Liz glides her kayak across Spider Lake on a windless October day
Liz glides her kayak across Spider Lake on a windless October day

By MIKE NORTON OK, so far this has been an AMAZING October! And since I had a couple of vacation days to burn before the end of the year, I've been taking complete advantage of all this warm, sunny fall weather. Lucky me! On Thursday, for instance, my daughter Liz and I took the kayaks up to Spider Lake, just south of town. We do a fair amount of deepwater kayaking on the Bay and some river-running here and there, but I wanted Liz to experience the quieter joys of a fall day on a calm and sheltered body of water. Spider Lake is perfect for this because it's full of long winding coves and little islands, so you can do lots of exploring. And the day was perfect - the water was like a mirror, and the colors were just starting to pop out here and there.

Cycling near Bingham on the Leelanau Trail
Cycling near Bingham on the Leelanau Trail

Liz had to work on Friday, so since I was on my own I saddled up my bike and headed up the Leelanau Trail to Suttons Bay and back - a trip of about 30 miles along an old railroad right of way through some of the prettiest farmland in this region. (I wasn't the only one, either - there were lots of cyclists and walkers on the trail.) The colors along the trail were spectacular -- and since this is fruit country, the air was rich with the smell of ripe apples and pears. Saturday was a beach day at home; Karen and I just enjoyed ourselves in the sun at Old Mission - we didn't swim, but there were lots of braver people out in the water and a fair amount of shrieking as kids splashed each other. On Sunday the three of us piled into the car after church and drove to the Sleeping Bear Dunes. As usual, the dunes were breathtaking - although I have to confess that the fall color over there isn't up to its usual standards. They must not have gotten enough rain or something, because it's all very burned-looking and dull. There's much better color closer to Grand Traverse Bay.

A lone hiker on the Cottonwood Trail, above Glen Lake.
A lone hiker on the Cottonwood Trail, above Glen Lake.

We did take advantage of the trip to hike the Cottonwood Trail, which I'd never done before. The nice thing about this trail is that you start out in the high country - near one of the lookouts on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive - so you don't have to do a lot of climbing. Instead, you can just amble along through a landscape of low sandhills and cottonwood groves until you find yourself at the top of the famous dune climb.  A great hike!

Liz and Karen on the Cottonwood Trail at Sleeping Bear
Liz and Karen on the Cottonwood Trail at Sleeping Bear

I think we're reaching peak fall color about now - though as usual it varies widely from one place to another. Over at Shanty Creek Resorts in Bellaire, they seem to be pulling out the stops to make it as fun as possible for people to take in all the beauty of autumn; on Saturday afternoon  they're putting on a "Fall Festival Celebration" with chairlift rides to the top of Schuss Mountain, a farmer's market, arts and craft vendors, pumpkin decorating, live entertainment and an outdoor BBQ. And all next week, it seems, they'll be offering Fall Color Golf Cart Tours where they'll lead leaf-peeping expeditions to the top of the hill (a great use for those carts in the off-season, I think!) Another way to enjoy the beauty of fall is with a little wine-tasting. Last year the folks over at Brys Estate Winery on Old Mission Peninsula started their own Harvest Celebration, and it proved so successful that they're going to make it an annual event. Every Saturday this month, you can stop in there for a series of four food and wine pairings created by the sweet and gracious Eileen Brys herself - including her famous dark chocolate brownies. (And if you haven't ever tried their pinot noir paired with chocolate, you're in for a treat.) By the way, Brys is the latest Old Mission winery to add an outdoor patio to their tasting room, and it's a lovely place to spend some time on a sunny fall day! Enough of this. I'm going to start planning my next series of fall adventures. Stay tuned!