By Dianna Stampfler
Each fall, Michigan puts on a magnificent show as nearly 150 species of trees turn vibrant shades of red, orange, gold, and yellow, adorning more than 18.5 million acres of forests set against a backdrop of evergreens and the deep blue waters of the Great Lakes. The northern Lake Michigan shoreline, from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs, boasts countless attractions and activities to enhance your coastal color tour.
More than a century ago, visionary Earl Young gathered boulders of all shapes and sizes, crafting them into four noted waterfront businesses and 26 unique homes. Affectionately known as “hobbit,” “gnome,” or “mushroom” houses, these one-of-a-kind dwellings are easily identified by their curvaceous eaves, undulating cedar shake rooflines, and whimsical design.
Mushroom House Tours operates an 11-passenger GEM car that transports visitors through the neighborhoods where this inspiring architect’s legacy remains standing strong; a self-guided map is also available for those looking to walk, bike, or drive themselves.
A handful of these charming homes are also rented out for overnight stays, while one of Young’s 1959 commercial properties has recently been renovated into a 56-room Mid-century Modern boutique hotel called The Earl. Perched on the northwest side of the Pine River Channel, which connects Round Lake to Lake Michigan, Stafford’s Weathervane Restaurant is a legendary eatery converted by Young on the site of the city’s former grist mill.
On the outskirts of town, the illustrious Castle Farms is a former working farm designed by Albert Loeb, Vice President of Sears, Roebuck and Company, and modeled after the stone barns and castles of Normandy, France. Reincarnated as an outdoor concert venue in the 1960s, today it hosts weddings, festivals, and social events as well as public tours of the buildings, grounds, and gardens. There’s even an enchanted forest, complete with mystical dragons; Michigan’s largest outdoor model railroad system; and 1918 Cellars, one of a dozen wineries that comprise the Petoskey Wine Trail.
To celebrate the annual harvest, Charlevoix hosts its 44th Annual Apple Festival, October 13-15. Sample fresh cider and donuts, pick up locally grown seasonal produce, peruse the arts and crafts fair, compete in the apple pie eating contest, and enjoy kids’ activities throughout this three-day event.
At the heart of the Little Traverse Bay region sits the city of Petoskey, where million-dollar sunsets are the most treasured souvenirs, no matter the season.
Downtown is loaded with historic charm and quaint storefronts adorned with scarecrows, pumpkins, sunflowers, and other autumn décor. Roast and Toast Café provides the perfect place to warm up with hot tea, cider, coffee, and a selection of flavorful soups and sandwiches. Next door, McLean & Eakin Booksellers specializes in the latest releases as well as titles from noted Michigan authors like Viola Shipman, Stewert James, Karen Dionne, and Cynthia Birk.
Visitors may notice bronze plaques mounted on several buildings honoring the literary legacy of Ernest Hemingway, who spent his childhood summers in the region and included several of these locales in his fictional works The Nick Adams Stories and The Torrents of Spring. There’s even a statue of “Young Hemingway” standing near the railroad tracks in Pennsylvania Park to commemorate his local influence. Dive deeper into the writer’s life and works during the annual Michigan Hemingway Society Annual Conference held here each fall.
For a stellar meal and unparalleled wine list, make reservations at Chandler’s. Tucked in a courtyard behind Symon’s General Store, this is the hottest place in town for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. The Awesome Coffee is the perfect autumn treat, with a preparation just as wonderful as the aroma and flavor.
Around the corner, Stafford’s Perry Hotel has been welcoming overnight guests since 1899 and is the city’s only turn-of-the-century resort property still in operation. Breakfast is served in the landmark H.O. Rose Room overlooking Little Traverse Bay, where the house-made pecan rolls are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The relaxing lower-level Noggin Room features a tasty pub menu and live local entertainment on select nights, year-round.
Traveling north on M-119 out of Harbor Springs toward Cross Village is one of the most picturesque drives in America known as the “Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route.” The narrow, winding two-lane road meanders slowly beneath branches lush with a kaleidoscope of leaves woven together to create the canopy effect that draws visitors from far and wide.
Pond Hill Farm is one of the first agritourism destinations to hit along the way, with its café, winery, brewery, and market, as well as seasonal activities for the entire family – like the pumpkin patch. Eight miles up the road, the Good Hart General Store features an abundance of Michigan-made items, baked goods, and commemorative M-119 logoed items. The route ends at the iconic Legs Inn restaurant in Cross Village, one of the state’s must-visit family-owned eateries with mouth-watering Polish fare, manicured gardens, Lake Michigan views, rustic décor, and a northern-inspired gift shop.
Six Side Stops
- Take a cruise aboard the Little Traverse Bay Ferry, operating into the fall season, weather permitting.
- Cross the new 1,200-square-foot SkyBridge at Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne Falls, the world’s largest timber-towered suspension bridge.
- Gaze at the stars at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, situated along Lake Michigan north of Cross Village and southwest of Mackinaw City.
- Hop the ferry in downtown Charlevoix to explore historic Beaver Island, Michigan’s Emerald Isle.
- Hunt for Michigan’s illusive Petoskey Stone, named the official “State Stone” in 1965.
- Discover additional Hemingway historic sites in Horton Bay, Walloon Lake, Kalkaska, and the Pigeon River Country in Vanderbilt.