11 Michigan Fall Road Trips – Best Drives for Scenic Foliage

Exploring the roads less traveled leads to a vibrant Michigan Fall Road Trip in late September and Early October. 

Whether you're a seasoned traveler or a first-time explorer, Michigan's fall wonders will captivate your heart and ignite your sense of wanderlust.

Having lived in Michigan all my life might make me slightly biased, but it's a perfect place to embrace the autumn colors. No matter where to go, the entire state provides an excellent opportunity to explore.

Fall is also my family's favorite season for camping! Algonac State Park is one of our favorite campgrounds!

So buckle up, pack your favorite road trip snacks, and get ready to experience the magic of a Michigan fall road trip like never before.

A serene autumnal scene with a vibrant display of fall foliage. A lush green field in the foreground contrasts with a backdrop of trees showcasing the warm spectrum of fall colors, ranging from golden yellow to rich orange and red. The overcast sky adds a soft, diffused light to the landscape, emphasizing the colorful transition and creating a peaceful, rural atmosphere.

Michigan Fall Road Trips: Lower Peninsula Top Scenic Routes for Fall Foliage

The Lower Peninsula is pretty big, so I've broken it up into smaller regions that align more with when the colors change! The colors peak from North to South, so below, you'll find some options that align with that.

There are plenty of other Lower Peninsula Road Trip options waiting to be explored. Use this as a getting started guide!

Northern Michigan

M-22: A Journey Along the Lake Michigan Shoreline

Venture out on a road trip adventure along the iconic M-22 that winds through the charming small towns of Empire and Suttons Bay.

Experience the vibrant colors of autumn as you drive alongside the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan. Hues of red, orange, and gold paint the landscape in a mesmerizing display.

Don't miss Inspiration Point, just a few miles north of Arcadia. Also, be sure to head up into the Leelanau Peninsula. 

Consider extending your road trip through Traverse City and Old Mission Peninsula for stunning autumn colors to check out the Grand Traverse Bay.

A tranquil moment captured at a lakeside setting, with an individual in a red beanie seated on a wooden bench, gazing out at the still blue waters. The scene is framed by tree trunks on either side, and a boat tethered to a buoy floats gently in the distance. Autumn foliage hints at the changing seasons, with a clear sky overhead completing the idyllic setting.

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Sleeping Bear Dunes

Just off M-22, explore the autumn colors at Sleeping Bear Dunes! The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive offers a scenic route through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and some of the best fall colors in the state.

Navigate the winding road that meanders through lush forests and towering sand dunes, providing breathtaking overlooks of Lake Michigan.

In the fall, the landscape transforms into a kaleidoscope of colors, with the vibrant hues of the autumn leaves creating a stunning backdrop for your road trip adventure.

Glen Arbor is a great place to grab lunch or dinner!

Tunnel of Trees in Harbor Springs

Travel through the enchanting Tunnel of Trees north of Harbor Springs. The canopy of foliage forms a magical corridor of color. 

As sunlight filters through the leaves, creating a dappled effect on the road below, you'll feel like you're driving through a fairytale forest.

Stop at Legs Inn in Cross Village, a 20th-century stone building serving Polish food for lunch, or consider staying at one of the cottages they rent.

Heritage Route 23 (Alpena to Mackinaw City)

Running along the scenic shores of Lake Huron, this Pure Michigan Byway is a breathtaking experience, especially during peak color. Start your journey in Alpena and head north to Mackinaw City and the iconic Mackinac Bridge.

This route offers beautiful views of coastal towns and nature preserves, making every mile a discovery.

Fort Mackinac is rich in the history of Native Americans and early explorers and is worth visiting if you have time.

An earthy carpet of crisp, fallen leaves blankets a forest trail, offering a mosaic of autumnal hues ranging from golden yellow to rich amber. Tall trees with thinning canopies rise on both sides of the path, allowing glimpses of the sky above. The perspective suggests a path well-traveled, inviting a peaceful walk through the woods during the fall season.

