TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Traverse City’s bays, peninsulas and wooded shorelines are pretty glorious in any season. But add some fall colors into the mix, and you’ve got miles of roads and trails just begging to be explored.
“Traverse City’s orchards, vineyards, forests, and villages create a beautiful patchwork of orange, crimson, scarlet, and gold,” according to tourism leaders there. “Whichever route you choose, it will be the perfect one for a drive that combines fall color with views of the bay, visits to wineries and roadside fruit stands, and unforgettable meals.”
Our friends at Traverse City Tourism have mapped out four scenic routes for maximum “wow” factor this fall. We’re sharing them here, just to give you a little nudge with your fall travel plans.
So pack some snacks, grab your sunglasses – and a sweatshirt – and get ready to hit the open road. Here are some great routes, as described by the tourism staff:
TOUR #1: OLD MISSION PENINSULA, 45 miles | Two-hour drive
What you’ll see: Old Mission Peninsula is nearly 20 miles long and filled with vineyards, forests, orchards – and a lighthouse with some great trails at the very end. You’ll pass plenty of wineries, a handful of restaurants and some roadside stands that sell everything from fruit to Petoskey stones.
The route: “Follow M-37 (Center Road) north from Traverse City. The road begins with a steep climb through pleasant residential and orchard country, descends to the shore of East Bay, and gradually climbs again to a spectacular viewpoint near the Chateau Grand Traverse winery that overlooks both East and West Grand Traverse Bays. About a mile past the charming community of Mapleton, turn right onto Smokey Hollow Road and follow it down through vineyards and orchards to the quiet village of Old Mission, the oldest permanent settlement in the region. Take a left turn onto Swaney Road and follow it back to M-37, where a right turn will have you heading north to the picturesque Mission Point Lighthouse.
“On the return journey, head back south on M-37 to Mapleton. Here you’ll turn right onto Bowers Harbor Road and follow it down to the shore of West Bay. Keeping to the left, you’ll return to Traverse City by way of Peninsula Drive, a pleasant residential road that skirts the shore of the bay with wonderful views of isolated Power Island, Neahtawanta Point, and the distant hills of the Leelanau Peninsula.”
TOUR #2: Long Lake, Interlochen, and the Boardman Valley, 55 miles | Two-hour drive
What you’ll see: Inland lakes, meadows and farm towns all can be found on this route south of Traverse City that crosses into the picturesque Boardman River Valley.
The route: “Head west on Front Street, Traverse City’s main east-west street, as it climbs the hills west of town to become North Long Lake Road, skirts the northern edge of the lake, and finally is known as West Long Lake Road. Make a right onto South Long Lake Road as it heads south to Interlochen. Here the road (also known as M-137) slips between two beautiful lakes at the pine-shaded campus of the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Just past Interlochen, turn left onto Youker Road and follow it east to M-37, where a quick jog to the south will bring you to M-113, where you’ll turn left again and head to Kingsley.
“At Kingsley, turn left again onto Garfield Road, which will take you north through the tiny village of Mayfield and across the Boardman River. Just past the river, turn right onto Hobbs Highway and follow it for another mile to the next right, which is Ranch Rudolf Road. (There’s a fine view here across the valley and the Boardman River.) Follow the road for several miles to Rennie Lake Road, turn left and pass several small lakes, take another left onto Supply Road and follow it to Hobbs Highway again. Turn left onto Hobbs and follow it past more forest-shaded lakes to rejoin Garfield. Stay on the road for about half a mile until you reach River Road; turn right and follow it down the Boardman Valley, which begins to open up dramatically just beyond this point.
“Bear to the left at Beitner Road and follow it as it climbs steeply from the valley floor, then continue past the intersection at U.S. 31 to East Silver Lake Road, which will take you north and back to Traverse City for one last impressive view.”
TOUR #3: Benzie County, 90 miles | Two-hour drive
What you’ll see: Northwest of Traverse City, Benzie County rolls and sprawls until it reaches Lake Michigan. It’s got miles of shoreline and peaceful scenery that just gets more vibrant in the fall.
The route: “Head out of town on West Front Street and North Long Lake Road, which will turn into Maple Street as you approach the village of Lake Ann. Along the way, you’ll pass Long Lake and – you guessed it – Lake Ann, before taking a jaunt (via a right on Ole White Dr. and a left on Almira Road) up to Fowler Road, also known as County Road 610. A left turn onto M-22 will send you along the southern tip of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Platte Lake.
“Continue following M-22 to pass the Point Betsie Lighthouse as you traverse the narrow strip of land between Lake Michigan and Crystal Lake. When you reach Frankfort, Benzie’s jewel of a beach town, swing a right on M-115 E toward the villages of Beulah and Benzonia. A little jog south on US-31 will lead you back to 115, which you can follow the forested highway all the way to Thompsonville. Turn left onto Lindy Road, then left onto Karlin Road (which becomes Nessen and then Karlin again) to begin your journey back toward Traverse City. After you pass Interlochen, take a right on U.S. 31 to return to town.”
TOUR #4: The Leelanau Peninsula Length: 75 miles | 3-hour drive (30 miles extra for the optional loop, another hour drive)
What you’ll see: This drive is quintessential Up North, with the storybook towns of Leland, Suttons Bay and Northport all holding court as you wind your way up Michigan’s “little finger” known as the Leelanau Peninsula. **The optional add-on route takes you into tiny Glen Arbor, then shows off the expanse of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The route: “Take M-22 north from Traverse City along the shore of West Bay to Cherry Bend Road, where a left turn will take you to the foot of the TimberLee Hills. Turn right here and head north on County Road 633, a lovely rural road that leads through beautiful upland country to the village of Suttons Bay. Here you’ll rejoin M-22 and continue north along the shore through the villages of Peshawbestown (home to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians), Omena, and Northport. From Northport, continue north to the tip of the peninsula and visit Leelanau State Park and the Grand Traverse Lighthouse.
“Returning to Northport, take M-22 west to the charming fishing port of Leland. **(See below for the optional loop, which starts here). Beyond Leland, you’ll skirt the western shore of Lake Leelanau for a mile or so and turn left onto County Road 204, which leads to the inland village of Lake Leelanau. Turn right here, just before the bridge, onto County Road 643 which follows a very scenic route along the lake and eventually takes you to the picturesque town of Cedar. Continue south from Cedar on County Road 651 to M-72, turn left, and follow the highway back for a spectacular return to Traverse City.
**(Optional loop) “After leaving Leland, continue south on M-22 along the Lake Michigan shoreline and through the eastern section of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to the village of Glen Arbor. Continue through the village on what is now called M-109, past the ghost port of Glen Haven and the famous Dune Climb, and take the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (permit required), which offers splendid views of the surrounding lake and dune country. Turn right when leaving the scenic drive and go for about a mile to County Road 616, where you make a left turn and head along the southern shore of the two Glen Lakes. Just past the lakes the road climbs steeply – at its top is an excellent viewpoint called Inspiration Point. Continue eastward through the villages of Maple City and Cedar. In Cedar, take a right turn onto County Road 651 and follow it south to M-72, where a left turn will bring you back to Traverse City.”
For more route details, maps and suggested stops, check out the Fall Travel Guide from Traverse City Tourism here.
Headed to the Traverse City area? Here are some things not to miss: