It’s that time of year again. The kids are back in school, football is back on TV, and it’s only a matter of time before we break out the winter coats and snowblowers. Before that happens, though, we get to indulge in a classic U.P. tradition that draws visitors to Delta County from all over the Midwest: leaf peeping.
Few places in the U.P. offer a better range of fall color experiences than the Garden Peninsula, which boasts an impressive range of deciduous trees, secluded roads, stunning vistas and miles of shoreline. Let’s take a look at five of the peninsula’s notable foliage-viewing spots.
M-183: a Classic Shoreline Drive
The Garden Peninsula’s busiest road, M-183, also leads to its only proper settlement, Garden. M-183 splits off from US-2 about 15 miles west of Manistique. It heads south along the shore of Big Bay de Noc, rarely straying more than a quarter mile from the shoreline. For the first part of the drive, you’re surrounded by a gently rolling landscape of maple, basswood, oak and birch. These trees turn vibrant yellows, electric oranges and even deep red during the first couple weeks of October.
Though M-183 doesn’t have a lot of stretches right on the bay, you’ll catch glimpses of the water on your right as you drive south. The contrast of the deep blue (or slate gray, depending on the clouds) water against the stunning leaves is always welcome. Later in the season, as more leaves fall, these views open up and frame the remaining foliage even better.
Hidden Shores Drive/Road
On the opposite side of the peninsula, Hidden Shores Drive is a hard-to-find but rewarding treat. To get there, take County 435 south from US-2 — the split is just a couple miles west of Manistique — along the shore of Lake Michigan. You’ll get occasional views of the lake’s open waters as well as rich foliage displays in the surrounding birch-and-maple forest.
After a few miles, the road narrows and cuts left (east), turning into Hidden Shores Drive. Upon reaching the shore, it cuts right (south) again, offering stunning water-and-foliage views. Note that this road can be a bit treacherous during periods of inclement weather or after wet stretches, so it may be a good idea to bring a four-wheel-drive vehicle. It eventually peters out along the store, but plenty of hiking trails crisscross the woods here (just be wary of private property lines and wear bright colors if it’s hunting season).
Shingleton State Forest Area
At the “top” of the peninsula, the southern section of Shingleton State Forest Area is easily accessible from US-2. This is a great area for a leisurely hike with the kids or dogs and is fun in virtually any weather. One of the nice things about this protected area is that its forest isn’t 100 percent deciduous – with hemlocks and spruces mixed into the equation, the deep green provides a great contrast with brilliant oranges, yellows and reds.
Fayette Historic State Park
At the southern terminus of M-183, you’ll find Fayette Historic State Park, an often-overlooked gem in Michigan’s state park system. Although the main attraction here is the faithful recreation of an old-time logging and manufacturing town, Fayette is surrounded by deciduous forest that turns brilliant hues in the fall. Thanks to its prime location on Big Bay de Noc, it also offers stunning foliage views up and down the shoreline. And while it’s hard to make out the colors on the distant islands that connect the Garden and Door Peninsulas, that part of the view doesn’t hurt either.
Garden Grade Road and Manistique River State Forest
Garden Grade Road runs through the heart of Manistique River State Forest, a little-visited section of protected woodland in the west-central Garden Peninsula. The land here isn’t very rugged, but a handful of watercourses are pleasant to look at (and hike along). The real attraction here is the embrace of the seemingly endless maple and birch forest, which turns vibrant yellow and orange early in the season. Don’t forget the hiking boots and camera!