Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour Itinerary

by | Nov 15, 2020 | Hiking, History, Michigan, Travel

Our Northern Michigan Fall color tour itinerary is a menu of colorful options. How you arrange the order of the various hikes, landmarks, and UP delights is your choice. Our itinerary focuses on five areas of Michigan we thought would have the best color in early October. You could think of the locations as the sections of a restaurant menu:


Michigan Fall Color Tour

If you’ve got a short weekend, skip the first two courses and jump right into the main course. This is a meal you should savor, so I recommend at least 10 days and start with the appetizers. Chuck spent hours optimizing the list so we could see the best color, leave Ishpeming on a Sunday morning, and have lunch at Legs Inn on a Friday.

The Appetizers — Nahma and Ishpeming

Our first course of our Michigan Fall Color Tour has many options. I recommend tasting all of them.

Check into a haunted inn in Nahma, Michigan.

If Chuck mentioned the Nahma Inn was haunted, I tucked that tidbit away in the back of my brain and forgot about it. Dianna Stampfler, the author of the Michigan Haunted Lighthouse suggested we stay at Nahma Inn so it makes sense it is haunted. I was reminded it was haunted when I was lugging my small but mighty and slightly overpacked suitcase across the foyer where a few guests were standing.  “You know Nahma Inn is haunted?” One of the guests decked out in a plaid flannel shirt and sporting a huge smile said. I could tell he wanted to share more, so I asked, “Any particular rooms?” 

Grinning he said, “room 16.” I burst into laughter but Angie wasn’t laughing. 

Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour Itinerary - Nahma Inn

Angie had just spent 10 minutes changing from the room next to ours to room 16. I guess she didn’t like the bed in the room she was first assigned. Plus the room at the end of the hall had better windows. We later learned these were the same windows Nell Fleming would watch for her lover, Captain Charles E. Good, the owner of Bay de Noquet Lumber Company, to sail into the harbor. Apparently, the good captain thought he was too good for Nell. After all, she was just hired help in the kitchen. He dumped her and it broke her heart, so the story goes.

That night Jeff held a vigil in their room hoping to see Nell. All he managed was to stay awake most of the night and feel groggy in the morning. He did not see Nell, but I’m positive Nell was hanging out in the bar while we were there. After dinner, we played several hands of euchre, guys against the girls. We win occasionally. That night Angie was on fire and we shut them out. This never happens and hasn’t happened since. I’m pretty sure Nell was helping Angie. 

The Nahma Inn staff and the other guests all assured us, their ghost was a friendly spirit. I would agree and I think she likes playing euchre. 

Savor a bit of history at the Fayette Historic State Park. 

Do you love history? And Michigan? And hiking? Then put Fayette Historic State Park on your list. You may want to call it Fayetteville, but there is no “Ville” at the end of Fayette. This state park has been on our list for a while. It is located on the shores of Big Bay De Noc on Lake Michigan, not too far from Escanaba. For a taste of this delicious piece of history, check out Chuck’s post with lots of fun facts and stunning pictures.  

Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour Itinerary-Fayette

Intrigue in Ishpeming. 

Besides being fun to say, Ishpeming makes for a fantastic launchpad for our next adventure in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We stayed for two nights and have plenty to say about our intriguing experience in Ishpeming. Chuck has rounded up some fun facts; shares some food, beer, and Bloody Mary recommendations; and as usual took plenty of gorgeous pictures from our walking tour. Check it out!   

Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour Itinerary-Ishpeming

Hiking Hogback Mountain, again. 

Every time we set out to hike near Marquette, we are drawn to Hogback Mountain. This lovely mountain (ok, folks from the Western states will call it a hill, but whatever) holds a special place in our hearts. Within the heart of the ancient Huron Mountains, Hogback is a gem. I’m sure that Chuck chose Hogback over nearby Sugarloaf because Hogback makes you work for its gorgeous views. We used to think of Hogback as our very own secret. Yet when we arrived, we found a parking lot with plenty of people ready to get up to the top and enjoy a beautiful fall day.

Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour Itinerary-Hogback

Introduction to Yooperlites  

While having a beer with our friend Jay Clancy at Cognition Brewing in Ishpeming we stumbled upon the topic of rock hunting. Thank you Jay for introducing us to Yooperlites and lending us your special Yooperlite flashlight. It has a special UV light. Although Jay hasn’t personally had time to search for them, he didn’t want us to miss an opportunity to stumble around in the dark looking for glowing rocks. Did you say, hey I want to know more about Yooperlites? You are in luck, I found an online guide.

Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour - Cognition Brewing

We found a few Yooperlites and even tried to invent a drinking game using them. It didn’t pan out. We got a hot tip about a section of Lake Superior beach where Yooperlites are plentiful. The instructions were pretty vague, between 5 Mile Point Rd and Calumet. We didn’t find it. If you’ve got specific directions, please leave a comment below. 


