See the Upper Peninsula’s stunning fall colors

Ask fall color seekers about their favorite destinations in the United States and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is on their lists. (Our fall foliage repeatedly makes USA Today’s 10Best.) Seven million acres of tree coverage, the pristine shores of three Great Lakes, picturesque historic lighthouses, mirror-calm inland lakes, tree-lined rivers and streams and roaring waterfalls make the U.P. a fall getaway no other U.S. destination can match.

When to see the best fall color

The leaf show begins when our daylight hours get shorter and the night air grows crisp in mid-September. First, there’s a splatter painting of scarlet reds and sunny yellows amid acres of green. Then, almost overnight, the hardwood forests explode in reds, oranges, yellows, purples, browns and greens. The colors intensify and peak by mid-October. But this breathtaking show continues for a couple more weeks, especially along tree-canopied roads near the shorelines of Lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior.

Check our weekly color reports

To help plan your trip, check our weekly color reports here for our eastern, central and western regions.

Drive these top 10 fall color tours

Below are 10 of our favorite fall color routes across the U.P. (nearly 1,500 gorgeous, leafy miles). Hop in your vehicle, and prepare to stop repeatedly to take photos. The views get more spectacular with every turn.

Tour 1 | Tour 2 | Tour 3 | Tour 4 | Tour 5 | Tour 6 | Tour 7 | Tour 8 | Tour 9 | Tour 10

Tour 1: Keweenaw Peninsula

Western U.P. | 100 Miles | Fill a full day with stops

The Keweenaw Peninsula is an incredible destination all four seasons but it is positively WOW! during the fall. The foliage will take your breath away. 

Start your tour in Houghton/Hancock. Home to Michigan Tech University, these two towns have a college vibe with a choice of eating and drinking establishments, outdoor recreation and lodgings. Crossing the Portage Lake lift bridge marks the beginning of your Copper Country adventure.

Follow US-41 north to historic Calumet, once the center of the booming copper mining industry. Take in the Victorian-era architecture, and stop by the Calumet Theater, a National Historic Landmark. While downtown, go to the Keweenaw National Historical Park visitor center to learn the location of over 20 heritage sites that tell the stories of the men and women who came to mine copper in this northernmost Michigan peninsula.

Continue north on US-41, taking time to stop at Eagle River Falls and Eagle Harbor Light Station and Museum Complex. The next stretch east on M-26 to Copper Harbor is one of the most scenic in Michigan. Winding up Brockway Mountain Drive brings you to some of the most photographed fall vistas in the U.P. If you can spend the night, this area offers some of the best stargazing, including the Keweenaw Dark Sky Park

From there, make your way south on US-41, stopping for a Delaware Copper Mine Tour. Then, enjoy lots of fall colors as you wind your way to the pristine beach at Bete Grise you will arrive in 11 minutes). Take Lac La Belle Road east then make a slight right on Bete De Gris Road. After time at the beach, make your way south along the Keweenaw Bay coast following Bete De Grise Road. Take a sharp left and follow Gay-Lac La Belle Road to Gay. From there, follow Traprock Valley Road west, turn right onto Bootjack Road, then left on Calumet St. Hop on M-26 at Lake Linden and enjoy the scenery as you return to Hancock/Houghton for a restful overnight stay.

Tour 2: Porcupine Mountains

Western U.P. | 225 miles | 4.5 hours minimum

Houghton is your launch point for this popular fall tour. Head southeast on US-41 to Baraga County. If you treasure fall color, a side trip east of Baraga will take you to Point Abbaye. Follow US-41 east to L’Anse then north on Skanee Road to Townline Road. Locals will tell you that this drive up the Abbaye Peninsula rivals any “leaf peeping” drive in the nation. 

Return to Baraga and make your way west on M-38 to Ontonagon County. It is home to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park — the Midwest’s “last great wilderness.” It’s 60,000 acres of gorgeous vistas of Lake Superior’s stunning shores, roaring waterfalls, miles of rivers and streams, 35,000 acres of untamed old-growth forests and 90 miles of hiking/backpacking trails. If you can’t stay for more than a day, visit at least one of these three lookouts — Lake of the Clouds, Copper Peak and Summit Peak.   