Mid and Lower Michigan 

River Road National Scenic Byway

A short drive from the main streets of Oscoda, this byway offers a feast for the eyes with the changing colors of the trees that line the historic Au Sable River.

The Foote Pond Overlook and Lumberman's Monument provide stunning vistas of the river and surrounding Huron-Manistee National Forest. Make sure to carve out extra time for a picnic.

A commanding bronze sculpture depicts three rugged lumberjacks in mid-action, immortalizing the bygone era of logging. They stand atop a log, their muscles tensed with effort: one wielding an ax, another guiding the saw, and the third appearing to survey the horizon. Pine trees in the background underscore their deep connection with the wilderness, symbolizing the enduring legacy of forestry workers and their integral role in shaping the natural landscape.

Crystal Lake to South Haven (US-31)

As you head north from St. Joseph along the scenic US-31, you'll pass by Crystal Lake, one of Michigan's clearest bodies of water, and continue toward South Haven.

This route is charming in the fall, where the rural road cuts through colorful forests and farm stands offer the season's bounty.

South Haven's downtown offers an array of shops and a parking lot where you can leave your car to stroll along the main street and enjoy the lake views.

Huron River Drive (Ann Arbor to Dexter)

A jewel in the autumn crown, Huron River Drive is a must for your fall color road trip.

As you head east from Ann Arbor, this rural road traces the winding path of the Huron River, leading to Dexter Cider Mill—Michigan's oldest continually operating cider mill.

It's a perfect stop-spot for sipping fresh apple cider and enjoying the brilliant fall color. Consider taking an early morning drive for the best light and least traffic.

Ripe, golden apples dangle amidst a lush canopy of green leaves in a sunlit orchard, awaiting harvest. The vibrant green foliage and the glow of sunlight create a scene of natural abundance, embodying the essence of a fruitful autumn.

Michigan Fall Road Trips: Upper Peninsula Top Scenic Routes for Fall Foliage

When it comes to experiencing the vibrant fall colors of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, you are in for a treat! The region is home to some of the most picturesque scenic routes offering a breathtaking autumn foliage display.

Let's journey through the top scenic routes that will leave you in awe of nature's beauty. Beyond the fall season there are plenty of Upper Peninsula Road Trip ideas for spring and summer road trips

Copper Harbor – Highway 41

Driving along Highway 41 toward Copper Harbor is like entering a painting filled with vivid red, orange, and gold hues. This Western U.P. route offers panoramic views of Lake Superior and dense forests ablaze with fall colors.

Stop by the Brockway Mountain Drive for a bird's eye view of the stunning landscape below.

Graphic showing pages to a Free 'Boredom Buster' Ebook - Tips for Turning Long Drives into Fun, Engaging Journeys.

Keweenaw Peninsula – M-26

The Keweenaw Peninsula is a treasure trove of fall foliage, with the M-26 highway cutting through the heart of this scenic region. As you meander along the road, you'll be greeted by forests that seem to be on fire with the rich colors of autumn.

Visit historic Fort Wilkins State Park for a blend of history and nature's beauty.

Stop by Eagle Harbor to check out the lighthouse as you explore Copper Country.

This area, known for its autumn color, offers one of the best ways to experience the fall foliage in the United States.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – H-58

Journeying along H-58 from Munising through the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a feast for the eyes during the fall season. The towering cliffs, pristine beaches, and crystal-clear waters, all framed by the vibrant fall foliage, create a mesmerizing sight.

Cruise along the lakeshore for a unique perspective of the colorful cliffs and forests. Extend your adventure to Grand Marais, just east of Pictured Rocks, and check out the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum!

P.S. If you love this area in the fall come back and explore Pictured Rocks in the Winter!

Tahquamenon Falls State Park – M-123

Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a must-visit destination for witnessing the fall colors in all their glory. The drive along M-123 offers stunning views of the Tahquamenon River and its surrounding forests painted in shades of fall.

Be sure to hike the trails to get close to the magnificent waterfalls.

Whether you explore Copper Harbor, traverse the Keweenaw Peninsula, marvel at Pictured Rocks, or admire Tahquamenon Falls, each scenic route in Michigan's Upper Peninsula promises a magical journey through a kaleidoscope of fall colors.

