The colors of Michigan’s fall foliage are among the most vivid in the country. The leaves of the hardwood trees in the state’s forests turn from deep green to shades of yellow, orange, and red.
Michigan is made up of two regions known as the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The Lower Peninsula is often referred to as the “mitten” because of its likeness to the left hand side of the cozy winter hand covering we all know and love. No one seems to agree on what the Upper Peninsula resembles, but it boasts some of the most breathtaking natural beauty, no matter what season you visit.
Michigan fall foliage season usually begins in the Upper Peninsula reaching peak color around the last week of September and moves southward through the Lower Peninsula, lasting into late October.
Here are 11 places to visit to enjoy some of the best fall colors in Michigan.
Explore more of the state! Here are our favorite things to do in Michigan with kids.
Michigan Fall Foliage on the Upper Peninsula
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Located on the shores of Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is known for its dramatic cliffs, turquoise waters, and miles of sandy beaches. Visitors can enjoy a variety of hiking trails, kayaking, and swimming.
While the area offers great hikes, one of the best ways to view “The Rocks” is by water. There are a host of boat tours available offering an up close and personal view of 200 foot cliffs beautifully-stained by natural minerals. The tours last through most of October, running through the entire fall foliage season.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
The Porcupine Mountains is the largest state park in Michigan, known for its rugged landscape and abundant wildlife. It borders Lake Michigan, not far from the far northern border with Wisconsin. The maple and oak trees here put on a spectacular show, turning the hills and valleys a brilliant crimson, amber, and rust.
Lake of the Clouds is the most popular and photographed location in the park. This stunning lake is surrounded by dense deciduous forest that transitions into a riot of color in the autumn.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is home to one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. This state park is 50,000 acres of mostly undeveloped forest, but there are plenty of ways to to easily reach both the Upper and Lower Falls.
Visitors can enjoy a variety of trails and overlooks that provide stunning views of the river and the falls. There is a paved, 0.4-mile pathway from the parking lot to the viewing area for the Upper Falls which plunge 50 feet. A four-mile trail follows the Tahquamenon River to the Lower Falls which a set of five smaller falls cascading around a small island.
Isle Royale National Park
The largest island in Lake Superior, Isle Royale is 45 miles long and 9 miles wide. This stunning national park is located in the middle of the lake and is a hidden gem as it only receives approximately 26,000 visitors each year.
The main reason Isle Royale National Park is the least visited national park in the contiguous US states is due to its short season and limited transport option. The island is accessible only from mid-April to the end of October. And you have to hire a boat service or seaplane to get you there.
However, for those adventurous few, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy unspoiled camping, kayaking, canoeing and hiking activities to last you for days. There is one lodge on the island for those who camping isn’t their thing.
For those of you looking for more modern comforts than Isle Royale has to offer, Mackinac Island is the place for you. Situated in Lake Huron, this place is a popular destination known for its Victorian architecture. The town ordinances forbid the use of motorized vehicles so horse drawn carriages, bicycling or on foot are the primary modes of transportation.
Read our full guide to visiting Mackinac Island on a family vacation.
The Island possesses a rich history which can be experienced first-hand by visiting Fort Mackinac. Established during the American Revolution, the British laid claim to the Fort during the War of 1812. Explore this historic treasure as well as many sites like Arch Rock, the Butterfly House, and Sugar Loaf.
If you are looking to get active while enjoying the Michigan fall foliage, enjoy the eight-mile walk around the island which offers beautiful views of Lake Huron and the Mackinac forest.
Sault Ste. Marie
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan is the second largest city on the Upper Penninsula and sits just across the St. Mary River from Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, its larger twin city with twice the population.
Whether you are a maritime novice or expert on Great Lakes freighting, Sault Ste. Marie’s Soo Locks is well worth the visit. The Locks were built in the 1800s to support commerce by connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron. Thousands of vessels more than 1,000 feet long travel through here every year offering an amazing example of engineering ingenuity.
However, the Locks isn’t the only thing to enjoy in Sault Ste. Marie. There are plenty of areas to enjoy fall foliage such as the Hiawatha Highlands, Gros Cap Bluffs, and Pancake Bay Lookout.
If you have a couple days, consider taking in the sights on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train in nearby Ontario. It’s a 10-hour day tour with boxed lunch service and 90 minute stop in Agawa Canyon to see the colors by foot.
Michigan Fall Foliage on the Lower Peninsula
Traverse City is not only known for a great place for fall color touring, but also its more than 40 wineries in the surrounding area. That’s why it’s also called the Traverse Wine Coast. But no worries…the area is also well regarded for its apple cider (as is the entire state of Michigan) so there will be plenty of beverages for your little tikes to enjoy as well!
Traverse City is a popular, year-round tourist destination so there are plenty of fun shopping, dining and cultural activities. And a relatively short drive will take you to a host of scenic spots along the lakeshore.
Take a road trip to the Old Mission Peninsula to experience the City’s East and West Bays. Make sure to visit the Mission Point Lighthouse on the way, one of three iconic lighthouses in the area.
For those that like a little fright in their life, stop the “haunted” Traverse City State Hospital. They offer a 90 minute twilight walking tour…but not for the faint of heart.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
About 25 miles west of Traverse City, is the majestic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It is a natural wonder giving amazing views of the sweeping lakeshore coastline atop enormous sand dunes.
Take the paved Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail or marked hiking trails guiding through dirt and sand. These trails are lined with changing trees which really pop against the color of the sand and Lake Michigan. If you want a nice view from above, check out the 2.7-mile Pyramid Point Loop trail.
If you are looking for a scenic drive in the area, check out Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. The 7.4-mile loop road winds there a thick forest teeming with beech trees.
The Grand Rapids Metropolitan Area encompasses a metroplex where the largest city of Grand Rapids is at the center with the lakeshore towns of Muskegon to the northwest and Holland to the southwest.
Check out the Depot to Depot Fall Color Tour where you can venture by bike or car from the Muskegon South Pierhead Light to the White River Light station. If you are looking for more scary, weekend fun in October, visit Muskegon’s Haunted Hall.
The city of Grand Rapids provides plenty to see with a beautiful river traversing through its main city. Once a major logging town in the late 1800s, officials have preserved many of its historic homes and landscapes making the city come alive in the fall with vibrant colors.
The Bunker Interpretive Center is located in the Calvin Ecosystem Preserve & Native Gardens is home to the Blue Bayou, a lovely place to enjoy a riot of fall color. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is another great place to enjoy autumn. It is a 158-acre botanical garden, art museum, and outdoor sculpture park.
The city of Holland was settled by Dutch Calvinist separatists in the mid-1800s to escape persecution. This explains the many references you’ll find to Dutch heritage throughout the area from Nelis’ Dutch Village to Windmill Island.
The city is well-known as a spring destination thanks to its gorgeous rows of tulips, but it still has plenty to offer in the fall.
Kayaking around the Windmill on Lake Macatawa is an unforgettable outdoor adventure and service runs through October. Windmill Island Gardens on the island is another wonderful place to explore.
Derrell Jackson is an avid traveler who loves to explore the world with his wife and four children. He has a passion for sharing family travel tips and inspiration from their adventures throughout the US, Europe, and Africa. You can find him and plenty of travel inspiration at asanteex.com.