Autumn in Michigan is one of the most magical places on earth, and there are lots of ways to enjoy the fall color, but this is what I have learned on my leaf peeping trips.
The fall color map that the tourist and news website use is more of a guideline ( as captain jack sparrow would say), I find that they are a rough estimate, but never seem to be that accurate as to when the leaves peek. I think the temperature and weather controls when the leaves peak, if its a hot dry autumn, the leaves will change different, than if it’s a cold wet fall. I find that looking at current photos on Instagram is a good guide as to how the colors are coming along, you can look at hashtags ( or as us old school people call it, the pound sign) and see what photographers are posting, just makes sure they are current photos and not ones from previous years.
One thing we know is the color starts from the north, and works its way down to the southern part of the state last. So obviously head north at the beginning of the fall and then work your way down the state to maximize your leaf peeping potential. I am not fortunate enough to live in northern Michigan and my budget is a little tight, but I find that if I stay in less popular cities, I can find a good deal on a hotel room. Like Munising instead of Marquette, Cheboygan instead of Mackinac City or Acme instead of Traverse City. I find I am gonna be traveling around to find color anyways, so where I stay is not that important. Another option is camping in one of Michigan beautiful state parks, and yes I have roughed it like Matt Foley, living in a van down by the river, but it was a beautiful river in Michigan, so it was priceless.
I know a lot of Michiganders like to go wine tasting, and play golf, but I that ain’t my thing, so while I am up north, I like to go exploring. You could just drive around with no particular place to go and see what you can find, but I think it’s a little more enjoyable to have a few places to visit on your trip. My favorite places to visit are Lighthouses, most are usually open to the public, and some of them for a small donation, will allow you to climb the tower. If you are in da U.P. there are plenty of waterfalls to find. Michigan historical markers can be found in every county in Michigan, and you can do a little research and find some interesting places to see, I suggest checking out www.michmarkers.com for a list and location of all of Michigan’s historical markers.
Now that you have a few places to check out on your trip the secret is how you get there, sure you could take the most direct and popular route using the interstate highway system, but I suggest taking a less direct route on back roads, and going thru some small towns along the way. One benefit of back roads is there are usually little traffic, and its not a problem if you want to stop and take a pic. Yeah I know M22 is a nice drive, but there is a lot of traffic and it’s hard to stop or ever slow down to see the sights without someone breathing down your tailgate trying to pass you.
Going out and finding peak fall color is kinda like going out on the lake and finding fish, I have never been fortunate enough to go up north, and had peak color in a large area like is shown on the color maps. It’s more like small patches of color and some places may still be a little green and others may be past peek, but if you keep driving around and exploring, you will find some spectacular color in places, and that is when it’s time to stop and take a photo. I have learned if the color ain’t to good then don’t try to make something that ain’t there, just keep moving on and see what is down the road.
Now lets talk about weather, my kids are still in school, and I am limited as to when I can get out and go leaf peeping. It seems like when I do get a chance to go its raining, but that’s ok, I have learned on overcast and even rainy days, that when you want to get into the woods and take photos, it the perfect time to get pics of waterfalls ( a tripod is helpful if you have one). If it’s a nice sunny day, that’s when it’s good to get some nice landscape photos with a lot of sky in the photo. It’s best if you can have the sun behind you instead of taking photos into the sun. one more tip, I find that if you bump up the saturation in your photos, it really brings out the colors in the pics.
Also remember, if you live in Michigan, you don’t have to go far from home to enjoy fall. You can always go to a nearby state park or county park or metropark. Take a nice Sunday afternoon drive to get some cider and doughnuts, and if you live in the big city like me, you can always take a drive out thru the country side, and see the barns and farm fields. I bet you will even find some nice places to get some pics not far from home.
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