The Best Michigan State Parks for Fall Color
Fall color in Michigan is among the best in the country (and according to 10best the Upper Peninsula is #1) thanks to our beautiful scenery gaining orange, yellow, and red during September and October. With the seasonal transition comes cooler temperatures and fewer vacations, but if you’re still looking for one last great Michigan road trip this year we have you covered. There are many great places in Michigan to see stunning fall color, but today we are focused on Michigan State Parks. While we love all of our state parks, some are better than others for those who visit hoping to see fall color. Below is a list of the state parks where we’ve had the best luck seeing stunning changes in the fall, as well as a little bit about each park and the best spots in them. Enjoy the color show this year, and stay tuned for more great posts about fall color destinations. These are the best Michigan state parks for fall color:
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – Our largest state park at the western end of the Upper Peninsula is one of the first spots in the state to see the colors turn. With 35,000 acres of old growth forest there are plenty of great opportunities to see a colorful display at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.
Fort Wilkins Historic State Park – The drive to Fort Wilkins State Park comes with plenty of memorable fall color overlooks, like Brockway Mountain Drive, and the U.S. 41 “tunnel of trees.” The centerpiece of the park is its restored 1840s military outpost, but there are plenty of great vantage points here for seeing the color show.
Tops spots for fall color – Lake Fanny Hooe, Astor Shipwreck Park/Copper Harbor Lighthouse
Baraga State Park – Located across the bay from the two highest points in Michigan (Mt. Arvon and Mt. Curwood), Baraga State Park is a great fall color stop for those looking for amazing views near water. This is one of the smaller state parks in the U.P., but it has some excellent campsites.
Top spots for fall color – Campground and Nature Trail, Keweenaw Bay Day Use Area
Bewabic State Park – A great example of Civilian Conservation Corps work in the 1930s, Bewabic State Park is located on Fortune Lake near Crystal Falls. This is one of our favorite camping destinations in the U.P., as we enjoy the quiet, wooded campground with more than 130 sites.
Top spots for fall color – Fortune Lake, Trails
Van Riper State Park – With frontage on both the Peshekee River and Lake Michigamme, Van Riper State Park is a popular destination in all seasons. This state park has a large campground and several miles of hiking trails. This is also one of the best spots in the state for possible sightings of the elusive Michigan moose.
Top spots for fall color – River Trail, Old Wagon Road Trail
Tahquamenon Falls State Park – The main attraction at Tahquamenon Falls State Park is Michigan’s largest waterfall, but there are also more than 20 miles of hiking trails here that follow the river or explore the rest of the park’s 50,000 acres.
Mackinac Island State Park – One of the last places in Northern Michigan to experience the color change, Mackinac Island offers plenty of vantage points for that great fall color photo. More than 80 percent of the island has been preserved as a state park.By late September and October the crowds have thinned out, leaving visitors a more peaceful stroll or bike ride around the island’s eight mile perimeter or into its roads that lead to forts, bluffs, and rock formations.
Top spots for fall color – Fort Mackinac, Tranquil Bluff Trail, M-185
Wilderness State Park – One of the Lower Peninsula’s largest state parks is just a short drive away from Mackinaw City, and while it is known for its 26 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline it offers 250 campsites and plenty of great fall color spots throughout its 10,000 acres.
Top spots for fall color – Nebo Trail, North Country Trail, Sturgeon Bay Trail
Cheboygan State Park – Two of the highlights of Cheboygan State Park are its Lake Huron shoreline, and the ruins of the original Cheboygan lighthouse. Several miles of trails wind through forests and along the shoreline here, providing plenty of great chances to see fall color.
Top spots for fall color – Red Trail, Green Trail, Yellow Trail, Black Trail
Petoskey State Park – Known for its sand dunes, beach, and excellent hunting grounds for Petoskey stones, Petoskey State Park is also home to a few scenic hiking trails and a two campgrounds. The famed Tunne of Trees begins just a few miles up the road, and in the fall you can see the changing colors along the coastline from Petoskey to Harbor Springs.
Top spots for fall color – Old Baldy Trail, Portage Trail
Otsego Lake State Park – This scenic state park near Gaylord offers plentiful outdoor recreation opportunities and a campground. In the fall the wooded shoreline of Otsego Lake makes this a picture-perfect destination, and the calm water offers up many great reflection shots for photographers.