Dead River Falls – The First of Many Waterfalls 

Dead River Falls is off U.S. Highway 41 West, west of Marquette. It is a fun hike. I would rate as moderate because there is a bit of scrambling over trees and avoiding shin bitters. (AKA tree roots trying to trip you.)  I read on the Great Lakes Waterfalls & Beyond site, “This is one of the best waterfall adventures in Michigan.”  

Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour - Dead River Falls

Bond Falls – Tourist Attraction

Unlike the Dead River Falls hike, Bond Falls falls in the category of tourist attraction. It reminded me of Disney World. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it out, but expect lines to take pictures. It was swarming with professional photographers waiting for the perfect light and way too many folks leaf peeping

Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour - Bond Falls

Agate Falls – Don’t Miss

Not too far from Bond Falls is Agate Falls. It was our last extrusion before checking into our sweet AirB&B in Ontonagon for the night. The trail is an out and back hike, with a lovely parking lot, restroom, and only a handful of folks leaf peeping. We opted to view the falls from the train trellis above the falls. It was spectacular.  

Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour - Agate Falls

Soup and Salad — Ontonagon

The next course of our Northern Michigan Fall color tour has just two entrees, both are found in the Porcupine Mountains State Park

Lake of the Clouds 

For several years Chuck has salivated over the gorgeous pictures of Porcupine Mountains Lake of the Clouds online. Our mission for this visit was colorful trees. We thought we had it planned so we could see the peak color, but we were a week off. We got to see lots of fall color, but unfortunately, It was just mostly on the ground. We’ve got a Troll’s Guide to the Porcupine Mountains with lots of helpful hints if you are planning a trip.

Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour-Ontonagon

Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour-Ontonagon

Presque Isle River Waterfall Loop

The Presque Isle River area is one of my favorite hikes in the Porcupine Mountains. It is a little crowded, but there are boardwalks, a suspension bridge, and three main waterfalls. Plus the Presque Isle River is so impressive. You can feel it as you cross the bridge. If you follow the trail out to the mouth of the river, you’ll have an added bonus of excellent rock hunting. We met Taz during our visit. I thought about dognapping him but figured it might make the rest of the trip rather complicated. 

Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour-Ontonagon

Northern Michigan Fall Color Tour-Ontonagon

The Main Course – Keweenaw

The main course of our Michigan Fall Color Tour has lots of ingredients to make it perfect.

Covered Road Pictures

Everyone talks about the Tunnel of Trees on M-119 north of Petoskey, but they should be talking about the Covered Road in the Keweenaw. It is hands down more beautiful. It is a dirt road west of Houghton and the trees are stunning.

Michigan Fall Color Tour -Keweenaw

The Perfect Whitefish at Peterson’s Fish Market

Eating whitefish while in the UP is like eating popcorn at the movies. You can’t avoid it and once you taste it, you can’t stop eating. When mentioning to any proper Michigander you are crossing the Mighty Mac, they will give you recommendations for the perfect whitefish. So when a friend who lived in the UP and graduated from Northern University says, “You must stop at Peterson’s Fish Market just north of Hancock. I promise you they have the best whitefish”, you make a point to go. I texted Chuck immediately to add the stop to the itinerary. She was right, it was delicious.  

Michigan Fall Color Tour - White Fish

Finding Hungarian Falls 

Is anyone keeping track? Hungarian Falls is the fourth waterfall hike on this trip. Chuck’s directions were a bit sketchy so there was some confusion when we arrived. Thankfully fellow hikers were super friendly and eager to share pointers and tips. The Keweenaw Land Trust has lots of helpful information regarding parking and access. I highly recommend you check it out. We hiked along the gorge which is a moderate hike. If you’ve got less experienced hikers along, you may want to consider parking near the upper access trail. The experience is a little different from the previous 3 waterfall hikes – the terrain is a bit more rugged. 

Michigan Fall Color Tour - Hungarian Falls

Michigan Fall Color Tour - Hungarian Falls

Check into the Fitz 

One of my favorite memories from my teenage years is sleep-overs at my best friend’s house — binging on pizza, playing games until the wee hours, maybe sneaking a beverage or two from their dad’s liquor cabinet. Staying at Fitzgerald’s Hotel & Restaurant is like that, but better. Unless your best friend’s house is perched on edge of Lake Superior, then it is a tie. 

We make a pilgrimage to the Fitz as often as possible. One of the first times was in 2015 during our Keweenaw Peninsula Adventure. COVID-19 made this year’s visit a bit different. For instance, they delivered our BBQ dinners to our room. Sadly we couldn’t hang out in their bar sampling from their excellent whiskey and craft beer choices. No worries we managed. 

Michigan Fall Color Tour - The Fitz

Hunters Point

The Pure Michigan website describes it as a “narrow finger of land that protects Copper Harbor from the storms of Lake Superior.” We visited Hunters Point in 2017 during our UP Winter Adventure. I described it as “stepping into Narnia.” I personally think my description is better but whatever. It is a magical spot even without snow. 

