Tag Archives: Fall Color

My Favorite Fall Color Drives

M-37 near Mission Point on the Old Mission Peninsula

M-37 on the Old Mission Peninsula (All these photos are from last year — we’re not quite this far along yet!)

By MIKE NORTON

Fall is my favorite season, and the Traverse City area abounds in places where you can almost always find great color.

Our characteristic landscape of rolling glacial ridges, lush forests and wide expanses of open water creates broad panoramas where autumn color is simply the finishing touch to an already dramatic vista of water, sand and sky. And because color seems to come soonest to the high forests to the east and south of us, gradually spreading to the low-lying areas along the water, color season tends to last quite a long time here.

Fall color at Sleeping Bear

Fall color at Sleeping Bear

For many folks, the best place for fall color around here is the magnificent Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, whose steep hillsides and lush hardwood forests burst into sheets of flaming scarlet, orange and gold each fall. Set against the deep indigo of Lake Michigan, the towering bluffs and islands of Sleeping Bear are particularly dramatic when clothed in their autumn finery.

Somehow, though, I never seen to get to the Dunes at precisely the right time. Either I come too early or I end up visiting after a big windstorm has knocked all the leaves off the trees. It’s still gorgeous, but I’ve never seen the big show everybody talks about.

In fact, one of my favorite drives in the fall is the one I take twice every day – my commute between work and my home on the Old Mission Peninsula in the middle of Grand Traverse Bay. Nearly 20 miles long and in some places as little as a mile wide, it’s a beautiful patchwork of orchards, vineyards, forests and villages. Perfect 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.

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I think the most spectacular views along the peninsula are generally to be had along M-37 (Center Road), which runs along the steep ridge at its center, through the village of Mapleton (is it even big enough to be a village?) to the cute little lighthouse at Mission Point. But it’s just as much fun to amble along the roads that follow the shoreline on either side, stopping to visit the historic village of Old Mission and the quiet settlement of Bowers Harbor.Looking west from Cedar.

Of course, just northwest of Traverse City is the much larger Leelanau Peninsula — the “little finger” of the Michigan mitten – a place of beautiful scenery, quaint lakeshore villages and fascinating history, and home to those beautiful Sleeping Bear Dunes. Most leaf-peepers stick to the peninsula’s coastal area, which means following M-22 along the Bay through Suttons Bay, Omena and Northport, then turning abruptly southwest to skirt the Lake Michigan shore through Leland, Glen Arbor and Empire.

Personally, though, I think there’s usually better fall color in Leelanau’s hilly interior. On the slopes above Lake Leelanau and the two Glen lakes you’ll find farmlands, woods, vineyards and small towns like Maple City and Cedar that still retain traces of their Polish and Bohemian founders. County Road 633 and 641 are a couple of my favorites.

A hillside along Lake Leelanau on County Road 641

A hillside along Lake Leelanau on County Road 641

Some of the same feeling can be had just northeast of town, in Antrim County’s glacier-scoured Chain of Lakes region. This is a dramatic landscape of rolling drumlins and long, deep blue glacial lakes. Two of the largest, Elk Lake and Torch Lake, are particularly beautiful when the hills in which they nestle are aflame with fall colors. Nearby you’ll find the steep valley of the little Rapid River, whose forested slopes look as though they could have been transported from the Appalachians.

A good introduction to this region can be had by following U.S. 31 north from Traverse City, past orchards and farms along the shore of East Bay to Elk Rapids. From here, it’s possible to drive east between the lakes and into the hills above them, where the autumn views of distant blue hills evoke fall in the lochs of Scotland. The tiny village of Alden, on Torch Lake, makes a great stop for lunch and some shopping, while the summit of Shanty Creek near Bellaire provides awe-inspiring views of the surrounding countryside.

The view from Schuss Mountain at Shanty Creek Resorts.

The view from Schuss Mountain at Shanty Creek Resorts.

A more woodsy landscape can be found in the highlands just south of Traverse City, dotted with dozens of small lakes and dense forests of evergreens and hardwoods – as well as the majestic Boardman Valley. Much of this intensely varied landscape is contained in the Pere Marquette State Forest, and it is best explored by heading out into the maze of twisting roads that wind through the forests, around lakes and along the tops of high wooded bluffs. (But beware of the roads around Arbutus and Spider Lakes – they’re beautiful, but so confusing to the newcomer that this area is known by locals as the “Arbutus Triangle!”

Entering the Arbutus Triangle

Entering the Arbutus Triangle

Autumn takes its time: A Quest for Fall Color

Early fall color just south of town

Early fall color just south of town

By MIKE NORTON

Fall is on its way. Little by little, hints of red and gold are appearing among the trees. The days seem to alternate between razor-sharp clarity and a dreamy blue haze, and the air is sweet with the scent of apples and woodsmoke.

