Best Michigan Fall Color Drives in Northern Michigan and the UP
The best fall color drives in Michigan can be found just about everywhere this season, from the lower peninsula to the far reaches of the upper peninsula.
There are some scenic drives though, where the fall color is just breathtaking, whether it’s a scenic byway like M-22 in northern Michigan, Brockway Mountain drive in Copper Harbor, or Petoskey Michigan on the sparkling shores of Lake Michigan.
A scenic drive or fall getaway to see the changing colors seems to be on everyone’s Michigan fall bucket list this year, so we put together a list of the 9 of the best scenic fall color drives in northern Michigan and the U.P.
Read on to start making your Michigan travel plans to see the beautiful fall foliage in Michigan. Scroll to the bottom for an interactive map of these amazing scenic fall color drives in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.
Best Michigan Fall Color Drives: Find the Best Times to Plan Your Visit
Fall in Michigan is simply spectacular: the changing color of the fall foliage is pure Michigan natural beauty at its best. Be sure and use the fall color map, keep in mind that these dates are predictions, based on weather conditions. No matter, these fall color tours are sure to amaze and delight.
Best Scenic Fall Color Drives in the Upper Peninsula
M-2 from Brevort to Naubinway
The northern shore of Lake Michigan is seriously underrated: you’ll find some beautiful, pristine beaches here, perfect for swimming, in the summer. The autumn though, is when the area really comes alive. You’ll want to start your Michigan fall tour here. You can access the M-2 highway simply by crossing the Mackinac Bridge and heading west.
The whole drive is pretty in the fall, but just after Brevort, you’ll come to the Cut River Bridge, a cantilevered steel bridge that spans the Cut River Valley. This is one of the prettiest scenic overlooks in Michigan you want to pull over and take a few pictures. continue on through toward Naubinway. Just passed the town of Epoufette, you’ll find a scenic overlook with some of the most stunning fall foliage in Michigan.
PRO-TIP: Tahquamenon Falls is just about an hour north of Brevort, and the fall colors are beautiful here, too.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore H-58 Hurricane River Campground to Twelvemile Beach
One of two national lakeshores in Michigan, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the best fall color drives in the Upper Peninsula. The 42-mile national lakeshore is located along the southern shore of Lake Superior. It is home to dramatic, painted sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, sand dunes, forests, and more.
You can pick up H-58 in Grand Marais and follow it west as it meanders through the national lakeshore.
Once you reach the Hurricane River Campground, you’re in for one of my favorite color drives in Michigan. Be sure to stop at the Au Sable Lighthouse, one of the many picturesque Lake Superior lighthouses, and the Lake Superior Overlook.
You’ll want to be sure and pack some hiking shoes, because you’ll find a hiking trail or two that you’ll find irresistible.
Black River National Forest Scenic Byway
Located in the Western Upper Peninsula, this pure Michigan byway is one of the most peacefully beautiful fall color drives in Michigan. Whether it’s time for peak colors or at the beginning or end of the fall colors change, the Black River National Forest Scenic Byway never disappoints.
Halfway through the ride, you’ll come to Copper Peak, a 300-foot former ski jump. It’s one of the highest peaks in Michigan. The surrounding observation deck offers breathtaking views of Michigan in the fall; this is Michigan color at its best. You’re just southwest of the Porcupine Mountains here, you might want to drive up and take a peek at the Lake of the Clouds.
Brockway Mountain Drive
Located way up at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Copper Harbor, Brockway Mountain Drive is one of the most celebrated color drives in the Upper Peninsula. The 9.5-mile drive will take you along the highest above-sea level drive between the Rocky Mountain and the Allegheny Mountain ranges, and offers stunning views of Lake Superior and the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Scenic Fall Color Drives in Northern Michigan
M-119 Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route
M-119’s Tunnel of Trees is one of Michigan’s iconic fall color drives. You’ll find almost 40 miles of highway that hugs the coast of Lake Michigan as it rolls along under a canopy of colorful fall foliage. You can pick it up just north of Petoskey in Harbor Springs, and follow it north to Cross Village.
The fun here, though, is in the stops along the way. Don’t miss Pond Hill Farm, one of my favorite apple cider mills/pumpkin farms. A dinner at Legs Inn, a much-loved Polish restaurant with some of the best smoked Kielbasa in Michigan, is a must, too. The Good Hart General Store is well worth a stop, you’ll find an eclectic mix of gifts and baked goods – be sure and get some chocolate shop cookies for the ride.
Old Mission Peninsula
Located in Traverse City, Old Mission Peninsula juts out into Grand Traverse Bay, separating it into West Bay and East Bay. That means you’re surrounded by water and beautiful fall colors as you make your way up18 miels to the tip the peninsula.
This is a fascinating place with so much to do, especially in the fall. You’ll find some of the best wineries in Michigan located here, and you can do a wine tour, wine tastings or simply pull over to marvel at the gorgeous vineyards with a backdrop of Grand Traverse Bay.
You can make it a day trip or even spend a weekend, you’ll find cozy places to stay and luxurious rooms at some of the wineries as well. If you take the peninsula all the way north to the tip of the peninsula, you’ll come to the Old Mission Lighthouse. Be sure and get out and explore the grounds. Have your camera ready, it’s a very picturesque spot.
