9 Amazing Places to See Fall Colors in Michigan

Posted by
Brittany Varano
September 10, 2021
Updated February 01, 2024

Best Places to See Fall Colors in Michigan
Photo: Joe Kirsch / Shutterstock

Michigan puts on a spectacular show in the fall, offering up a kaleidoscope of blazing colors.

Perhaps what makes fall in Michigan so special is how fleeting the season is. The leaves shift from green to bright yellows and reds, sticking around for a few weeks at most before gently floating to the ground. That tiny window before winter officially arrive is the best time for checking out the fall foliage in Michigan, rather that means hiking, taking a scenic drive, or visiting an apple orchard for fresh cider.

If you have a DSLR or non-cell phone camera, you’ll want to bring it with you as you head out to explore these places to see fall foliage in Michigan. Before you go, use the Michigan Fall Color Map so you know when it’s prime-time for fall foliage at each site.

Related Read: 9 of the Best Cabin Rentals in Michigan

1. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore fall colors Michigan
Photo: John McCormick / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Vibrant reds contrast against bright blue water and dramatic cliff lines.

  • Nearest town: Grand Marais
  • Peak foliage: Mid-September to early October

The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a protected stretch of shoreline along Lake Superior. It’s best known for its unique sandstone rock formations, cascading waterfalls, and stunning forest hiking. But autumn is probably the best time visit, when the bright leaves enhance the red hues of the coast’s scraggly sandstone cliffs. The colors really stand out against the bright blue waters of the great lake.

The best ways to experience the lakeshore’s fall colors are by taking a scenic drive, jumping on an organized boat tour, or doing your own kayaking trip. From the water, it’s possible to see iconic landmarks like Chapel Rock, Lover’s Leap, and the Grand Island Lighthouse. The best hiking trails for fall colors are the Miner’s Castle Trail and the Chapel Falls Loop, both of which lead to famous lookout points on the lake.

2. Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Tahquamenon Falls Michigan
Photo: Doug Lemke / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Hike past epic Michigan fall foliage and huge waterfalls.

  • Nearest town: Paradise
  • Peak foliage: Mid-September to early October

Tucked far north in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Tahquamenon Falls State Park features 50,000 acres of untouched woodlands and one of the tallest waterfalls in the Midwest. The park comes to life in the fall when the surrounding trees shift to warm tones, creating a technicolor backdrop to the park’s Upper and Lower Falls.

Hiking is by far the best way to take in the fall colors at Tahquamenon Falls State Park, which typically only stick around for a week or two. Some of the best hiking trails include the Clark Lake Loop, the boardwalks of the River Trail, and the waterfall loops.

Related Read: 10 Best Weekend Road Trips From Detroit, Michigan

3. Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island fall colors Michigan
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: For a weekend of foliage viewing in a charming resort village.

  • Nearest town: Mackinac Island
  • Peak foliage: Mid-September to early October

You’ll need to take a ferry to reach Mackinac Island, but the effort is worth it in the fall. On Lake Huron, this island getaway is located between Michigan’s upper and lower regions. It’s a historic destination filled with cobblestone streets and stunning architecture, and it’s not uncommon to see horse-drawn carriages traveling through town.

Stretch your legs with a hike on the Bare Bluff Trail. It’s one of the island’s steepest trails but has a fantastic vantage point of the surrounding fall colors. Renting a bike and cruising the Mackinac Island Inner Loop is another excellent way to explore the island. You’ll pass through colorful forests, sandy beaches, and idyllic meadows along the eight-mile route. For the fearless, Great Lakes Air offers Michigan fall foliage-viewing flights, which run around 20 minutes.

Related Read: 8 Spectacular Places to See Fall Colors in Minnesota

4. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore fall colors Michigan
Photo: Nathaniel Gonzales / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Leaf peep at the most famous stretch of shoreline in the state.

  • Nearest town: Empire
  • Peak foliage: Late September to mid-October

Along the northern shores of Lake Michigan is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a beautiful park comprised of sand dunes, beaches, and pretty hiking trails that come to life in the fall. The Empire Bluff Trail is one of the best spots to see colors as it leads to an excellent vantage point overlooking the lake.

Within the park boundaries, heading along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a great way to spend a few hours. Be sure to stop at overlooks “9” and “10” for the best lake and fall foliage views. The lookouts are extra beautiful at sunset, by the way.

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 (yum!) The small harbor town of Glen Arbor is also nearby, home to the popular Cherry Republic gift shop that sells Michigan beers, wines, and goodies.

