Northern Michigan’s fall foliage is legendary, and Leelanau county might be the crowning jewel. While most visitors experience the soft summer hues of Caribbean blue waters, sparkling beige sands, and lush green forests, when summer ends and temps drop Autumn is ready to move in.
Across the county, the foliage covering the rolling sandy landscape is slowly painted soft hues of gold, scarlet, purple, and orange, eventually giving way to an explosive peak of magical scenic transformation in mid-October.
This year, peak color in Leelanau County will begin on October 7 but dramatically improve the closer we get to October 14. Blazing reds, vibrant yellows, and stunning oranges will burst onto the scene, lighting up the world around us.
If you’re planning a fall color tour in Leelanau County, we’d humbly suggest you take a look at some of our top spots.
Here are some of our favorite places to experience Autumn at its best.
1. Get Lost
Hop in the car, put that map away, and get lost! Take every Leelanau backroad that crosses your path. Adventure. Explore. Experience the freedom and joy of discovering the unknown. Smiles and memories are sure to follow . And let’s be honest, at the end of the day if you’re truly lost, ask a local or pull out that trusty phone and get back in no time.
Getting There: Just drive.
2. Hike Alligator Hill
This Autumn hike was perhaps the greatest of them all — until the epic storm of 2014. Now, the trees are fewer and far between and the forest seems a little less embracing. However, if you hike to the top of Alligator Hill you will still be rewarded with wonderful fall colors, clear blue waters, and the Manitou Islands from the lookout (see below).
Getting There: Drive north on M22 towards Glen Arbor. Before you reach Glen Arbor, turn left onto S Forest Haven Drive. Park in the first roundabout. The trailhead is located on the west side of the roundabout.
3. Empire Bluff Trail Lookout
Perhaps the most spectacular and stunning trail in all of northern Michigan, the Empire Bluff Trail (1.5 miles roundtrip) easily provides some of the most unique scenic views anywhere. And in the fall, the color rush of the beech-maple forest is hard to comprehend.
Getting There: Hop on M-22 South out of Empire. Take a Right onto Wilco Road. At the first intersection, the parking lot and trailhead will be on your left.
4. Port Oneida
If you’re driving along M-22 (voted the Best Scenic Autumn Drive in the nation by USA Today) take a detour when you reach Port Oneida. There are plenty of backroads, trails and viewpoints to experience fall Up North. If you’re looking for a beautiful beachside photo, drop by the beach access point at the north end of South Sunset Shores Drive.
Getting There: Located north of Glen Arbor on M-22. You can’t miss it.
Did you know that the orchards around Leelanau county add to all the fall beauty? So not only do they provide some of the best fruits, but they showcase a rainbow of colors if you visit at the right time.
Getting There: Almost every road in Leelanau county has views of these beautiful trees.
6. Find A Lake
Many lakes dot the northern Michigan landscape. Find your own. We are sure they’ll be as blue as the sky, and surrounded by some pretty spectacular sights. Grab a blanket, fill a thermos of cocoa, and pack a lunch — this is the way to enjoy a sunny fall afternoon.
Getting There: Find your way. You can do it!
7. Miller Hill Lookout
One of the highest points around, Miller Hill rewards an amazing hike with even greater views. The hike begins by winding through a magical forest and ends with views of multiple lakes and the Crystal River.