Chasing Fall Colors in Northern Michigan

My home state of Michigan will always offer some of my favorite road trip destinations and sights. Each fall I look forward to driving north, alongside the coast of Lake Michigan, towards some of the most unique locations that the mitten state has to offer. I wasn’t sure if I’d have the chance to see Northern Michigan in the fall this year, but I’m so happy that things worked out so that I could. Even better, I got to take this road trip with my whole family, which made the adventure even that more special to me.


The first stop we made on our trip was to a coast town called Glen Arbor. Best known for Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Sand dunes, this town sits right near Lake Michigan and has a shoreline that will take your breath away. We were battling with rain upon our arrival to Glen Arbor so we decided not to hike up the sand dunes like we normally would have, but it didn’t stop me from dodging raindrops to run down to the beach and snap a few photos of the churning lake water and sprawling coastline.

When we headed into the town of Glen Arbor, a little log cabin on a side street downtown caught my eye. With the name “Cottage Book Shop” carved into the wooden sign, I knew it was a place that required visiting. As soon as I entered the book shop, I was welcomed by the coziness of being in an actual log cabin, only surrounded by books. I struck up conversation with the woman who worked there, and she became excited to tell me about the history of the little log cabin, even gifting me an old newspaper with an article that was written about the place. Constructed in the 1920’s as a family beach cabin, the structure originally sat on the waterfront of Lake Michigan. After being sold and bought by different families over the years, it was finally bought by Glen Arbor bookstore owners in the late 1990s. In the following year, the incredible action of picking up and moving the cabin a mile away took place, which brought it to its current location today. From looking at the newspaper photos, witnessing the transport of the beautiful log cabin would have been something unique to see. What I loved most about the cabin book shop was its specially selected books that all felt like they need to be read once they’d been picked up. With a huge selection of Michigan based authors, local art, and maps, I found that everything in the shop was curated for the perfect northern Michigan experience.


At our next location, we took a step back into time as we walked around the historic Fishtown in Leland, where the name perfectly suits its maritime authenticity. While strolling old docks and wandering between weathered shacks, we passed anchored fishing vessels and antique reminders of the importance this Michigan fishery once held. I myself even felt as though I should be walking around with a fishing pole in hand. In the center of the fishing village runs the Leland River, which passes over a dam and then pours out into Lake Michigan; a popular fishing spot for anglers today.

From talking to a few of the shop owners, I came to learn more about the history of the area dating back to Native Americans, who were the first to live and fish at the site. With the arrival of European settlers in the 1850s, the area was created into what it still remains as today. What I found most interesting was that Fishtown is one of the last remaining commercial fishing villages in Michigan, and is committed to sustainable fishing methods and preservation. Although a few things have changed over the years, and the fishing shacks have now become home to small local businesses, the magic of Fishtown still remains.


Do you ever drive by a place so interesting looking that you have to turn around just to check it out? That was definitely the case with the Hop Lot Brewing Company, and I’m sure glad we did. When we arrived, we were instantly greeted by a group of people outside sitting around a bonfire who welcomed us to come and sit with them. As we sipped our pumpkin beers and scotch ales, the strangers around us became friends, and warmth of the camaraderie and bonfires kept us warm in the cool autumn evening. It is truly amazing who you can meet when you strike up conversations with people, and we even came to find out that Johnny Depp had sat at the same bonfire at the brewery just a week before us. (Forever crying that I missed drinking beers around a fire with Johnny Depp by one weekend)

The sense of community that the brewery offered is what made me fall in love with it, and it’s delicious beer and fun atmosphere will keep it on my list of favorites for a while. Setting on the edge of a forest, the lot is filled with hanging vines, fire pits, communal tables, stringed lights, yard games, and heat lamps for the cool nights. I highly suggest visiting Hop Lot Brewing Company if you’re in the Traverse City area, and would also suggest stopping at places that peak your interest, because you never know what treasures you may find!


On the second day of our road trip, I woke up earlier than my family to go into town to seek out a coffee shop to edit some photos at. I came across The Warehouse Market, which was a building with little market spaces and a coffee shop called BLK MRKT Coffee. This refreshing space had an amazing coffee and bakery selection and I admired the community of people that cycled through the place as the morning progressed.

After I finished my coffee, I explored the rest of the warehouse where I fell in love with its unique storefronts. My favorite space was in the warehouse was called Darling Botanical Co. which perfectly summarized the shop entirely. The entire store was filled with lush foliage, beautiful hanging glass chandeliers, crystals, books, local art and more! I felt like I could have packed my bags and moved into the shop to live forever.  My favorite part was the do-it-yourself terrarium bar, where you could plant your own succulent, air plant, cactus, or flower in a really unique container and customize it with shells, stones, little garden gnomes or whatever you pleased. I think my new favorite bar might be one of the terrarium kind.


Driving along Lake Michigan on the peninsula of Old Mission Point, we entered apple, cherry, and wine country, where the landscape for miles consisted of rolling fields of orchards and vineyards. The autumn tree colors were especially beautiful here in contrast to the backdrop of the Grand Traverse Bay, and the little roadside produce markets and pumpkin patches are what really gave the area an authentic fall feeling. We took the opportunity to drive to the most northern part of the peninsula, where we explored an old lighthouse and beachfront that gave way to some beautiful Lake Michigan views. We were running short on time so we didn’t get the chance to explore any of the wineries, but if you’re looking for wine tastings & tours, this would be the ideal region.



For us, the Tunnel of Trees route is what brought up us to Northern Michigan during this time of year in the first place. The scenic M-119 route offers some of the best chances to see the changing colors along a drive that is quite literally tunneled by trees.

For miles, this stretch of highway runs through a lush canopy of autumn leaf colors, and alongside the beautiful bluffs overlooking a vast Lake Michigan. The winding roads give this route a slow meandering feeling, and there is even a bend called Devil’s Elbow that is supposedly haunted by spirits of Native Americans at night. Charming little stops along the drive offer chances to visit old general stores, purchase homemade baked goods, stop at cafes & restaurants, and all find kinds of travel keepsakes to take home. This road is one of my favorite scenic drives in Michigan, and for good reason.

I’m so happy to have gotten the chance to experience all the greatness of Northern Michigan this fall. This region of the state always offers so many historical little towns, breathtaking sights, and amazing memories to be made. The changing leaves only add to the magic that Northern Michigan gifts to its visitors. For me, this area will always be a must-see travel spot in the fall time, and I think everyone should add it to their bucket lists.

Watch the road trip video below!