Move over, New England.
When it comes to great spots in the US to spot the yellows, oranges, and reds of fall foliage, the state of Michigan is really underrated. (Honestly, I think the Midwest is underrated as a whole when it comes to travel in the United States!)
I’ve visited Michigan in the fall a couple times now, and even planned a whole foliage-focused road trip around the northern part of the state last year. And I can say with a lot of confidence that Michigan is an excellent place to be in the fall.
With brilliant colors, multiple lakeshores, fall harvest activities, and even lots of wineries, Michigan should definitely go on your fall bucket list.
And if it’s already on there, here are my picks for the best places around the state to look for fall colors.
When to visit Michigan to see fall colors
I know, I can hear you squinting your eyes at this heading and saying, “You go in the fall, duh!”
And you would be mostly correct. But when you go in the fall is really important.
Michigan is a northern state – but Michigan is also a big state and borders multiple Great Lakes, where more temperate weather influences fall color. Leaves start changing at different times depending on where in the state you are.
In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (which is further north than some parts of Canada!), some spots will be hitting peak color at the end of September or early October, while spots along the lake shores change later. The further south you go, the later the color change hits.
Two sites I find useful in predicting fall color in Michigan are Fun in the UP for the Upper Peninsula (they have detailed fall color reports from years past), and the Fall Foliage Prediction Map from SmokyMountains.com. (Though of course take the latter with a grain of salt; things don't immediately turn brown on the date the map predicts!).
I'll share peak color timing suggestions for each location below, but it's always smart to check weather forecasts and fall color reports closer to when you plan to visit.
Best places to see fall color in Michigan
We’ll start up north and work our way south!
1. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Michigan's largest state park is located in the upper northwest corner of the Upper Peninsula (UP), and covers a whopping 60,000 acres of forest and wilderness. The Porcupine Mountains – or “Porkies,” as they're called colloquially – are an excellent place to visit if you love hiking, old-growth forests, and lake views. And, because of the hilly landscape here, there are some truly breathtaking views in the fall.
To see all those yellows and oranges, I recommend visiting Lake of the Clouds within the park. You can basically drive to this lake, or you can hike there on the Porcupine Mts-Escarpment Trail. (Other good hiking trails include the east and west river trails, which lead to some waterfalls.)
The Porkies are kind of out of the way, but are well worth a detour in the UP.
When to go: Because of how far north they are, fall colors in the Porkies peak before the rest of Michigan. You can expect the best colors in late September/early October each year (usually the last few days of September into the first few days of October). My photos were taken in the second week of October, and you can see the leaves are past-peak and some trees are already bare (though I think it's still pretty stunning!).
2. Keweenaw Peninsula
No far from the Porkies on the UP sits the Keweenaw Peninsula, also known as “Copper Country” thanks to the large number of former copper mines in the area. You'll see brilliant fall colors throughout this small peninsula, and the best part is that hardly any of them will be crowded, even during peak color.
The Keweenaw Peninsula isn't huge (you can drive from one end to the other in about an hour), but it sure does pack a punch.
The must-visit spots for me here include:
- Brockway Mountain – There's a scenic drive here called the Brockway Mountain Drive, which connects Copper Harbor to Eagle Harbor. Be sure to stop at the Brockway Mountain Lookout, too, for stunning views.
- Hungarian Falls – If you want to go on a short hike, make time for a quick waterfall detour to Hungarian Falls near Torch Lake. The waterfall is found on Dover Creek, and is a bit of a hidden gem on the peninsula; when we visited, we only saw two other people on the trail! There are a couple different falls here. To find the larger Upper Falls, turn right once you hit the trail next to the river.
- The Covered Road – This section of backroad (labeled on Google Maps as S-63) leads toward the town of Redridge. This narrow road is stunning in the fall, with the trees forming a yellow tunnel over some sections.
And that's not all! I visited the Keweenaw Peninsula during some pretty gross weather (there mayyyy have been some snowflakes on the day we left), so we didn't make it to all the fall color spots on my list. Other places to stop and see include:
- Lac La Belle
- Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horseshoe Harbor
- Views from the Copper Harbor Lighthouse
- Bond Falls
When to go: Fall colors on the Keweenaw Peninsula can be a bit weird because of warm air coming off Lake Superior. The trees at the Covered Road and closer to Houghton turn around early October, while further out on the peninsula at Copper Harbor, peak color is usually closer to mid-October.
3. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Run by the National Park Service, Pictured Rocks is most well-known for its 15 miles of sandstone cliffs towering over Lake Superior on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. But along with those painted cliffs, Pictured Rocks is also filled with waterfalls and more than 100 miles of hiking trails, all of which are stunning in the fall.
My favorite part of visiting Pictured Rocks in the fall was going on a sightseeing cruise with Pictured Rocks Cruises. After Labor Day, these cruises (run in conjunction with the National Park Service) are the only way to get out on the water to see the cliffs. Go in the afternoon for the best lighting, and be ready to see some excellent yellows and oranges contrasted with the blues of Lake Superior.
You can also do some hiking here to be surrounded by fall color. The most popular hike in the park is the hike to Chapel Rock, which is at least 6.2 miles roundtrip. Or, you can stack a few different shorter hikes into one day, like Miners Castle Overlook (a half mile of walking if you visit all the viewpoints), Miners Falls Trail (an easy 1.2 miles roundtrip with a nice waterfall at the end), and Munising Falls trail (a quarter mile on a paved trail).
When to go: Because Pictured Rocks is right on the lakeshore, peak color arrives a little later here than other spots around the UP. The second week of October is usually a good time to visit; expect to see lots of yellow leaves!
4. Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is Michigan's second-largest state park and is home to the most famous waterfall on the Upper Peninsula. (There are technically two waterfalls on the Tahquamenon River here, but it's the large Upper Falls that most people come to see.)