Related Read: 7 Magical Treehouse Rentals in Michigan

5. Hartwick Pines State Park

Hartwick Pines State Park fall colors Michigan
Photo: Steve Lagreca / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Fall foliage in Michigan for the whole fam.

  • Nearest town: Grayling
  • Peak foliage: Late September to mid-October

The old-growth pines and hardwoods of Hartwick Pines State Park create a delightful contrast in the fall. Miles of biking and hiking trails line the 9,700 acres of protected land, offering plenty of ways to be active and enjoy the stunning show of colors. The Mertz Grade Trail is rated as easy and ideal for family fall foliage outings. Other popular hiking trails that offer excellent fall color viewing opportunities include the Old Growth Forest Foot Trail and the AuSable River Trail.

If you’re into water sports, take a canoe trip or rent kayaks along the AuSable and Manistee rivers. It’s also possible to see an old logging hut at the Hartwick Pines Logging Museum, a landmark that commemorates the state’s logging history.

Related Read: 11 Cozy Pet-Friendly Cabin Rentals in Michigan

6. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park Michigan fall colors
Photo: Jason Patrick Ross / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Take a scenic chair ride above some of the best fall foliage in Michigan

  • Nearest town: Carp Lake
  • Peak foliage: Late September to mid-October

The Porcupine Mountains are a small range in the Upper Peninsula on the northern shore of Lake Superior. Locals lovingly call the mountain “the Porkies” and usually visit to take advantage of the park’s stunning hiking, fishing, birdwatching, and, of course, autumn foliage viewing. One of the best fall hikes is the Presque Isle River Waterfalls Loop, which runs past several waterfalls that beautifully reflect the colorful leaves.

The range has some spectacular lookout points you won’t want to miss, like the Lake of the Clouds Overlook in an old-growth forest. Climb to the top of Summit Peak, the tallest point in the park, for more panoramic views of fall foliage in Michigan from the 40-foot-tall observation tower. If you’re not up for hiking, you can take a chairlift ride on weekends in September and early October.

Related Read: 9 Unique Places to Stay in Michigan for an Extraordinary Escape

7. Deadman’s Hill Overlook

Deadman’s Hill Overlook Michigan fall colors
Photo: Krista Gazzola / Shutterstock

Why you should go: A short day hike or starting point for an overnight backpacking trip.

  • Nearest town: Elmira
  • Peak foliage: Late September to mid-October

The Deadman’s Hill Overlook is a hidden gem in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula that overlooks the Jordan River Valley portion of the Mackinaw State Forest. The trail is three miles long and is perfect for day hiking. It also connects with the 18-mile Jordan River Pathway for those interested in a longer hike or overnight camping at the Pinney Bridge Campground.

While the overlook has a tragic backstory, the memorial turns into a beautiful display of oranges, reds, and yellows every fall. In this part of the state, Michigan’s colorful hardwoods stand in vivid contrast to the scattered nearby pines.

8. Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor Michigan fall colors
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: For an urban leaf-peeping expedition.

  • Nearest town: Ann Arbor
  • Peak foliage: October

With a nickname like Tree Town, you can rest assured Ann Arbor offers some of the prettiest spots to view fall foliage in Michigan. East of downtown is Gallup Park, a 70-acre plot of protected land widely regarded as one of the most beautiful fall destinations in the city. The park has paved walking trails past colorful hardwoods and follows the idyllic Huron River. It’s a good spot for a family picnic or BBQ under the fiery canopy of leaves.

The scenic Huron River Drive between Ann Arbor and Dexter is another excellent place to catch fall colors. It’s a short 10-mile stretch along the tree-lined Huron River. More fall spots in Ann Arbor include the U of Mich Nichols Arboretum, the Furstenberg Natural Area, and Riverside Park in nearby Ypsilanti.

9. Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route

Photo: Thomas Dean / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Plan a full day of classic fall color and festivities.

  • Nearest town: Harbor Springs
  • Peak foliage: Late September to mid-October

The Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route, otherwise known as M-119 state road, is a 20-mile scenic route that begins near Cross Village and ends in Harbor Springs in northern Michigan. The drive takes about 50 minutes to complete and is a narrow and winding road lined with colorful trees. The route eventually opens up to tall bluffs above Lake Michigan.

After you’ve completed the drive, make time to explore the surrounding attractions. There’s a great beach on Lake Michigan at Petoskey State Park, and Pond Hill Farm (in Harbor Springs) hosts family-friendly fall weekend events filled with pumpkins, apples, and more (including pizza!)

Additional Read: 10 Secluded Cabin Rentals in Amazing Michigan

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