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Fall Color Tour
Choose a route and enjoy the fall season! We recommend you bring along a map of the area to help find your way. A large fold-out map of much of the area is available free of charge at the Traverse City Visitor Center, 101 W. Grandview Parkway.
Here are some suggested routes to enjoy the area's autumn season. Feel free to modify the routes and explore!
Old Mission Peninsula
Length: 45 miles
The Old Mission Peninsula juts bravely into Grand Traverse Bay, nearly 20 miles long and in some places as little as a mile wide. A beautiful patchwork of orchards, vineyards, forests and villages, it's the perfect place for a morning or afternoon drive that combines fall color with beautiful views of the bay, visits to wineries and roadside fruit stands, and unforgettable meals at several charming restaurants.
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 view point near the Chateau Grand Traverse winery that overlooks both East and West Grand Traverse Bays. About a mile past the charming town of Mapleton, turn right onto Smoky 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 Old 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.
Length: 75 miles (105 miles with optional loop)
It's hard to find another place in all Michigan where so much beautiful scenery, so many lovely villages and so much fascinating history are packed into such a small area. This tour will take you to the very tip of this scenic peninsula through the villages of Suttons Bay, Northport and Leland. And if that's not enough, we've added an optional visit to Glen Arbor and the magnificent Sleeping Bear Dunes.
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 Museum.
Returning to Northport, take M-22 west to the charming fishing port of Leland. 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 Polish-American 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.
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.
Elk Lake, Torch Lake and the Rapid River
Length: 55 miles
Just east of Traverse City are two watery jewels of the Michigan landscape: Elk Lake and Torch Lake, beloved by generations of cottage owners but relatively unknown to the outside world. Even less famous is the steep valley of the little Rapid River, whose forested slopes look as though they were transported from somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains. This tour gives you a pleasant introduction to all three.
Head north from Traverse City's eastern edge on U.S. 31, following the highway as it carves its way past orchards and farms along the shore of East Bay. At the lively little port of Elk Rapids, turn right at the light and follow Ames Street (which becomes the Cairn Highway) along the northern shore of Elk Lake, through the village of Kewadin and southward again on County Road 593. This road will take you along the eastern shore of the lake, across the Torch River as it empties into Torch Lake, and into the village of Rapid City.
Continue east on 593 (now known also as Valley Road) as it winds its way up through the narrow valley of the Rapid River. A good stop here is at The Seven Bridges, where the river separates briefly into several braided streams. Continue up the valley past Rugg Pond, another very scenic area where Ernest Hemingway once camped during a teenage fishing trip, until the road ends at M-72. Turn right and follow the highway west to Traverse City, where you'll pass a dramatic vista of Elk Lake and nearby Lake Skegemog.
Long Lake, Interlochen and the Boardman Valley
Length: 55 miles
The forested hills south of Traverse City are dotted with dozens of small lakes, rolling meadows and sturdy farm towns - as well as the broad valley of the Boardman River. This drive takes you through a broad variety of landscapes, from the coves and islands of Long Lake and the artistic beauty of Interlochen to the villages of Kingsley and Mayfield and the majestic Boardman Valley.
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 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 the town of 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, which is still quite small at this point. 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 Brown Bridge Pond.) Follow the road for several miles to Rennie Lake Road, turn left and wander down past several half-hidden lakes to rejoin 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.
Fall Color Tour Brochure
You can download and print this handy color tour brochure!