This spot makes for a quick yet beautiful stop on the UP. You can reach Upper Falls via a quick walk from the parking lot. There are several viewing platforms from which to view the waterfall, though note that a couple of them do require you to climb down/up 90+ steps.
Tahquamenon Falls is sometimes nicknamed “Root Beer Falls” because of the dark brown color of the water. The water is this color because of the tannins in the river that come from the nearby cedar, spruce and hemlock swamps – and it looks great when contrasted with some fall colors!
When to go: Color tends to peak here in early October. I visited when it was technically “past peak,” though there were still plenty of yellow and orange leaves to see around October 10.
5. Mackinac Island
Michigan's famous vacation island is most well-known for its lack of cars and historic hotels. But Mackinac Island can be a great place to spot fall colors, too!
Reachable by ferry from the mainland in either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, Mackinac Island sits a few miles off the coast in Lake Huron. The island's tourist season starts winding down just as fall colors start peaking, but this makes it a great time to visit as you may be able to find some end-of-season deals.
The best places to spot fall colors on Mackinac Island include at Fort Mackinac, in the gardens of The Grand hotel, and along the 8-mile-long bike “highway” that circles the island.
When to go: Early to mid-October are going to be the best times to visit to ensure you can see some colors AND visit before most of the hotels and restaurants close up for the season. (My photos were taken around October 10.)
6. Tunnel of Trees
Heading back down into Lower Michigan (the “Mitten” part of the state), we can't talk about fall colors without talking about the famous Tunnel of Trees.
The Tunnel of Trees is a 28-mile section of the M-119 between the towns of Cross Village and Harbor Springs. The narrow road follows the Lake Michigan shoreline, and is lined by trees that grow so close that they appear to form natural tunnels over the road in some places.
Not only is this route incredibly pretty with lots of yellows and oranges, but there are also some cute stops to make along the way, like the Good Hart General Store and the town of Harbor Springs.
When to go: Being right on the lake shore and a bit further south, colors usually peak here in mid-October. (My photos were taken mid-month, and there were still plenty of green leaves on some of the trees.)
7. Traverse City area
Traverse City is known as the “Cherry Capital of the World,” but it's also an excellent fall color destination. The city sits on Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan, and is filled with restaurants and breweries, along with being in close proximity to one of Michigan's best wine-making regions.
Along with enjoying fall colors in Traverse City itself, you can also head out to the Old Mission Peninsula, which is filled with fall colors, local wineries, and road-side farm stands selling pumpkins and apples in early October.
For great fall views and wine tastings, stop at Chateau Chantal on the Old Mission Peninsula.
When to go: Fall colors are best in this part of Michigan in the first half of October; some years peak color falls in the first week of October, while other years you might find peak closer to mid-month.
8. Leelanau Peninsula
Even though it's close to Traverse City, I'm going to list the Leelanau Peninsula separately here. This peninsula juts out into Lake Michigan to the north of Traverse City, and is known for its wineries. In fact, the Leelanau Peninsula is one of five American Viticultural Areas (AVA) in Michigan.
This peninsula is full of beautiful vistas and interesting places to visit, whether it's the sand dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the historic Fishtown area of Leland, or one of the 25 wineries along the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail.
Stop at Leelanau Wine Cellars for a cup of hot spiced “Witches Brew” wine, take in the views at Blustone Vineyards (my personal favorite winery view!), and cozy up around a firepit to enjoy a local brew at Hop Lot Brewing Co's wooded beer garden. The drive along the M-22 is also great in the fall.
When to go: Peak color on the Leelanau Peninsula usually falls in the first half of October. But you can enjoy all the wineries and views anytime during the season.
9. Grand Rapids area
You don't always hear a ton about fall color in the southern half of Michigan, but the state as a whole is more than 50% covered in forest! So you can see great fall colors no matter where you are in the state.
The Grand Rapids area is a great spot to go leaf-peeping. There's plenty of green space along the Grand River in town, and a little further out you can visit the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, some local apple orchards, and even a covered bridge or two (the Ada Covered Bridge is just a 15-minute drive from downtown).
Fall also brings the popular ArtPrize event to Grand Rapids. This city-wide international art competition fills the city with works of art for two weeks each autumn. ArtPrize often happens before the peak of fall colors, but it's worth keeping an eye out for anyway.
When to go: Fall color in this part of Michigan usually peaks around mid-October.
10. Ann Arbor area
Speaking of cool Michigan cities that are covered in trees, you also can't go wrong with Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan. This hip city is filled with local shops and restaurants (it does NOT feel like your average “college town”), and lots of green spaces like the Nichols Arboretum and parks along the Huron River where trees put on a great fall show.
You can drive or bike Huron River Drive for some of the best fall colors around Ann Arbor and into nearby towns like Dexter and Ypsilanti. There are also plenty of places to enjoy fall flavors here, whether it's local beer or apple cider. Hit up the Dexter Cider Mill for cider and donuts if you can; it's the oldest continuously operating cider mill in Michigan.
When to go: Full disclosure: I've only visited Ann Arbor in summer and winter so far, but I know it would make an excellent fall destination, too! Color peaks later this far south; usually in the second half of October.
Bonus fall color spots
Still want MORE fall colors? There are literally so many spots you could visit. If you have extra time (and maybe a drone to truly appreciate the views), here are a few other spots I've enjoyed around Michigan:
- Copper Peak ski jump (Upper Peninsula)
- Mission Hill near Whitefish Bay
- Indian Lake (Upper Peninsula, near Kitch-iti-kipi)
- Cut River Bridge
- Torch Lake (near Traverse City)
This list could go on and on, but hopefully this can help you start to seek out the best fall colors in Michigan!
Where would you love to see fall color in Michigan?