Be swept away by autumn's stunning beauty in this enchanting region.

A serene autumnal waterfall cascades with a gentle roar amidst a canvas of fall colors in the forest. Mist rises from where the water meets the river, and the foliage is ablaze with orange and yellow hues, contrasted against the evergreens.
Tahquamenon Falls (**Explored**)” by LadyDragonflyCC – >;< is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Fall Festivals and Events in Michigan

Fall in Michigan is a time of vibrant colors, crisp air, and a bustling array of charming festivals and events.

From art installations to apple-themed festivities and Bavarian celebrations, Michigan offers a diverse mix of activities that celebrate the local culture and the beauty of autumn.

Here are some of the must-visit fall festivals and events:

ArtPrize in Grand Rapids

ArtPrize in Grand Rapids is a one-of-a-kind event that transforms the city into an open-air art gallery.

As you meander through the streets, you'll encounter larger-than-life sculptures, intricate paintings, and thought-provoking pieces that evoke a sense of wonder and awe.

The vibrant atmosphere of ArtPrize blends seamlessly with the fall vibes, creating a unique fusion of creativity and seasonal charm that is truly enchanting.

In a lively street scene, a woman captures a photo of two friends posing with a striking sculpture of a phoenix, crafted from an intricate array of metallic parts. The sculpture, named "The Phoenix," showcases a detailed assembly of gears, rotors, and other mechanical components, symbolizing rebirth and renewal.
Art on Display at 2018 Michigan Municipal League Convention Taking Place in Grand Rapids During ArtPrize” by Michigan Municipal League (MML) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Charlevoix Apple Fest

The Charlevoix Apple Fest is a celebration of all things apple. From mouthwatering apple pies to freshly pressed cider, this festival offers a plethora of apple-themed treats that are sure to satisfy even the sweetest tooth.

Check out the pie-eating contest and craft vendors that add to the warm community spirit that defines the Charlevoix Apple Fest experience.

Frankenmuth's Oktoberfest

Step into a world of Bavarian charm at Frankenmuth's Oktoberfest, where beer gardens, bratwursts, and lively music create a festive atmosphere that is hard to resist. 

Against the backdrop of the beautiful fall foliage, you can enjoy traditional Bavarian fare, participate in spirited dances, and raise a stein to celebrate this time-honored event.

The Oktoberfest in Frankenmuth perfectly blends cultural immersion and fall revelry. It is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking a taste of Germany in the heart of Michigan. Don't miss the Wiener Dog Races!

Whether you're a fan of art, apples, or Oktoberfest fun, Michigan's fall festivals and events offer something for everyone.

These popular gatherings showcase the local culture and traditions and provide a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the beauty and excitement of the autumn season.

So grab your cider, slip on your lederhosen, and get ready to experience the charm and magic of Michigan's fall festivals like never before.

bridge during golden hour
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Final Thoughts – Michigan Fall Road Trips

Don't just leaf through the photos (hehe – that was so punny); get out there and experience the magic of Michigan's fall foliage firsthand! Pack your camera, favorite road trip snacks, and a sense of adventure. 

Hit the road, embrace the crisp air, and let the vibrant colors of autumn guide you to unforgettable memories. 

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This image captures the picturesque Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, surrounded by the vivid hues of fall foliage. The cascading waterfall, tinted with tannins to a golden-brown color, contrasts with the rich array of autumnal colors in the surrounding forest, offering a quintessential snapshot of a Michigan fall road trip.
This image presents a scenic road winding through the vibrant fall foliage of Michigan. The array of red, orange, and yellow leaves creates a striking tapestry that encapsulates the essence of autumn. A solitary vehicle on the road adds a sense of adventure and the invitation to explore the state's natural beauty during the fall season.
A quaint white lighthouse against a dramatic autumn sky, suggesting a serene stop on a Michigan fall road trip. The surrounding foliage is beginning to show autumnal colors, adding to the seasonal charm of the scene.

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