And something else. Usually it seems as though, autumn in this part of the world arrives in a flurry of color and is over in an instant — leaving only the muted golds, browns and grays of dry grass, bare trees and fallen leaves. This year, though, it’s as if the cool summer rains have delayed the onset of fall; it’s almost October, but sometimes it looks and feels as though fall hasn’t properly begun.

Not that I’m complaining. This is my favorite season of the year, and I’d love to be able to enjoy it to its fullest extent. Winter will be here soon enough, and it will last more than long enough. So I’m keeping the boat in the water, enjoying some nice hikes and bike rides, astonished that you can still get ripe tomatoes at the farmer’s market and enjoying the taste of a crisp McIntosh apple.

Black-eyed Susans beside the Boardman River at Brown Bridge

Black-eyed Susans beside the Boardman River at Brown Bridge

And I’m on this quest to find whatever bits of fall color that can be found. On Monday I drove out to the Brown Bridge area in the upper Boardman Valley, walking the upper trail above what used to be Brown Bridge Pond and descending the long stairs to the floor of the valley itself, where the newly-liberated Boardman River chatters and flows like a glittering snake through the meadows. There were a few bright swamp maples and some Virginia creeper glowing at the edge of the wetlands, and a stand of lovely winterberry — Michigan’s beautiful deciduous holly — but no real fall color yet.

Winterberry at Brown Bridge

Winterberry at Brown Bridge

The next day I headed for the Sleeping Bear Dunes with Robin David Frommer, a visiting writer/photographer from Germany. He’d seen a photograph on the Visit Traverse City website showing the great dune nicely framed by brilliant fall leaves at the end of the Empire Bluff Trail, and he wanted to recreate it for himself. No such luck, of course — although I could see a little tinge of red beginning to assert itself in hat sea of green foliage below us.

Robin David Frommer shoots his photo of Sleeping Bear in shades of green and blue.

Robin David Frommer shoots his photo of Sleeping Bear in shades of green and blue.

Green is also a color, I reminded myself — and one that we’ll be hungry enough to see in another few months. And the glorious blue of the sky, the tawny beaches and dunes, the fierce glitter of sunlight off the water off Point Betsie, the astonishing glow of jade, turquoise, aquamarine and cobalt from the huge lake at our feet…  ah, what’s not to love about that?

Fall will be here soon — and once it comes, it will fly swiftly. This, I think, is a little gift for us. One we should enjoy!

 

 

Fall Splendor, Even in the Rain/A Hike at Pyramid Point

The view from Pyramid Point — and yes, it really is that color!

By MIKE NORTON

I’m looking out my window right now at a misty landscape where rain squalls chase each other across the surface of the Bay like fretful and obnoxious children. Good weather for ducks, as they used to say – and I have to admit that the ducks do look pretty happy.

October is usually a gentler month here, but this weather does bring out the heroic impulse in some people. Over the weekend I watched scores of brave, drenched runners slogging along the back roads of the Old Mission Peninsula during the Traverse City Track Club’s Lighthouse Half-Marathon. And as I came to work this morning, I couldn’t help noticing that most of the hotel parking lots were still full. Looks like people aren’t letting a little rain stop them from enjoying our fall colors.

Fall Colors on an Overcast Day

And they really do look spectacular, too! We’re at peak color this week, and I’d have thought that the rain and wind would have knocked most of the leaves off the trees, but they’re still holding their own – wonderful displays of crimson, orange, gold and scarlet, set off by the dark greens of the evergreens surrounding them. And the muted light of these overcast days actually seems to bring the colors out better than the harshness of direct sunlight.

On the other hand, the gray skies tend to make the Bay and the surrounding lakes flat and dark, robbing us of the turquoise and jade tones that make autumn around here one of the glories of the world. And while it might make for a lovely color-tour drive (the kind punctuated with cozy stops at local wineshops, tea rooms and restaurants) the weather does make it less pleasant to experience the colors the way I prefer to – on foot or bicycle, or from the cockpit of my kayak.

Fortunately, I got a chance last week to get out on a truly splendid clear day for a few hours at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where I hiked the excellent Pyramid Point Trail near the park’s northern boundary. I haven’t been on the trail in many years, and in honesty I’d forgotten what an amazing place it is. (Since my last visit, the Park Service has improved the path, too – making it both easier for hikers and less stressful to the surrounding environment.)

If you want to enjoy the kind of high overlooks you’ll see along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, but without the crowds or the distraction of too many man-made conveniences, this is the place for you. It’s a different landscape than the open dunelands around Glen Arbor – densely forested in beech and maple, with deep ravines and steep hillsides that plunge to wide flat meadows.

