The midwestern state of Michigan, with shorelines on four of the five Great Lakes, is a fantastic place for a summer vacation. But it is just as great a place to visit in the fall when the weather cools and the leaves burst with spectacular autumn hues. Michigan has some of the best spots for fall foliage viewing in the nation, and many of its small towns celebrate autumn with fun seasonal festivals and activities. From the far north of the Upper Peninsula to the far south near the Indiana border, Michigan has communities that truly come alive in the fall.
Calumet is tucked away in the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on the Keweenaw Peninsula that juts out into Lake Superior. Once an important hub for the copper mining industry, Calumet now draws visitors with its wealth of historic architecture—nearly the entire town, including all of downtown, sits in a pair of National Historic Districts. In autumn, however, visitors come mainly for the spectacular fall foliage on the peninsula. Take a quick drive from Calumet northeast to Queen Anne’s Falls, or north to Black Creek Nature Sanctuary, to experience autumn at its most colorful and serene. Then head back to town to enjoy a pasty, the unofficial food of the Keweenaw Peninsula!
Like Calumet, Copper Harbor sits on the Keweenaw Peninsula, but its location right at the tip makes it the northernmost community in Michigan. From this vantage point, with the blue water of Lake Superior to one side, and the fall colors as a backdrop to the town, it is hard to picture a more beautiful place to be on an autumn afternoon. The nearby Fort Wilkins Historic State Park offers both a history lesson of the peninsula as well as fantastic leaf peeping, especially during the peak season in early October. For hilltop fall foliage views, drive down the peninsula a few miles to Mt. Bohemia Ski Resort, which opens its lifts in autumn.
Frankenmuth was founded by settlers from southern Germany in the 1840s and still looks and feels like a classic Bavarian community. The town is probably best known for Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, called the “World’s Largest Christmas Store,” as well as the town’s Christkindlmarkt (German holiday market) each December. That said, Frankenmuth also has a fantastic Oktoberfest each year in mid-to-late September, with classic food, drink, entertainment, and even a wiener dog race! This is the same time of year when the area’s fall foliage is typically at its peak, so autumn is the ideal season for strolling over the town’s covered wooden bridge (Zehnder's Holzbrücke) and admiring the scenery.
Though it has a population barely over 20,000, Marquette, which sits along Lake Superior, is the largest community in Michigan’s sparsely populated Upper Peninsula. The town gets a population boost each fall with the resumption of classes at Northern Michigan University, the UP’s largest college. Autumn also brings great fall colors, best seen from vantage points like the lakefront (but heavily forested) Presque Isle Park. The park, especially in autumn, is also a great vantage point for viewing the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) in the night sky over the lake. If you prefer to explore the paranormal, check out the grounds of Old Catholic Cemetery and Holy Cross Orphanage, both of which may be haunted.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is one of the best places in America to scope out fall foliage, so it makes sense to highlight yet another UP community, Munising. Like Marquette, located 45 miles to the west, Munising sits along Lake Superior and offers spectacular views of both the water and the surrounding forestland. Munising is the western gateway for hiking and boat cruise tours of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and the colorful sandstone cliffs look even more vibrant when topped by trees full of autumn hues. The Munising area also contains several picturesque waterfalls, including Munising Falls, located at the eastern edge of town. And remember to watch for the Northern Lights at night!
Southern Michigan is known for having numerous apple orchards, and early fall is the time of year for both apple harvests and apple festivals. The town of Niles has one of the region’s largest and most popular apple festivals, held in late September, with a parade, carnival rides, nightly entertainment, and lots of apple-themed foods. Niles called the “City of Four Flags” because of a fort that regularly changed hands in the 18th century, also offers excellent foliage viewing along the St. Joseph River. Additionally, if fall Saturdays make you think of college football, South Bend, Indiana, and the University of Notre Dame are less than 10 miles south of Niles.
The northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula offers the same great fall foliage as the Upper Peninsula but is less of a travel challenge. Petoskey, set along Little Traverse Bay, is a popular summer resort that adds fantastic leaf peeping to its famous lakefront sunsets in autumn. Petoskey State Park, where visitors come to seek out the fossilized coral called Petoskey Stone, is a great foliage viewing location. Petoskey also holds a unique fall festival each October and November—the Great Lakes Glass Pumpkin Patch. Skilled artisans create hundreds of hand-blown glass pumpkins for display and purchase. Go ahead and pair this festival with a visit to a traditional pumpkin patch near Petoskey.
From apple festivals to pumpkin patches to leaf peeping to Oktoberfest celebrations, Michigan, the Great Lakes State, offers a full range of classic fall activities. Small towns in both the Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula make the most of the comfortable weather and changing leaves, becoming even more welcoming than usual in autumn. So, instead of waiting to book a trip to a lakefront resort town in summer, head to Michigan this fall and see the state at its most beautiful!