Michigan Fall Color Tour - Hunters Point

Montreal Falls Hike

Chuck professed on the drive to the east side of the Keweenaw, that our next hike was a last-minute addition. He had done very little research on it, but he had directions. His travel companions were all happy he had a plan and were enjoying the beautiful scenery. I’m sure we’re all smiling and most likely humming along to the music. (There is always music on a road trip with Chuck.) 

Then we turned left on to the Smith’s Fisheries Road. A large traffic sign warning us of large trucks greeted us. I could smell the anxiety seeping into the truck. Add to that, Smith Fisheries Road is rough. Parts of it are washed out and are curvier than Marilyn Monroe. For the next 5 and a half miles, I held my breath fearing a huge semi-truck loaded down with trees would barrel around every corner and squash us. (Picture in your mind a scene from Mad Max.) 

At some point during the trek down Smith Fisheries Road, someone asked timidly, “Where are we going?” Chuck said, “Montreal Falls.” It was at this point Angie offered, “Oh I read this morning the Montreal Falls hike is really hard.” There was silence in the car. Somehow the music had stopped. 

It felt like a lifetime, but in reality it was only 15-20 minutes before we reached the end of the road and found parking. There were no large trucks. We were obviously not squashed. We passed 3 vehicles – a Jeep, a 4-wheel drive truck, and a Subaru. Their passengers all waved. We encountered a few other hikers on the trail. No one was carrying technical gear or looked like they were ready to hike Mount Everest. A few had dogs and one couple were birders. Almost everyone was over 50. We started to think the trail wouldn’t be too bad.

I’ve looked for the review Angie mentioned and couldn’t find it. If you find it, don’t believe it. The hike is maybe a moderate hike and it is lovely. Bring a picnic! Spend the afternoon enjoying this beautiful oasis in the Keweenaw. But don’t drive a small Fiat. That would be a bad idea. 

Michigan Fall Color Tour - Montreal Falls

Brockway Mountain Drive

We have traversed Brockway Mountain Drive many times on our way to Copper Harbor but it is most beautiful during the peak color of fall. Yes, the pictures are beautiful, but you really need to stand on the windy mountain top and soak in the color. 

Michigan Fall Color Tour - Brockway Moutain Drive

Jampot – The Home of the Poorrock Abbey  

For YEARS the Jampot near Jacob’s Falls in Michigan Keweenaw Peninsula has been an elusive destination to visit. Mostly because it is only open May through mid-October on Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm. Finally, there was a tiny opening on our itinerary after the Montreal Fall hike when our schedule would overlap with the Jampot. I said, drive fast! I need to buy some holy jam! We arrived with just minutes to spare. The monks were happy to share the fruits of their labor. 

Michigan Fall Color Tour -Jampot

Michigan Fall Color Tour - Jampot

Dessert – The Tip of the Mitten 

Finally the sweet part of our Michigan Fall Color Tour. 

A view of the Mackinac Bridge 

Overnight in Mackinaw City with a view of the Mackinac Bridge. Yes, I spelled them correctly. This is a quintessential Michigan Experience. 

Michigan Fall Color Tour - Mackinac Bridge

Headlands International Dark Sky Park 

Stargazing and leaf peeping aren’t necessarily two activities you’d combine but we did. Michigan is lucky to have an International Dark Sky Park near Mackinaw City and we’ve been curious about it. We were hoping the Northern Lights would be active during our trip but were not that lucky. We had a clear night and wished upon a couple of shooting stars. 

Michigan Fall Color Tour - Dark Park

Lunch at Legs Inn

Much of the planning for this trip was done so we could have lunch at Legs Inn on Friday. Why? The lines are insane and during Michigan’s peak color season, customers have been known to wait for 3 to 4 hours to get a table. You may be asking why are the lines so long? They serve the best Polish Food in the State of Michigan.

We arrived at 11:20 am. They opened at noon and there were already people in line. We jumped in line and got a table right at noon. All the planning paid off!   

Michigan Fall Color Tour - Legs Inn

After Dinner Drink: Charlevoix

You’ve made it to the end. I hope you’ve enjoyed our Michigan Fall Color Tour. Let us know the best spots to find Petoskey stones in the comments below. 

Finding our first Petoskey stones. 

Finding a Petoskey stone is so Michigan. I’ve spent hours, probably years on Michigan beaches and I’ve never found one. Angie found a great online guide for finding them and it suggests 6 beaches and provides some tips. Since all these beaches were all near Charlevoix, we made it our last stop. We had the best luck on Fisherman’s Island State Park’s beach. Bring a bucket and water shoes.

Michigan Fall Color Tour - Petoskey Stones

Michigan Fall Color Tour - Petoskey Stones


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