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Fall color tour routes make a brilliant road trip

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published September 27, 2016


METRO DETROIT — Drivers who seek vivid views may take a leaf from the Pure Michigan campaign and its ideas for fall color tours. 

Maia Turek, statewide recreation programmer at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, called “leaf peeping” very popular in the state, mainly because it has so many forested areas. According to Pure Michigan’s website, Michigan has an estimated 19 million acres of woods. 

Turek said peak leaf season — when the colors tend to hit the golds, oranges and reds — starts in the Upper Peninsula and then ebbs downward throughout the state in October. 

“October is going to be a great month to see that change,” she said. “You’re going to see the most vibrant display, the most varied display, right before (the trees) give up for the season.”

The Pure Michigan site also lists 27 touring routes that drivers may take for their leaf-viewing pleasure. For instance, a local road trip consisting of a 150-mile loop can take people through the areas of Bloomfield Hills, Brighton and Flint. Another example of a nearby tour is a route that passes through Detroit, Algonac, Lake Orion and Port Huron.

Sarah Nicholls — a Michigan State University associate professor from the departments of community sustainability and
geography, environment and spatial sciences —also chairs the Ingham County Parks and Recreation Commission.

She pointed out that, along with seeing leaves, autumn offers a chance for drivers to visit places where they can eat fall foods, or visit corn mazes or farm shops. 

“The improving economy and relatively low gas prices are certainly a factor in the road trip’s favor, but other advantages are that driving allows us to chart our own course, and at our own pace, stopping when and where we want and without necessarily having to have any predetermined route or deadline in place,” she said.

“In addition to that spontaneity and flexibility, road trips allow the entire trip, the journey itself, to become the destination, so the experience is constant, with every mile you drive.”

Nicholls said one of the best destinations to do leaf peeping is the Tunnel of Trees, a winding stretch of M-119 from Harbor Springs to Cross Village. Michigan County Highway H-58 is another route, which takes people to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore from Munising to Grand Marais, she said.

Nicholls said her students’ favorite sites for leaf viewing include the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park — or more locally, Pontiac Trail from South Lyon to Ann Arbor.

“I’m headed to Marquette tomorrow and am definitely hoping to see some colors up there,” Nicholls added.

Find out more about Pure Michigan’s fall campaign by visiting For color tour routes, visit