Best of the Eastern Upper Peninsula: 25 Great Michigan Fall Color Spots
October will soon be here, bringing cooler temperatures and stunning scenery as the leaves begin to change colors. As a recent USA Today/10best.com poll shows, the secret is out when it comes to Michigan fall color in the Upper Peninsula. Over the past few years, we’ve made a few trips to the U.P. to see some of our favorite places deck out in autumnal splendor. Today we will be sharing what we consider to be some of the best spots for Eastern Upper Peninsula fall color with a list of 25 locations. Stay tuned next week when we share our list of the best fall color spots in the Western Upper Peninsula!
July 2019 update: The Upper Peninsula is one of 20 finalist to be named Best Fall Color destination in the U.S. through 10best.com. For more information head to: https://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-destination-for-fall-foliage-2019/upper-peninsula-michigan/
Castle Rock (St. Ignace) – From the top of this limestone breccia sea stack you can see for miles in any direction. Standing almost 196 feet tall, Castle Rock is a great vantage point for fall color in St. Ignace and the Straits of Mackinac. It’s well worth the $1 per person price of admission, and you might find a Michigan-themed souvenir to take home in their gift shop!
US-2 Top of the Lake Scenic Byway – Running alongside Lake Michigan from St. Ignace to Manistique, the Top of the Lake Scenic Byway offers many great chances for fall color viewing. There are many roadside parks along this 92-mile route, and a good portion of the byway falls within the Hiawatha National Forest.
Tower of History (Sault Ste. Marie) – The views of Sault Ste. Marie don’t get any better than from the top of the Tower of History, which puts you 210 feet above the city. From the upper level you can see for miles, taking in views of Canada, the St. Mary’s River, the Museum Ship Valley Camp, and more. Find out more about hours and admission at: http://www.saulthistoricsites.com/tower-of-history/.
Rotary Park (Sault Ste. Marie) – Another favorite spot of our for fall color in Sault Ste. Marie is Rotary Park. Located at the east end of town near the Sugar Island ferry dock, this park is a great place to watch freighter traffic and it features many trees that pop with vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds each fall.
Drummond Island – Drummond Island is an all-season paradise in the St. Mary’s River east of DeTour Village. In the fall you’ll find its forests awash in color as you explore the back roads and hiking trails. https://www.visitdrummondisland.com/drummond-island-ferry.html.
Seul Choix Point Lighthouse (Gulliver) – The Seul Choix Point Lighthouse marks one of the most dangerous stretches of Lake Michigan shoreline between Green Bay and St. Ignace. When the tower and museum is open you can take in views here from 77 feet. Find out more at https://www.greatlakelighthouse.com/.
East Branch of the Fox River State Forest Campground (Seney) – The East Branch of the Fox River State Forest Campground offers 19 rustic campsites and a chance to fish the same river Ernest Hemingway once fished. The Fox River is known for its brook trout and in the fall its tree-lined backs make for a great background.
Upper Tahquamenon Falls – Tahquamenon Falls State Park is one of the Upper Peninsula’s most visited sites in the summer, but it’s always a good idea to plan on returning in the fall to see our state’s largest waterfall framed by colorful trees. The hiking trails around Upper Tahquamenon Falls pop with color – be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for birds and other wildlife!
Sugar Island – It’s a short ferry ride from Sault Ste. Marie to Sugar Island, a 49-square-mile paradise that is home to a handful of year-round residents. “The island is cloaked by deep forests. In the southern portion of the island, it’s not unusual to find moose browsing the young aspens or wading through the marshes. Wolves inhabit the island too, and it’s a special treat to hear their howls in the early hours of darkness. Bird watchers –look hard and you’ll find a heron rookery!”
Cut River Bridge – The Heath M. Robinson Memorial Cut River Bridge is one of the best fall color spots on the Top of the Lake Scenic Byway, offering colorful views from 147 feet above the Cut River valley. There are parking areas on both ends of the bridge and hiking trails that wind through the river valley.
Muskallonge Lake State Park – Muskallonge State Park is a hidden gem located on the Lake Superior shore east of Gran Marais and west of Newberry. You can find stunning fall views here at the campground (on Muskallonge Lake) or on the nature trail that runs near Lake Superior and the remnants of the ghost town of Deer Park.