M-22 Scenic Highway
You can travel all 125 miles of the M-22 scenic byway Manistee and follow it north around the Leelanau Peninsula as it hugs the coast of Lake Michigan. This takes you through some of the prettiest lands in Michigan, including national forests and the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. It’s one of Michigan’s most popular color drives, and we’ve broken it down into four smaller color tours that offer stunning fall colors in Michigan.
From Manistee to Frankfort
Your journey begins in the heart of charming Manistee, where you’ll find a charming downtown shopping area with art galleries, an old-fashioned theater, and fun boutiques. Don’t miss Lighthouse Park or Magoon Creek Park, you’ll pass them both as you head north.
Pull over to climb the stairs at Inspiration Point in Arcadia, where you’ll find sweeping vistas of Lake Michigan bluffs.
When you get to Frankfort, explore the town and try some craft beer at Stormcloud Brewery, one of Michigan’s most popular craft breweries. Continue on to Point Betsie. You’ll find one of the most iconic lighthouses in Michigan here. Wear a jacket; it’s windy here and the waves are usually rough…you’ll never want to leave.
Empire to Glen Arbor
Now you’re in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, one of the most beautiful areas in the entire country. Plan to spend at least a couple of days exploring this amazing area.
Here’s a tip: North Bar Lake in the Empire is one of Michigan’s best-kept secrets.
Pick up Highway 109 off of M22, just north of Empire. Follow it to Shauger Hill Rd, and it’ll take you to the North Bar Lake parking lot. Follow the sandy trail into the dunes straight to Lake Michigan. Here, you’ll come into pristine North Bar Lake, a gentle, inland lake with just a small spit of sand separating it from Lake Michigan.
It’s simply gorgeous any time of the year but in the fall, it is just heavenly. Be sure and stop by Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor for one of the best cheeseburgers you’ll ever eat.
This 7.5-mile drive in the middle of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore includes some of the most stunning scenery in the entire lakeshore. The 12 stops along the drive include the iconic Dune Overlook and the Glen Lake overlook, which includes views of Alligator Hill.
Follow M-22 north of Glen Arbor as it hugs the coast of the Leelanau Peninsula. Pass through Leland, aka “Fishtown,” and visit the cute shops and historic fishing shanties, and pop into the Verterra Winery storefront for a tasting before you leave.
Further north, you’ll discover charming Northport and the Grand Traverse lighthouse before heading south into Suttons Bay, a perfect place to take in Michigan’s fall color along West Bay. Save your appetite for a meal at Martha’s Leelanau Table, some of the best French country food you’ll have this side of Paris.
M-23 Heritage Route
This underrated Pure Michigan byway starts in Standish and runs for 200 miles north along the Lake Huron coastline to Mackinaw City.
It’s a beautiful drive, with cute towns like Tawas City and East Tawas to explore while surrounded by the beauty of fall in Michigan. Stop by the Village Chocolatier in East Tawas for some delicious homemade chocolates and then head over to Tawas Point State Park for a glimpse of the Tawas Point Lighthouse.
You’ll swear you were in Cape Cod as you travel on this pretty spit of land that juts into Lake Huron.
Oscoda has one of the prettiest beachfront parks in Michigan. Pull into the Oscoda City Beach and walk along the pier for some beautiful shots of the coastline accented by the changing autumn colors. Stop by the Red Fork in Greenbush for some hand-tossed pizza and then continue to Harrisville, where you can grab some pretty views at the Harrisville State Harbor.
Alpena, Ossineke, and Rogers City
Just before you come into Ossineke, US-23 opens up to amazing panoramic vistas of the rolling hills and forests. It’s quite breathtaking, be sure to have your camera ready. Take some time to explore Alpena, it’s a fun town with lots of opportunities for outdoor activities in the fall. Follow US23 north toward Rogers City and you’ll be amazed at the stunning aqua color of Grand Lake near Presque Isle, one of the biggest inland lakes in Michigan.
Cheboygan is a perfect vacation destination any time of the year but in the fall it’s particularly pretty. With Lake Huron and many other inland lakes including Mullett Lake and Black Lake in the area, there are lots of opportunities to catch the fall colors against the shimmering blue water. Spend some time exploring downtown Cheboygan, it’s a charming town.
Mackinac City is a great place to end your color tour, and there are lots of hotels in the area from which to choose. Use our guide to the best places to stay in Mackinaw City to help find a hotel to rest up before starting out in search of more Michigan fall colors.
River Road Scenic Byway
The 22-mile-long River Road Scenic Byway starts in Oscoda and travels west into the Huron Manistee National Forest along the banks of the mighty AuSable River to Loud Dam Pond. This is both a majestic and historic part of Michigan; the logging industry which prospered in this area helped build our nation.
The story of this is told at the Lumberman’s Monument, which celebrates and pays homage to the lumber industry in Michigan. Lumberman’s Monument is one of many scenic spots along the AuSable worth getting out and exploring.
The foliage along the banks of the river is just amazing, with lots of wide-open vistas to take it all in. You’ll also want to stop at Cooke Dam Pond and Foote Pond. Stop at Desi’s for some amazing tacos.