The Pyramid Point Trailhead at Port Oneida

The trailhead is reached after a pleasant drive through Port Oneida, a half-forgotten German settlement whose 19th-century houses and barns lie scattered along the lakeshore. It’s a well-visited place now; even though I was there on a weekday, the small parking lot was nearly full. The three-mile trail immediately leads upward to the high lookout that’s the main draw for visitors: it’s 260 feet above the surface of the water.

That’s only about half as high as the overlook on the Scenic Drive, but it has some other advantages. First, this is the closest point on the mainland to the Manitou Islands, which seem so near that you could almost reach out and touch them. There’s also a fine shipwreck in the shallow water – the steamer Rising Sun – which can be seem pretty clearly when the light is right.  But the biggest advantage, to my mind, is that there’s no pavement or decking here – just some gnarly stumps of weather-scoured trees to sit on for as long as you like.

To continue on the trail, you actually have to backtrack down the hill (the lookout is on a small half-mile spur). But it’s a very worthwhile trip, on a path that leads down, down and down through the woods to a wonderful meadow – the remnant of some long-abandoned farmstead, surrounded by high hills. Crossing it, you eventually reach what must once have been a road that leads back up along the face of a steep bluff.

The Meadow Trail

All along the way, you catch tempting glimpses of the lake far below. I’m guessing that the views will get even better in the next few weeks, as the leaves finally fall off the trees. But the trail is a marvel in itself, especially in its autumn glory, with light and shadow flickering in the deep gullies and tree-columned slopes. It’s a gentle climb, and it certainly gave me the workout I was hoping for.

Once you reach the top, there’s a gentle descent along a gravel road to the trailhead.  Easy in, easy out – and a reasonably fit hiker can do the whole thing in an hour. But really, why would anyone want to rush through the opportunity to enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery in this area?

September: Drama Queen of Seasons/Hiking the Grand Traverse Commons

Looking south on East Grand Traverse Bay. A little rain, a little sunshine, a little more rain… You get the idea.

By MIKE NORTON

September has certainly been a dramatic month here in the Traverse City area — great battalions of clouds racing across the sky; beams of thick sunlight  lancing out of the darkness like the searchlights of alien spaceships, fierce showers of rain followed by interludes of almost summery warmth and light.  Whew!

Local folks are fond of saying, “If you don’t like the weather here just wait ten minutes.”  But this month you didn’t have even to wait — you could look around and find several different kinds of weather going on simultaneously! Very beautiful, and exhilarating in a sort of “Wuthering Heights” way, but it’s been tough to figure out what to wear at any given moment….

(Two ladies from Knoxville, Tennessee got a chance to enjoy some of Traverse City’s autumn attractions  this month as winners in Coca-Colas’s MyCokeRewards sweepstakes. JoAnne Dixon and Ernestine Harris spent four nights at the Park Place Hotel, toured a number of Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsula wineries as guests of Celtic Tours and did a fair amount of dining and shopping during their stay. Apparently they had a GREAT time.)

Fall color continues to slowly make its way across northern Lower Michigan; I’d say we’re around 20 percent of the way to the season’s peak right now, and the maples (which give us the most variety of colors) are finally starting to get into the act. And although you can certainly cover a lot of ground on a driving tour, you’re nopt going to experience the full sensory richness of autumn unless you get out and listen to the crunch of leaves, smell the spicy aroma of apples and woodsmoke, breathe the crisp fall air.

Hiking high above Traverse City on the Old Orchard Trail(Don’t worry — the color isn’t this far along yet. These are last year’s photos.)

One of my favorite places for a fall walk is just minutes away from my office, on the lovely grounds of the Grand Traverse Commons. By now, almost everybody knows about the great work that’s being done there, restoring the beautiful old buildings of Traverse City’s former mental asylum and turning them into apartments, shops, restaurants and offices. But one of the best features of the Commons – and relatively unknown to outsiders –  is the extensive network of hiking trails that weave through the surrounding forests, fields and hills.

With hundreds of acres of forested hills, spring-fed streams, flowery meadows and winding trails – not to mention the imposing, if slightly spooky walls and towers of the old asylum itself – the Commons has long been a favorite with hikers, joggers, cyclists and birdwatchers.  People come here to walk their dogs, kids gather autumn leaves here for their school projects; it’s kind of like Traverse City’s version of Central Park.

In a sense, that is how it was supposed to be. In 1885, when the state of Michigan was looking for a place to locate a new asylum, they chose Traverse City because they believed that fresh air and beautiful surroundings could ease the sufferings of the mentally ill. Walking the grounds was a big part of the therapy of the time, and many of todays’ hiking trails were actually laid out for the benefit of the patients.

Fall Color on the Grand Traverse Commons trails.