From the Porcupine Mountains, go south along CR-519. See Manabezho, Manido and Nawadaha Falls on the far west of the Porcupine Mountains near Wakefield Township. Go east from Wakefield on M-28 to Bergland on the northern tip of Lake Gogebic, the largest natural inland lake in the Upper Peninsula. If you can arrive at Bruce Crossings at nightfall, you can decide if the ghostly Paulding Mystery Light is real or legend. If you prefer to complete this tour in daylight, take M-45 to see Rockland’s Victoria Hydroelectric Dam, the Old Victoria Restoration or Minesota Mine. From there, go north on M-26, jogging west on M-38 to Greenland to visit Adventure Mining Company, where you can take an easy walking tour, rappel down a shaft or sign up for a drilling and blasting workshop. Return to M-26, enjoying the foliage in the Baraga State Forest and arriving in time for dinner and resting for tomorrow’s adventures in Houghton. 

Tour 3: Iron Country

Western U.P. | 221 Miles | 4 hours minimum

Start at Ironwood, at the far west of the Upper Peninsula. If the weather is coolish, stop by the Stormy Kromer factory for a free tour and pick up a cap and other Stormy, stay-warm U.P. gear. Then head east on US-2 to Bessemer. If you have time, extend your tour by going north on the National Black River Scenic Byway Waterfall Tour. This will be a highlight of your Western U.P. travels. Along the approximately 14-mile Black River Road, you can see five impressive waterfalls: the Great Conglomerate Falls, Gorge Falls, the barrier-free Potawatomi Falls, Sandstone Falls’ rock formations and Rainbow Falls. This byway will also take you to Copper Peak for an incredible, 360-degree leaf-viewing experience.

If a waterfall trip doesn’t work into your schedule, continue east on US-2 to Watersmeet. Four miles west of Watersmeet, explore the Ottawa National Forest’s Sylvania Wilderness on CR-535. The old-growth forests and 34 named, pristine lakes are home to a wide variety of animal and plant life. Return to US-2, and go east to Watersmeet jogging north on M-45 to see Bond Falls then backtracking to Watersmeet. 

When you reach US-2, continue east to Iron River. Hikers and ORVers both claim the best way to see fall color is on Iron County’s hundreds of miles of trails. Nearby Caspian is home to the Iron County Historical Museum. This is the U.P.’s largest local museum with over 100 iron mining and logging exhibits, 26 buildings, two art galleries and a gift shop. Return to US-2, taking it to Crystal Falls where you will head north on US-141 to Covington, then west on M-28 to Bruce Crossings, then Bergland at the northern tip of scenic Lake Gogebic. Take M-28 southwest to Wakefield then follow US-2 west. You will be back in Ironwood in less than a half hour. 

Tour 4: Marquette

Central U.P. | 177 miles | 3.5 hours minimum

A good basecamp for this tour is Marquette with its vibrant downtown, dining, entertainment and recreational choices and a variety of lodgings. Start your adventure following Deutsch St. northwest for a half hour along the Lake Superior coastline to Big Bay. Nearby, the 9 miles of Big Bay Pathway trails and Big Pup Creek Falls give you close-up views of autumn’s magnificence.

Return to the junction of US-41 and go southwest to Negaunee and Ishpeming, where you can catch lunch or a craft beer. Mountain bikers can see fall colors from an exciting singletrack RAMBA trail between the two cities. For a less strenuous leaf-viewing experience, visit Black River Falls when you’re in Ishpeming. 

From Ishpeming, go east on BUS M-28, taking several small jogs until you reach County Road 480 then south on M-533 to Gwinn. From there, go east on M-94 through Chatham and within minutes, you will enter the Hiawatha National Forest for your fall color feast. Turn right to follow M-28E/M-94E to Shingleton. Once in Shingleton, turn around and take M-28W/M-94W. Take M-28W into Munising, your gateway to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. 

Some of Munising’s fall color highlights include Pictured Rocks Boat Cruises until mid-October, Miner’s Castle and seeing the 16 waterfalls in Alger County. For an unforgettable wilderness adventure, take the ferry to Grand Island (it runs until Oct. 10) and go hiking, mountain biking and kayaking surrounded by jaw-dropping beauty.

On your return trip from Munising to Marquette, prepare to see some of the most stunning Lake Superior scenery going west along the coast on M-28. 

Tour 5: Wild River & Lake Michigan Bays

Central U.P. | 127 miles | 2.5 hours minimum

Start this fall adventure in Iron Mountain by making your way to Pine Mountain Ski Jump, where you can take in some of the best fall vistas in the U.P. At the base of the ski jump is the free Upper Peninsula Veterans Memorial. If you have the stamina, walk up the 500 Pine Mountain Steps. This half-mile vertical climb is the largest outdoor staircase in the U.S. It brings you to the ski jump — the largest artificially made ski slide in our country, too. 