Hamilton Lake Natural Area (Newberry) – We first visited the Hamilton Lake Natural Area while exploring the M-123 Tahquamenon Scenic Byway, and were impressed with its quiet hiking trails and scenic views. Make sure this stop gets added to your fall color trips to the Newberry area!
Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway – The Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway is full of scenic fall views, especially when driving through the “tunnel of trees” west of Bay Mills. Other great views can be found at the Point Iroquois Lighthouse, Naomikong Overlook, and Big Pines Day Use Area.
Straits State Park (St. Ignace) – Straits State Park offers one of the largest state park campgrounds in the Upper Peninsula, with close to 250 sites. A picnic and observation area gives great views of the Mackinac Bridge, and Straits also manages the Father Marquette National Historic Site (on the opposite side of I-75), another great place for fall color views.
Big Spring Kitch-iti-kipi (Palms Book State Park) – If you haven’t been to Palms Book State Park and the Big Spring Kitch-iti-kipi yet, there’s really no bad season to visit. In the fall the surrounding forest pops with color, and a trip into the spring on a self-propelled raft provides great views and reflections.
Whitefish Point Lighthouse (Paradise) – The Whitefish Point Lighthouse is the oldest surviving lighthouse on Lake Superior, and offers scenic views for miles on a stretch of Lake Superior known for its shipwrecks. This area is also home to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory (a branch of Seney NWR). Hike the trails here to see some great fall color, or visit the top of the lighthouse tower for more stunning views.
Les Cheneaux Islands – The Les Cheneaux Islands are known as one of Michigan’s best summer destinations, but it is also a great spot to visit in autumn. You can reach Hill Island and Island No. 8 from the mainland, and view the other islands from a kayak or boat (use Cedarville or Hessel on the mainland as a starting point).
Seney National Wildlife Refuge – Seney National Wildlife Refuge closes its Marshland Wildlife Loop on October 20, but if you make it through before then you’ll have a chance to see great colors on the trees that surround a habitat that supports a wide variety of avian and small mammal wildlife.
Lower Tahquamenon Falls – The Lower Falls at Tahquamenon Falls State Park might not be as big, but they are surrounded by forests that fill out with color as the temperatures get colder. Enjoy the views in the campground, or hike the trails for a fully immersive experience.
Sable Falls (Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore) – Sable Falls is located on the east end of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, just west of Grand Marais. A short hike and a climb down a few stairs leads to views of a gradual 75 foot drop Sable Creek makes on its way to Lake Superior. In the fall the surrounding forest pops with color, framing the falls for a picture-perfect view.
Mackinac Island – October is one of the last chances you have to visit Mackinac Island during the “tourist season” before ferries from Mackinaw City and St. Ignace stop running. The island is far less busy in the fall, and seeing its historic buildings and forts framed with vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds is a great view that few people see each year.
Log Slide Overlook (Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore) – The Log Slide Overlook has undergone some changes in the past few years due to erosion, but it still provides great views. From the top of the dunes here a glance to east shows the Au Sable Point Lighthouse tower peeking above trees that are full of color.
Two Hearted River – The Two Hearted River is one of the most famous in the entire Upper Peninsula, and fall is one of the best times of year to kayak it. A peaceful, quiet trip downriver will reveal riverbanks full of color, and scenic views of Lake Superior dunes and more. We recommend a stop at the mouth of the Two Hearted, where you’ll find a state forest campground, a suspension bridge, and a Michigan historical marker that tells the history of the Life Saving Station that once stood there.
Mission Hill Overlook – Mission Hill Overlook gives visitors a scenic visit of Spectacle Lake, Whitefish Bay, and the surrounding area near Bay Mills. Located next to a historic cemetery that dates back to the 1880s, this is one of the top fall color spots on the Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park Rivermouth Unit – An under-appreciated part of Tahquamenon Falls State Park is the Rivermouth Unit, which has 72 modern and 35 rustic campsites. The colors will be great here in fall where the river meets Lake Superior, and this popular fishing spot is also one of the area’s best place to possibly spot an elusive Michigan moose.