Fall in the Upper Peninsula: A Gorgeous Season to Visit
How to plan your trip for optimal fall color viewing
When your region has over seven million acres of hardwood and coniferous trees, the coasts of three Great Lakes and horizons that dance with the Northern Lights, it’s easy to be the premier place to visit in the fall. It’s why leaf peepers seeking the best fall foliage in the U.S. come to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Here, you can be awed speechless by the views from mountaintops, paddling on inland lakes and rivers, and hiking, biking or ORVing under brilliant amber, red, orange, russet and pine green tree canopies.
Below are tips on how to plan your fall color trip to the U.P. and things to do while you are here. No matter how many times you come, you will want to return — and we will welcome you year after year.
Because Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and Lake Huron surround three sides of the Upper Peninsula, our fall weather can not only change from day to day, but from hour to hour and, some claim, minute to minute. The other variable is that the weather can be different in Drummond Island to the far east of the U.P. than it is in Ironwood to the west. Or in Menominee to the south than it is in Copper Harbor to the far north.
You will enjoy warm, sunny days and cool nights from September to mid-October, with some rainy and blustery days mixed in. Mid-October to the end of November are our wild-weather months, which are thrilling in their own right. One day it will be cool and sunny, the next pounding rain with gale-force winds and the next gently snowing. Our best advice, as you set out each day, is to check the weather for your destination.
The warmest month to visit in the fall
September is our warmest month with an average high of 67.7°F and a low of 47.2°F. Early to mid-October still calls for a fleece jacket with mid-to-low 50s during the day and 40s to upper 30s at night. The deeper you go into October and through November, the days get crisper and chillier, and you will want your winter coat, hats, gloves and boots. But bring a fleece jacket for those rare but glorious, late-fall, warm days.
Our leaves change when daylight hours get shorter and the nights grow crisp and cool in mid-September. First, it is a splattering of hardwood tree leaves transforming from shades of green to reds, yellows and oranges. Then, Nature gives the leaves their cue and the forests explode with autumn brilliance, peaking by mid-October. For a couple more weeks, you can still enjoy some beautiful drives under tree-canopied roads, especially along the shores of Lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior.
To find the best places to see fall color when you are visiting, check our weekly fall color reports for counties in the Eastern, Central and Western U.P. We update them every Wednesday during fall color season.
Just about anywhere you go in the U.P., you will find standing-ovation worthy fall color shows. But we have mapped out 10 favorite routes across the U.P. (nearly 1,500 gorgeous, leafy miles) to make your planning easier. The routes include an estimated time to complete each one, but we know from experience that you will stop often to get one more photograph. With every turn, there is a better shot!
Most of the time you are traveling across the Upper Peninsula, you will be in the wilderness. You can drive for miles before finding a fuel or charging station or convenience store. In some areas, cell phone and GPS reception are spotty. As you pack your vehicle, U.P. locals and AAA-Michigan recommend carrying:
- Cell phone and charger
- Waterproof jacket, sweatshirt and waterproof boots. There may be times in mid-to-late fall when temperatures drop below freezing, so pack an extra-warm fleece, winter coat, gloves or mittens, winter hat and snow boots.
- Sunglasses and sunscreen lotion or spray
- First aid kit and matches
- Reflective emergency triangles or flares
- Jumper cables
- Flashlight or portable lantern with extra batteries
- Drinking water, refillable water bottles and non-perishable snacks
- Tire gauge
- Basic tool kit
- Printed maps for your destinations
- Paper towels or rags
- Ice scraper, snow brush, shovel and windshield fluid
- Insect repellent. Biting bugs typically die off in the U.P. after the first freeze in mid-October. Find an insect repellent that is right for you and the U.P. environment.
- 8 Things to Know Before You Go to the Upper Peninsula
- 8 Easy-to-Do Tips for Sustainable Travel in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
- Fall is one of the best times for viewing wildlife, but it is also when deer are on the move and wild animals forage for food before winter hibernation. Please read these tips on the best places to see wildlife, how to stay safe and how to avoid wildlife collisions.
Top of the list of best things to do is following any of our 10 fall color routes. Each one suggests top attractions to visit. But that’s only the start of the fall fun that awaits. Here are more ways to fill your days and nights.
PLAY BY THE WATER
Fall may be too cool to jump into our three Great Lakes — Huron, Michigan and Superior — or the 4,300 inland lakes or 12,000 miles of rivers, but you will love being by our waters. Go paddling, build sand castles, reel in fish, find colorful agates, rocks, fossils and beach glass or walk for miles on soft sandy beaches. In late fall, 6- to 12-foot giant waves rear up on Lake Superior, luring wet-suited surfers to ride them to shore. Even if you aren’t a surfer, dress warm and come watch these daredevils.
