The Ultimate Fall Michigan Road Trip!
Fall is by far the BEST Time of year to take a road trip in Michigan! The apples are ripe at the orchards, the weather is cool and comfortable, and the leaves on the trees are starting to burst with vibrant color. It is truly a sight to behold, and there’s so much to do on your adventure! (Please note that this post is NOT sponsored by any of the places mentioned here. I just really enjoyed them and wanted to share my experience!) Welcome to Part 1 of my two part blog post on my epic Michigan fall road trip itinerary. I have a full video tour of the trip here, with maps!:
Apple Picking Pleasures in Fennville!
We start our tour in Fennville, on the west coast of the mainland. Or as Michiganders refer to it, the “mitten.” Crane’s Orchards has a wide variety of apple types, and you can pick-your-own. There’s no comparison between fresh-picked apples on the orchard and supermarket apples! I was blown away by the difference when I tried these! Fresh-from-the-tree apples are sweeter, jucier, and tastier. And besides that, it’s fun to pick your own! You know you’re getting the best quality ones. Also, you can get a mixture of only your favorite types! So stock up for snacks, and baking!
The staff give you a sack to fill at the entrance. You pick whatever combinations of apples you want, in any quantity. You’re free to roam the grounds on your own. Or you can hitch a ride on a cart or tractor to take you to your apple destination. When you’re done, you place the bag on a scale and pay based on weight. These apples cost even less than in the supermarket, and are far better! Fresh pumpkins and other items are available too. Once you’re done, it’s time for a delectable lunch of local specialties, washed-down by some fresh apple cider. And for dessert, you can partake in a flight of pies, or fresh, warm cider donuts! Most orchards also have a corn maze and hay rides too! The website for Crane’s is at Crane Orchards. A trip to an apple orchard is a bushel of fun!
Grand Haven South Pierhead Lighthouse
Before you leave Grand Haven, make sure you make a detour to visit the Grand Haven South Pierhead Inner Lighthouse. This charming beacon was constructed in 1881, and is protected under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. Michigan is a state replete with interesting and historic lighthouses, and this is one of my favorites. Decked-out in fiery-bright red, it’s ready for fall! If you enjoy this one, you may want to plan an all-lighthouse Michigan road trip for next time. There’s plenty to keep you busy! You can learn more about many of Michigan’s lighthouses on the official tourist site, Pure Michigan.
Tour a Chocolate Factory!
The next stop on our tour is Grand Haven, where you can take a chocolate factory tour at Chocolates by Grimaldi. When I took the tour, it was a mere $4 – and included tastings and a goodie bag, suitable for devouring, at the end! During the tour, I was allowed to walk through the facility while a guide explained the chocolate-making process. During the tour, I got to see the equipment they use in action, and smell the sweet, tantalizing scent of chocolate wafting through the room. You must call them ahead to book a tour, as they are scheduled and limited to small groups. You can get their contact info and learn more about them on their website at Chocolates by Grimaldi. In addition to taking the tour, I found this destination an ideal place for shopping, too… The chocolate is delicious!
Traverse City Overnight Stop
The next stop on our tour is Traverse City. Traverse City is a great place to take a stroll on the promenade by the lake, or do some shopping on Front Street, the main drag in town. It’s dotted with cute, boutique shops selling local crafts, culinary delights, and more. Traverse City has numerous great restaurants and nightlife spots, and is an ideal location for your first overnight stop. It’s the biggest city in Northern Michigan, kind of a de-facto capital up here. It’s most famous for the cherry harvest in July, when the Cherry Festival is held. (Time to start planning another road trip for next year…?) Until then, pick up a jar of local cherry jam or chocolate covered cherries in the shops!
Petoskey’s Gaslamp District and Gingerbread Houses
In the morning, it’s off to Petoskey. When you arrive in Petoskey, I suggest a drive through the historic Gaslamp District, with real gas-powered street lamps and century old buildings. Petoskey has been named by Smithsonian as “one of the best small towns in America,” and for good reason. After exploring the Gaslamp District, head over to M-131 by the lake, and turn on the side streets to get off the beaten path. Here you can view the gingerbread-house Victorian architecture of the residential neighborhoods overlooking the lake. Some of the streets in the residential district shut down completely for the winter, and people winterize their houses in plastic, so September may be your last chance to see some of these for the season! House after house here is all decked out in detailed, ornate trim in vibrant colors.
Tunnel of Trees Scenic Route
Before you head off to Mackinaw City, take a detour through the “Tunnel of Trees” along M-119 to enjoy the brilliant fall colors hanging overhead and carpeting the ground. This scenic route got its name from the hanging tree limbs that envelop the road in foliage, creating the illusion of a tunnel. Fall provides by far the most spectacular scenery along this winding road. There’s something innately satisfying about a country drive along scenic byways. Perhaps it’s the fresh air. Or the the freedom of the open road. Then there’s the peacefulness of being away from civilization. Whatever it is, the allure cannot be denied. You’re heading further north, and getting closer to the Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula.
Mackinaw City and Mackinac Bridge
The impressive Mackinac Bridge is the gateway to the Upper Peninsula, affectionately referred to by Michiganders as the “U.P.” You may be tempted to head up the to the bridge and enjoy the spectacular views of the Straits of Mackinac, but before you do take some time to explore the fascinating sites in Mackinaw City. Two good places to start are Fort Michilimackinac is a trading post established in 1715. Today it’s a National Historic Landmark, and is exquisitely preserved. In addition to the 18th century architecture, you can observe re-enactments by staff in full costume on such things as shooting the cannons, blacksmithing, tending the gardens, and more. Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, next to Fort Michilimackinac, is also worth a tour. It was founded in 1899, and today is open to visitors.
Coming Next Week!
Next week we’ll continue this road trip across the Mackinac Bridge and into the Upper Peninsula. We’ll explore the powerful Tahquamenon Falls, take a cruise around Pictured Rocks, visit a Shipwreck Museum, see the Aurora lights, and more! Thanks for reading, and follow to join me next week for the rest of the itinerary! Check out the video at the top of this post for maps and more information if you are interested in replicating this trip! Please comment below on whether you’re planning any road trips, and what’s your favorite thing about hitting the road for an adventure!