Spectacular Fall Foliage on the Leelanau Peninsula
The weather is cooling off and the days are starting to get shorter. Autumn is here! Break out your cozy sweaters, grab a cup of hot cocoa, and get ready for the most beautiful time of year. Autumnal oranges, yellows, and reds explode all across the state of Michigan, however the Leelanau Peninsula is arguably the prettiest place to see fall foliage. In fact, the readers of USA Today voted the M22 Color Tour as the best fall scenic drive, skirting Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay through Michigan’s Benzie and Leelanau counties. While you’ll experience gorgeous colors just by exploring the area yourself, our local guides have graciously shared the spots in town that are simply too good to miss.
Thankfully, Mother Nature makes it easy to catch a glimpse of her fall beauty. One of the best ways to see fall foliage is also the simplest – get in the car and go! Follow our suggestions below, or just start driving around Leelanau County in the autumn. Soak in the rich history of quaint towns, weathered barns, and miles of the rustic countryside all painted golden with the colors of fall.
When thinking about where to see fall color, M22 automatically comes to mind. This gorgeous scenic byway circles the Leelanau Peninsula and brings travelers along the shores of Lake Michigan and West Traverse Bay. While the road stretches more than 100 miles all the way from Traverse City north to Northport and then turns south all the way to Manistee, you can drive even a short stretch of road to appreciate stunning fall scenery.
If you want a relaxed countryside drive through the heart of the peninsula, hop on Highway 72 from Traverse City to Empire. Even though this road is the main route between Traverse City and the Sleeping Bear Dunes, the road is filled with quaint farmhouses and large swaths of colorful trees. Stop at Rove Estate Vineyard & Tasting Room along the way to experience breathtaking views of the area, taste test a few award-winning wines, and grab a bite to eat.
If you plan to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, add Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive to your list. Grab a free guide at the Visitor Center or the entrance to learn more about the route. Drive along the 7.4-mile loop through scenic autumnal forests and along beautiful sand dunes. Stop along the way at the splendid Lake Michigan Overlook to soak in the sand, lake views, and take a break from the car.
If you need a pick-me-up along the way on M22 before you head south to Manistee or east to Traverse City, stop at Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate in Empire for a hot chocolate or tasty chocolate chip cookie! Then, if you intend to turn on M72 to Traverse City, carve out some time to explore Jacob’s Farm along M72 just before you descend down the hill to Grand Traverse Bay and the city. Spend the day on the 40-acre farm weaving through the corn maze, picking fruit in the orchards and more!
Another great way to experience true fall in Leelanau County is to go on a scenic hike. If you are able, there is something so special about getting out and admiring the colorful woods on foot. Soak in the sounds of nature as you hike the trails, from the chirping of native birds to the crunch of fall leaves underfoot. Pick one or tackle all three of these trails that Leelanau locals love.
Nestled not far north of Glen Arbor, Pyramid Point is a 2.8-mile loop with views to spare. The trail’s moderate ascent with 500-foot elevation gain will take you to a scenic overlook. Appreciate the contrast between the deep blues of Lake Michigan and the warm colors on the trees along the trail.
This short and easy 1.5-mile hike near Empire is a favorite for locals and visitors alike. The 1.5-mile trail takes hikes through a beautiful beech-maple forest to a high coastal bluff. The scenic lookout offers a lovely view of Lake Michigan, the quaint town of Empire and the inland South Bar Lake.
Houdek Dunes Loop is a well-kept secret on the peninsula. Hikers love the serene peace of walking along a trail without the crowds that are often present in the area. Situated halfway between Leland and Northport, this trail provides a special path through golden forests and past a wide variety of local species.
One of our favorite ways to admire fall foliage is to delight in a meal with a view. There are plenty of delicious restaurants, wineries and breweries along the Leelanau Peninsula that let you soak in the colors of the season. Simply sit back and enjoy the sights from these wonderful spots.
Autumn is a perfect season for wine lovers. There’s almost nothing better than sampling delicious wines from the annual harvest while admiring the changing leaves, especially in Leelanau County. Savor the flavors of the area with a charcuterie board to round out the experience with a tasty bite. Read our Wine Lover’s Guide to Our Favorite Leelanau Peninsula Wineries to pick the perfect winery for your fall outing.
A fall color tour simply isn’t complete without a delicious autumn-inspired dinner. La Bécasse is a French country restaurant on Glen Lake that is one of the finest in the entire state. French food icon Chef Guillaume creates a delicious menu with local seasonal ingredients.
A stay at Glen Arbor Bed & Breakfast and Cottages comes with a tasty gourmet breakfast each morning. Admire views of fall color first thing in the morning as you sip a cup of coffee or tea. These charming accommodations are also centrally located in the heart of Glen Arbor. You’ll easily explore all of your favorite autumn attractions.
In the spring, Glen Arbor B&B is adorned with flowers, during the summer, American flags and sunny lawns, but autumn has to be a favorite for its fall color. Come experience the legendary fall color of the Leelanau Peninsula. Glen Arbor Bed & Breakfast is the perfect home base for your explorations. With French country rooms, gourmet breakfast, and access to the beauty of the peninsula, you’ll never want to leave!