CUSTOMIZE A WATERFALL TOUR
The U.P. is home to all but one of Michigan’s waterfalls. From whispering cascades to thundering water rushing over towering cliffs, there are over 300 waterfalls across the U.P. you can use to create your tour.
VISIT 40 LIFESAVING LIGHTHOUSES
On each of the three Great Lakes, you can visit century-old sentinels that have guided ships and boats safely into harbors and around dangerous shoals. While some of the 40 historic lighthouses are inactive, many still light the way. You can go inside several of them to learn more about the lighthouse keepers, the heroic rescues and the heartbreaking shipwrecks.
One lighthouse that adds a twist to fall color is Peninsula Point Lighthouse Park on the Stonington Peninsula near Escanaba. Throughout September, monarch butterflies lay over here as they migrate to Mexico for the winter. The combination of colorful leaves, orange-and-black butterflies and fossils and stones make this Lake Michigan peninsula beach a favorite stopover for fall vacationers, too.
SEE FALL’S BEAUTY ON OUR TRAILS
Hikers, bicyclists and off-road riders will all encourage you to get out of your vehicle and see the gorgeous views from our wooded and mountain trails. Hiking in the Upper Peninsula is as close to an untamed wilderness as you will find in the contiguous United States. Community biking trails cater to families wanting to leisurely cruise along paved paths and roads. Or the gutsiest bikers can twist, turn and go airborne on internationally acclaimed mountain bike trails.
The U.P. also brings you adrenaline-surging and bone-jarring rides on our renowned ATV/ORV/UTV trails. Fall is a great time to see how far you can push your fun.
DRINK FALL COLORS AT OUR CRAFT BEVERAGE STOPS
Whether you come to the U.P. to celebrate Oktoberfest, the wine harvest or time with family and friends, you can fill glasses with craft beverages that reflect the colors of the trees overhead. As you drive around our peninsula, do a tasting tour of our handcrafted beers, wines, spirits and hard ciders at our breweries, wineries, distilleries, taverns and pubs.
GATHER UP VEGETABLES, APPLES, PUMPKINS AND CIDER
Our community farmers’ markets and farms are a color feast this time of year, too. Bring home just-harvested soup vegetables, juicy tomatoes and the best-tasting apples and cider. Have some fall family fun winding through corn mazes or picking pumpkins to carve or decorate your porch. These are memories you will pass down for generations.
HEAR THE GRITTY STORIES OF THE PEOPLE WHO SHAPED US
So many people have woven their grit, brawn and entrepreneurial courage into the fabric of what the U.P. was and is today. Our museums, preserved buildings, townsites, ghost towns and unforgettable mining and timber experiences keep us sharing their stories.
Take the time to learn more about the U.P.’s first Native American families and the European explorers and missionaries who brought their Old World traditions and settlers to the region. Hear the mind-boggling stories of sailors, lumberjacks and miners, fortune-making barons and entrepreneurs and engineers whose brilliant ideas we still use today.
During the fall, especially on Veterans Day, is also a fitting time to honor the brave military men and women who have protected our nation’s freedoms. Visit the U.P. Military Museum and Memorial Park, historic forts and community cemeteries.
JOIN THE FUN AT FALL FESTIVALS AND EVENTS
There isn’t a week in the fall when we aren’t celebrating the harvest, toasting each other, racing, seeing live music and theater performances, showcasing our art and craftsmanship, kicking off hunting seasons, meeting up at spooky places and creating more fun reasons to get together. Search through these events to add your favorites to your fall color visit.
TAKE LOTS OF PHOTOS AND VIDEOS — THEN ENTER THEM IN OUR CONTEST
With so many photo and video opportunities this season, it’s hard to put your phone, digital, film or video camera down. We hope you take lots of pictures and videos and share them with family and friends — and us! — on your social media. Use our hashtag #uptravel for an opportunity to have your best photos featured on our social media, website or in our marketing materials. You could also win one of three top prizes and accolades for your best work if you enter our Fall Photo & Video Contest by Nov. 30.
Although a wilderness area, the U.P. has attracted some wonderful chefs and is home to cooks who still use their families’ recipes passed down for generations. Many of our places to eat have views of the water, colorful woods and wildlife. Friendly staff will make sure you fill up on your favorite foods and beverages — prepared the way you like them — and listen to your fall adventures. We know how important a good meal and conversation are throughout the day.
All across the U.P., you will find places to stay that have the amenities and rates to help you relax. Whether you prefer a modern urban or cozy rustic vibe, you will find an entire spectrum of lodging and camping choices. Since fall is a popular time to visit, especially in September and October, we highly recommend booking your reservations as far in advance as you can so you get the dates and places you want. We look forward to making you feel even better than you do at home!