Top spots for fall color – Day Use Area and Boat Launch, both campground loops
Hartwick Pines State Park – There’s a lot more than just pine trees at Hartwick Pines State Park. Here you can find a campground, 49 acres of old-growth pine, a logging museum, miles of hiking trails, frontage on the Au Sable River, and more. A walk through the forest here offers chances to see wildlife and many different kinds of trees as the colors change.
Top spots for fall color – Old Growth Forest Foot Trail, Au Sable River Trail, Chapel in the Woods
Tawas Point State Park – One of our favorite state parks on the Lake Huron shoreline, Tawas Point State Park is home to a historic lighthouse, a large campground, and miles of hiking trails perfect for birdwatching. The splash of color from changing leaves only enhance this already stunning landscape.
Top spots for fall color – Sandy Hook Nature Trail, Tawas Point Lighthouse
Mitchell State Park – In Cadillac, William Mitchell State Park offers visitors the chance to enjoy water recreation on two inland lakes that are connected by a man-made canal. The park also has a large campground, and is home to the Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center. The shoreline of either lake here offers up a fantastic fall color show each year.
Top spots for fall color – Lake Cadillac, Lake Mitchell, Heritage Nature Trail
Ludington State Park – Another Lake Michigan state park best known for its sand dunes and beach, Ludington State Park is also home to a historic lighthouse and more than 21 miles of trails. The park also has shoreline on Hamlin Lake and Lost Lake, and offers abundant wildlife viewing opportunities along the Sable River and at the Hamlin Dam.
Top spots for fall color – Ridge Trail, Island Trail, Logging Trail, Hamlin Dam
Port Crescent State Park – One of the crown jewels of the Thumb region, Port Crescent State Park is best known for its sandy beaches on Lake Huron and paddling opportunities on the Pinnebog River. The park is also home to a campground, and a dark sky preserve.
Top spots for fall color – Day Use Trail, Pinnebog River
Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park – Spanning 92 miles from Comstock Park in Kent County to Cadillac in Wexford County, this is one of the state’s most popular trails for hiking, biking, and more. There are many more trees than just white pine along this route, and no shortage of scenic views as the trail parallels rivers, following and old railroad bed.
Top spots for fall color – Rockford, Reed City, Big Rapids
Hoffmaster State Park – Thousands of summer visitors to Hoffmaster State Park spend hours enjoying the sand dunes and beach on Lake Michigan, but fewer take the time to travel the many miles of hiking trails within the park. The chance to photograph the dunes here in the fall with a splash of color behind them as the seasons change is one that shouldn’t be missed.
Top spots for fall color – Hike-a-mile Trail, Homestead Trail, Dune Overlook Trail
Yankee Springs State Recreation Area – Growing up in Barry County, we spent a great deal of time at Yankee Springs State Recreation area. Visit here and check out the campgrounds, water recreation and fishing on Gun Lake and Deep Lake, equestrian trails, mountain biking trails, and the glacial kettle formation called the Devil’s Soupbowl.
Top spots for fall color – Gun Lake, Sassafrass Nature Trail, Chief Noonday Trail
Kal-Haven Trail State Park – This trail covers 34 miles between South Haven and Kalamazoo, offering up great views as it parallels the Black River and then continues on into the woods as it follows an old railroad bed through Van Buren County and into Kalamazoo County.
Top spots for fall color – Black River Covered Bridge, Grand Junction, Bloomingdale
Proud Lake State Recreation Area – This all-season park keeps visitors coming back thanks to its location on the Huron River and the endless outdoor recreation opportunities it presents. Located just a few miles from all the modern conveniences in the Detroit suburbs, this park offers nature and relaxation in a setting with plenty of colorful fall trees. Check by the river in the early morning and see if the shoreline reflection provides a great fall color shot!
Top spots for fall color – Hiking Trails (3), Proud Lake Boat Launch
Belle Isle State Park – A great fall color destination in Michigan’s largest city, Belle Isle State Park offers up plenty of chances for getting that great photo of changing leaves with the Detroit skyline in the background. Nature trails, a historic lighthouse, an aquarium, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum are just a few more things you’ll find on the island.
Top spots for fall color – William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse Trail, Belle Isle Nature Center,
Nashua Canal, Lake Muskoday, Sunset Point