Fall colors in Michigan: A guide to five regions of the state

Amelia Benavides-Colón
The Detroit News

The fall season is nearly upon us and, for Michigan, that means enjoying the fall colors.

Fall foliage maps for the year are out, and while they're not 100% accurate, they give a good range of when peak color can be found in various regions of the Mitten State.

According to the National Weather Service, predictions for September through November include higher temperatures than in previous years. The expected warmer weather might delay the changing of the leaves in some parts of the state. 

September will include average highs of 70 and average lows of 50, the weather service said, while October temperatures are expected to be above normal with average highs of 60 and lows around 40. 

“During COVID, people have learned how to travel safely,” said vice president of Travel Michigan Dave Lorenz, "and this is the best time to travel in Pure Michigan because you have that combination of comfortable weather and really beautiful spaces because of the change of color throughout the state …”

Here are anticipated peak times and some popular spots for fall color tours for five regions of Michigan.

Upper Peninsula

Michigan's Upper Peninsula is typically the first to showcase the change in colors. According to the the 2021 fall foliage map published by SmokyMountains.com, the leaves were to begin changing by the week of Sept. 6, and peak time for the region will be the week of Sept. 27. A map published by Pure Michigan pegs peak U.P. color into the first week to 10 days of October.

There are several locations with idyllic viewing of fall foliage including Palms Brook State Park in Manistique, Tahquamenon Falls State Park near Paradise and Fayette Historic State Park on the shore of Lake Michigan in Garden. 

Dale Niesen of South Rockwood calls this photo 'Root Beer Water.' It captures the autumn colors and root beer-colored water of the upper Tahquamenon Falls at Tahquamenon Falls State Park near Paradise, Michigan.

Those interested in hiking among the red, yellow and orange leaves can check out Sugarloaf Mountain Trail located in Marquette. Trails in and near Munising stretch along the famed Pictured Rocks, or drivers can travel H-58 east or west between Munising and Grand Marais through the national park. The hikes have difficulty levels of beginner to moderate and include trails designed for families. H-58 is paved through the park. 

Northern Michigan

In northern Michigan, the leaves in the handful of counties between Gaylord and Mackinaw City will be turning by the week of Sept. 13 and reach peak color by the week of Sept. 27, according to SmokyMountains.com. Color in counties along the western shore of Lake Michigan and eastern shore of Lake Huron may peak slightly later because of lake-effect temperatures, the map shows. Pure Michigan's map puts peak color around Mackinaw City in late September and has a large swatch of northern Michigan peaking the first week of October. 

The Lake Michigan shore will be lined with fall colors, and one of the best places to view them is along the M-22 highway starting anywhere from Manistee to Northport in Leelanau County north of Traverse City. The Huron-Manistee National Forest includes hiking trails but also the River Road National Scenic Byway, a 22-mile byway that has camping, fishing and boating facilities along the route in addition to the fall colors.

Fall colors along the Betsie Valley Trail in Frankfort on Oct. 11, 2020.

Mid-Michigan

In mid-Michigan the trees will begin changing colors around Sept. 20 with peak times for viewing expected to be the weeks of Oct. 4, and for some areas south Saginaw Bay, the week of Oct. 10, according to SmokyMountains.com. Pure Michigan's map expects peak color during the first week of October.

Midland is home to the Whiting Forest, which allows visitors to walk amongst the changing colors along the Midland Canopy Walk. The walk features a mile and a half of Americans with Disabilities Act accessible trails.

Dale Niesen of South Rockwood captured the beauty of fall colors as seen from the High Rollaways above the Manistee River in Wexford County.

For those who enjoy canoeing or kayaking, the Chippewa River in Mount Pleasant offers a relaxing way to float and see fall's beauty. 

Southwestern Michigan

Southwestern Michigan will begin seeing yellow leaves on trees around the week of Sept. 27, according to SmokyMountains.com and Pure Michigan's map. The peak time for fall colors is estimated to be the week of Oct. 11.

The Kal-Haven Trail connects Kalamazoo and South Haven and is open to those on foot and on bikes. The 34-mile long trail offers views of the changing foliage as it passes through open farmland, orchards, wetlands and ends of the shores of Lake Michigan. 

Located on the campus of Albion College in Albion, Whitehouse Nature Center and Trail Network features five different trails throughout the campus and along the Kalamazoo River. The one-mile-long Prairie Trail passes through oak-hickory forests that will be the highlight of changing fall foliage. 

Southeastern Michigan

Leaves turning will be evident in southeastern Michigan by the week of Oct. 4, including into Michigan's Thumb region, and peak is expected to be the week of Oct. 11 with some color still visible the week of Oct. 18, according to SmokyMountains.com and Pure Michigan's map.

Polly Ann Trail, located in Oakland County, offers ideal viewing of the fall foliage with its walking and biking trails. The trail stretches as far north as Lapeer County, where hikers and horseback riders have trails better suited for them than the easier trails located in Oakland County.

A short ferry ride from Algonac leads to Harsens Island, home of the St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area. A drive around the island features sights of changing fall colors as well as animals that live in the wildlife refuge located in the center of the island.

Kayakers float down the Huron River against the fall colors in Flat Rock on Oct. 10, 2020.

Huron River Drive offers cycling and walking paths through the trees and across the Huron River, starting just north of Dexter and ending about 10 minutes north of downtown Ann Arbor. Along the drive is Delhi Metropark, located in Ann Arbor, which features 52 acres of colorful oak trees.