From Iron Mountain, take US-2 east to Norway, then go south on M-8 to Piers Gorge Road and park. There is a 1.5-mile trail that offers spectacular views of the Menominee River, its churning rapids, ledges and waterfalls. 

Return to US-2 and go east to Hermansville where you can get out of your vehicle and immerse in the colorful woods. The Hermansville to Escanaba multi-purpose rail trail traverses 25 miles. Choose how far you want to go hiking, mountain biking, horseback or ATV riding. Highlights along the trail are three bridges with photo-worthy overlooks. 

Go back to US-2 and take it east to Spalding. Turn south on US-41 and go to Menominee, a historic town on Lake Michigan’s Green Bay at the Michigan/Wisconsin border. Catch lunch, then go north on M-35 along Lake Michigan to Escanaba. On the way, you will pass through Escanaba River State Forest where you can enjoy plenty of leaf viewing. Once in Escanaba, stay a day or two and enjoy these local fall color tours

Tour 6: Lake Michigan

Central & Eastern U.P. | 144 miles | 2.5 hours minimum

Some fantastic pull-offs along this Lake Michigan coastal tour will bring you back again and again. In Escanaba, pick up some Swedish Pantry Bakery cardamon bread and to-go coffee or tea, a bag of Sayklly’s chocolates or Dobber’s pasties for the road. Then take US-41 north to Rapid River on US-2. Visit Rapid River Knifeworks, and learn about the craftsmanship of their sports and kitchen knives. 

Continue east on US-2. At Garden Corners, take M-183S to Fayette to explore an iron-smelting boom town turned ghost town, Fayette Historic State Park & Townsite. You can easily spend a half-day here walking the 3.5 miles of scenic trails through hardwood forests, along the bluff and the townsite. Kayakers will enjoy Snail Shell Harbor and its scenic limestone bluffs. 

Another don’t-miss side trip is visiting the “Big Spring,” Kitch-iti-kipi in Palms Book State Park north of Manistique. Nicknamed the “Mirror of Heaven'' by the Ojibwe, Michigan’s largest natural spring reflects its surroundings on crystal-clear waters. It takes approximately 16 minutes to go west on County Highway 442, north on County Road 455 and then north on M-149.

Return to US-2, and continue east to Epoufette and the Cut River Bridge/Roadside Park. The scarlet red, amber and brilliant orange leaves are only rivaled by the Lake Michigan waterfront. 

Just when you think you can’t be awed anymore, US-2 will take you to St. Ignace, the second-oldest, continuously inhabited city in Michigan. Steeped in Native American and European history, this is a good stopover destination. But what will amaze you is the Mackinac Bridge that spans 5 miles over the Straits of Mackinac connecting the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. You must stay to see the sunset and the bridge gleaming with lights at night. 

Tour 7: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore/Seney National Wildlife Refuge

Central U.P. | 160 miles | 3 hours minimum

Fall Color Tour 4 gives you a taste of how spectacular the scenery is along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, but take this tour for the full-blown experience. Motorcyclists rank County Road H-58, from Munising to Grand Marais, one of the top rides in the country. In the fall, it is off-the-charts beautiful whatever vehicle you are driving. 

From Munising, take County Road H-58 to E. Munising Ave. Continue on Adams Trail to County Road H-58E/Au Sable Trail. Go north to Sullivan’s Landing on the shores of Lake Superior. For the next few miles, take time to visit the picturesque Au Sable Light Station, the Log Slide Overlook and the Grand Sable Lake Scenic Overlook

Once you arrive at the quaint village of Grand Marais, enjoy the shops, hunt for agates on the beaches and walk the Sunset Boardwalk. A unique attraction is the Pickle Barrel House Museum, a 16-foot-tall barrel that was once a summer home for a well-known illustrator, William Donahey, creator of the famous Teenie Weenie characters. In the fall, it is open on weekends in September or by appointment. 

From Grand Marais, go south on M-77 to Seney. If you are up to more wilderness sightseeing, continue south on M-77 to Germfask’s Seney National Wildlife Refuge. You will find many places to hike and paddle, but the Strangmoor Bog National Landmark is part of the Superior Birding Trail. This time of year, you are likely to see American Bitterns, Northern Saw-whet Owls and Blackburnian Warblers among many other migratory birds as you meander through. 

Complete the tour by returning to Seney, taking M-28 west to M-94 and north to Munising. If you want to end your day stargazing or seeing the Northern Lights, the mile-long Miners Beach on Lake Superior, off County Road H-28 near Shingleton, is one of the top picks. 