For short jaunts, I enjoy wandering two of these shady trails — the Men’s Walk and Women’s Walk — both located just west of Divison Avenue inside the city – but the best fall color is higher up, in the area administered by Garfield Township as the Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area. Here you can choose from an impressive variety of landscapes – from the fragrant shadows of the Cedar Cathedral Trail and the storybook beauty of the Streamside Loop to the steep climbs and panoramic views of the Old Orchard Trail, where you can look down over most of Traverse City, and the Copper Ridge Trail, which runs just behind it. There are secret springs bubbling out of the hillsides, deer and fox peering out from the trees, and a multitude of birds.

Every season has its charms here. In spring the woods here are full of flowering trilliums, and in winter it’s great terrain for snowshoeing (many of the trails are really too steep for cross-country skiing, though that doesn’t stop some of us from trying). But the best time to be here is definitely autumn, when the meadows are full of asters and goldenrod, the old orchards still smell of windfall apples, and the leaves rain down on you like a technicolor  shower every time the wind runs through the treetops.

Even better, after you’ve worked up an appetite, you can wander down to the Left Foot Charley winery and quench your thirst with a tall glass of their deceptively refreshing cider. Yum!  (I think I know where I’ll be taking my lunch break today.)

Funny How the Night Moves, With Autumn Closing In….

Saying goodbye to Summer at Old Mission Point
Saying goodbye to Summer at Old Mission Point

By MIKE NORTON

TRAVERSE CITY – Suddenly, all the radio stations seem to be playing nostalgia songs.

I heard Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” yesterday as Liz and I were driving home from the Traverse City Shorts Festival, and it made the two of us wonder why September seems to be such a nostalgic month. Maybe it’s the final goodbye to summer, the reminder that we all grown up sooner or later and have to leave things behind. Maybe it’s the shorter days and the knowledge that a more austere landscape awaits us.

Who knows? Darn good song, though.

Still, there’s no getting around it Tree by tree and leaf by leaf, the annual display of autumn color is making its way across northern Michigan. I’d been worried that the summer had been too hot and dry for good color, but I shouldn’t have bothered. It always works out.

On the hillsides overlooking Grand Traverse Bay, we could already see a sudden burst of orange or scarlet among the green stands of oak, maple and pine. Here and there, the mounds of sumac are touched with deep smoldering crimson, while the orchards and vineyards of the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas are filled with brightly colored apples and thick clusters of dark purple grapes. In a matter of weeks, the entire region will be aflame with sheets of red, orange and gold.

Since fall colors can “peak” fairly quickly, we at the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau will be providing you with up-to-date information about autumn colors. You can check in on this blog for regular updates, or go to the Traverse City CVB’s Fall Foliage Web Page to receive updated reports on the progress of the annual fall color display – including areas where the best colors can be found.

Of course, fall doesn’t mean the fun comes to an abrupt halt here in The Teece. Au contraire!  I was just noticing that this is the week when the Traverse City History Center puts on its 15th Annual Heritage Days celebration (speaking of nostalgia). It’s being held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday down at Hannah Park, along the south bank of the Boardman River.

Learning to Cut Wood the Old-Fashioned way at Hannah Park
Learning to Cut Wood the Old-Fashioned way at Hannah Park

There’ll be historical re-enactors demonstrating life in pioneer times, plus quilters, weavers & wood turners in the Heritage Center, a pre-war vintage car show on Sixth Street covering the period from 1900 to 1942, historical walking tours, a frontier barbecue, carriage rides, a display of early 20th century “talking machines”, free viewing of the film “Fruit of Dreams” in the Museum Theatre, and the world premier of “Re-inventing The Wheel” by Rich Brauer & Brauer Productions, Inc.

Lots of schoolkids will be coming to Heritage Days on field trips, but everybody is welcome. (And let’s face it, most of us could use a few reminders that we weren’t the first people to live here – or even visit here!) All Proceed will benefit the Grand Traverse Heritage Center, located at 322 Sixth Street in Traverse City.

On Friday and Saturday, another event that’s dear to my heart will be taking place up at the Timber Ridge Resort on Hammond Road – its their annual Leaves & Libations Fall Brew Fest – a way to enjoy local fall colors up in the high country while tasting some of our best local microbrews from places like Bellaire’s Short’s Brewing Company and Traverse City’s Right Brain Brewery.  A mix of local wines will also be available.

The entry fee includes live music by My Trivia Live and a pulled pork plate.  Beer will be available for purchase. It’ll be held rain or shine – they’re setting up in a tent and indoors), so bring your beer-drinkin’ shoes! You can click the link above or call them at (231) 947-2770.

Do not fear the autumn. She’s a sweet friend. She just never hangs around very long.