot.

So, if there are still days on the calendar before the end of October, then there’s still time to make some last-minute memories this year on Mackinac Island.

Now, to get there you can board a ferry in Mackinaw City for a 15-minute trip. Mackinaw City is a small town on the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and it’s the gateway to Mackinac Island.

Head North To Explore Spectacular St. Ignace Trails

 

The third week of Sept. 15-22 is typically when the leaves are at their near peak. And what better place to enjoy the amazing colors than on a Fall Color Tour in St. Ignace?

You can choose from a variety of different routes categorized by color: the Violet Tour, the Gold Tour, and the Crimson tour. All of which will take you to some of the best places to see the fall colors in the area.

The Violet, for example, gets their color from the same chemical that gives color to cranberries, strawberries, and plums. The brighter the light in summer, the more chemicals are produced in leaves, and the more vibrant the colors are!

Road Trip To The Tunnel Of Trees Scenic Route

Every fall, the Tunnel of Trees in northern Michigan becomes a popular destination for leaf peepers from all over the country.

The tunnel is a two-mile stretch of road that is lined with trees that turn a brilliant shade of red and gold in the fall. The fall color season typically lasts for six to eight weeks, and during that time, the Tunnel of Trees is transformed into a canopy of color. Visitors can drive through the tunnel at their leisure, or they can take a scenic hike or bike ride.

Experience The Majesty Of Kitch-iti-kipi

Also known as “The Big Spring”, one of the most popular attractions at Palms Brook State Park, and for good reason. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is home to miles of trails, and the fall season is the perfect time to explore them.

The Big Spring is located in the heart of the park, and it’s easy to access from the trailhead. The spring is surrounded by a dense forest, and it’s a beautiful place to relax and take in the autumn scenery. The miles of trails at Palms Brook State Park are well-maintained and offer a variety of difficulty levels.

photo credit: Jeff Elliott

Enjoy A Fall Color Tour Along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

This seven-mile country road winds its way through the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and the views are simply stunning.

The color change begins in mid-September and peaks in the weeks of October, so now is the perfect time to plan your trip. So don’t wait – start planning your fall color tour today.

photo credit: Marcela Mrugala

Experience The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

Along the northern shores of Lake Michigan is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a beautiful park formed mostly by sand dunes and beaches. There are even some hiking trails that lead up into forests where you can see colors come alive in autumn.

The Empire Bluff Trail is one of the best spots to see colors as it leads to a viewpoint overlooking the lake. Nearby, you’ll find Traverse City, with plenty of additional autumn activities. Be sure to make time to sip locally made apple cider, visit a pumpkin patch, and munch on spiced donuts

No matter when you decide to visit Upper Michigan, you’re sure to have a great time!

Sleeping Bear Dunes is a magical place with huge dunes and winding trails. Go with a guide to Sleeping Bear Dunes to explore nature like never before. See Empire Bluffs, Scenic Pierce Stocking Drive, Glen Lake Overlook, and Sleeping Bear Dune Overlook.

  • Explore Sleeping Bear Dunes with a local guide
  • Enjoy lunch on your guided tour
  • Enjoy snacks and drinks along the way
  • Round-trip transportation provided.

You can learn more here.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Located in the upper peninsula on the northern shores of Lake Superior, with nearly 60,000 acres of forestland, the park offers something for everyone. From a short hike to rigorous backpacking trips, there are plenty of ways to explore the wonders of the area.

The range is best known for its stunning views and beautiful colors and has some spectacular lookout points you won’t want to miss, like the Lake of the Clouds Overlook in an old-growth forest. 

Fall Colors In The Keweenaw Peninsula

All the way up at the tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is Copper Harbor. This small-town packs a ton of beauty into this small area. In addition to Lake Superior, you’ve also got Lake Fanny Hooe, a favorite with fisherman, outdoorsmen-and-women, and photographers.

The tall, white Copper Harbor Lighthouse always appears a little brighter in the fall, in contrast with Lake Superior and the surrounding fall forest.

Not-To-Be-Missed Ann Arbor Activities And Attractions

Border-to-Border Trail at Dexter-Huron Metropark | photo credit: Destination Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, in particular, is a great place to enjoy the changing leaves. The third week of Oct.  is typically when the leaves are at their peak, so while you’re in town, be sure to get a taste of history at the Dexter Cider Mill and check out some of the city’s favorite places, including the Huron River and the University of Michigan campus. With its stunning views and vibrant colors, Ann Arbor is sure to please any leaf peeper!

Plan Your Fall Foliage Tour In Marquette County

Marquette, MI

Marquette County offers an autumn experience like no other. From the breathtaking views of Lake Superior shoreline to exploring waterfalls surrounded by lush, colorful leaves; there are tons of places for you (and your camera) along County Road 510 or 550 that will make this season one not soon forgotten! After enjoying all these adventures in nature, stop at one of the breweries before heading home.

Head East To Chippewa County

Nestled on the eastern end of the state’s Upper Peninsula, Chippewa County is a fall wonderland, with beautiful fall colors and world-renowned landmarks. Plus, it’s steeped in Native American history, with over a thousand years of culture to explore.

The entire state of Michigan takes on a richer hue as the days become shorter and the waves on the Great Lakes become wilder: Michigan truly comes alive in the fall. That’s why it’s been such a popular destination for families for generations.

Northern Lower Michigan is well known for its scenic beauty, just keep in mind that the best time to see fall colors in west Michigan is October 9 – October 29 in places like Grand Rapids and Holland on Lake Michigan. And October 29 – November 12 in southern Michigan in places like New Buffalo, St. Joseph, South Haven and Saugatuck on Lake Michigan and Ann Arbor, metro Detroit and Belle Isle in southeast Michigan. So, head out, there’s still time to make some last-minute memories this year!

Michigan is a special place, and there’s no better time to experience its beauty than the fall, and the holidays are just around the corner. If you can get out and enjoy nature in Upper Michigan this season, pack your bags and come explore all that it has to offer. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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