Tour 8: Tahquamenon Falls/Whitefish Point

Central and Eastern U.P. | 172 miles | 3.5 hours minimum

This is a tour where the scenery gets better with every turn. Plan to add extra time for frequent photography stops! 

Start the adventure in Grand Marais and take M-77 south to Seney. If you haven’t seen the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, continue south to Germfask to hike, paddle and watch for wildlife. From Seney, take M-28 east, then north on County Road 405 to Newberry. 

If you have the time, take the six-and-a-half-hour Tahquamenon Falls Train and River Boat Tour from nearby Soo Junction. The boat captain will talk to you about points of interest few people can see from their vehicles. You can also hike to a private viewing area to see the mighty Tahquamenon Upper Falls, one of the largest falls east of the Mississippi River. 

From Newberry, continue the fall color tour, driving northeast on M-123 through Newberry State Forest and the Tahquamenon Falls State Forest to Paradise. There you can visit the Tahquamenon Falls State Park to see the Upper and Lower Falls. For another only-in-the-UP experience, stop by for a craft brew and a snack or meal at the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub at Camp 33, the only brewery housed on Michigan state land.

From Paradise, continue north on Whitefish Point Road to Whitefish Point. This is one of the premier places to see hundreds of varieties of migrating birds following their ancient flight paths south in the fall. It’s also the site of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum with its emotionally powerful exhibits, light station, lightkeeper’s quarters and rock-strewn beach. Open until Oct. 31, you will leave with a deeper respect for Lake Superior and those who have sailed it. 

Make your way back to Paradise, then south on M-123 to County Road 407 and north to Deer Park. Then take Deer Park Road west until it becomes County Road H-58. Pull over often to catch the Lake Superior views. 

Tour 9: Whitefish Bay

Eastern U.P. | 81 miles | 1.5 hours minimum

This is one of our shortest fall color tours, but there are lots of staggeringly beautiful trees in the Hiawatha National Forest and along the Lake Superior shoreline to enjoy. Begin in Paradise and go south on M-123, then left on M-28 and left on M-221. Stop in Brimley or Bay Mills Point to take in the ever-changing landscape of Lake Superior. Brimley State Park has an observation platform to watch the passing freighters going and returning from the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie. You also can see Canada from there. 

After a jaunt up to Bay Mills Point, turn right onto West Lakeshore, travel 19 miles along Whitefish Bay then another 9.4 miles on Lake Superior Shoreline Road to the M-123 junction, and drive north to Paradise.

Tour 10: Lake Huron to Sault Ste. Marie 

Eastern U.P. |168 miles | 3.5 hours minimum

When people cross the Mackinac Bridge from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula, they feel a sense of freedom and carefree adventure. This tour brings out the explorer in you! Start in St. Ignace at the base of the 5-mile-long suspension bridge, and continue north on I-75 to historic Sault Ste. Marie, the oldest city in Michigan and one of the oldest in the United States. Be sure to visit the Soo Locks, the ultimate international and Great Lakes freighter-watching destination. This is also a good place to catch a meal or ice cream snack, visit shops and historic museums, and get outside and play on recreational trails. 

Continue the tour, leaving Sault Ste. Marie by going south on M-129, then left on M-48E to DeTour Village on the St. Marys River. While in the village, stop by the DeTour Passage Historical Museum and Maritime Park. Learn about the area’s rich maritime history, and get front-row-seat views of giant freighters.  

If you can extend your visit, catch a ferry across to Drummond Island, the second-largest island in the Great Lakes. This island is an adventure waiting for you to join in on the fun. It is renowned for its ORV trails, kayaking, hiking, golfing and peaceful relaxation amid the changing trees. 

As you continue your fall color tour, take M-134 west from DeTour Village to I-75 along the northern shores of Lake Superior. Stop frequently at the beaches, and catch a meal in Cedarville or Hessel. Paddling around the Les Cheneaux Islands, an archipelago of 36 small islands, is a fall treat — especially at sunset. Both Hessel and Cedarville are replete with shops and art galleries featuring a variety of locally made crafts and gifts! 

When you reach I-75, go south to St. Ignace. Stay over. There are lots of things to do in this historic town tomorrow. 

Where to stay to take in the U.P.’s brilliant forests

Throughout the U.P., you can find lodgings, resorts and campgrounds with the rates and amenities that fit your fall color tour plans. September to mid-October are popular times to visit, so to get the dates you want, book your stay ahead. We can’t wait to share this beautiful peninsula with you soon!