It’s August and time to start planning that autumn vacation. Why not take a taste of “Pure Michigan”?
The beautiful peninsulas of Upper and Lower Michigan explode with color every fall. The splendor of the autumnal colors in the Great Lakes State begins around September 15 in the western part of the Upper Peninsula and culminates in a burst of breathtaking beauty along the Michigan-Ohio-Indiana line near the end of October. The “Pure Michigan” website can guide you through your entire tour.
But, if you would rather strike out on your own, one of the most scenic drives in the state runs from Bay City to Mackinaw City along the shores of Lake Huron – a route designated at the “Sunrise Side Highway,” the locals call it “Old US-23”. This route starts in Bay City as M-13. To get there, take I-75 North and watch for the M-13 Connector just north of Bay City – this is where your adventure starts. M-13 flows easily into US-23 just before you reach the small town of Standish.
Allow yourself plenty of time as you meander northward. While this trip can easily be made in just a few hours, taking an entire weekend to savor the natural beauty, as well as the local color, will make this trip unforgettable. There are restaurants, quaint shops, and small towns to explore all along this scenic route. While much of the Huron lakeshore is geared toward summer vacations, when the fall colors spring to life, so do the vibrant towns and villages along Old 23. This trip is best taken anytime from late September through mid-October. Timing is everything to see the peak colors. Because this trip winds nearly due north along so much of the Lake Huron shoreline, you will find peak colors throughout much of the fall season. Making your way to the “tip of the mitten” at Mackinaw City is beautiful in any season, but especially in autumn.
The largest city along this route is Bay City – right where the beauty begins. Downtown Bay City is an eclectic collection of shops, restaurants and outdoor entertainment venues. Bisected by the Saginaw River, the city boasts more than one beautiful marina located in the heart of downtown. It’s worth the detour to spend some time wandering the streets of the vibrant downtown or exploring the nature reserve known as Tobico Marsh just north of the city limits.
Ready for lunch? The Turkey Roost, located in the small town of Kawkawlin north of Bay City, is one of the best kept secrets along your route. They serve turkey dinners – in sizes for everyone. And, some say, the best strawberry shortcake this side of heaven. All for a price you won’t believe! Don’t like turkey? Just a little farther north, at what is known as “Linwood Corners” is the Linwood Corners Restaurant – they serve a wonderful breakfast, lunch or dinner. And, if you happen to be in town on Thanksgiving, they will cook you a turkey with all the fixins’ and serve it whole at your table – you do the carving. Reservations, well in advance, are necessary for Thanksgiving at Linwood Corners!
Winding along the Huron shore you will pass through Pinconning, famous for its Pinconning cheese – there’s a factory store along the way if you fancy a round or just a taste. Then it’s on through Standish, past Sterling and into the small town of Omer – home to the internationally famous “cussing canoeist” ticketed for cussing in public after falling from his canoe into the Rifle River.
Some of the most beautiful scenery will be found as you wind closer to the Lake Huron shoreline near Au Gres. Stop here and take a walk out onto the Au Gres pier to truly appreciate the splendor and vastness of this Great Lake. Second only to Lake Superior in size, Huron is calmer, gentler, and much warmer than Superior. Lake Huron is home to some of the best fishing in North America – especially if you like fresh lake perch. If this is the case, the Au Gres pier and a Michigan fishing license are your best friends!
Don’t be in a hurry as you weave your way northward through Tawas, Oscoda and the Huron National Forest. Abundant pines and beautiful marshlands surround the small towns and recreation areas dotting the Sunrise Side Highway. White-tail deer, hawks, and seagulls are common sights on Michigan’s eastern shore.
Next stop: Alpena and Thunder Bay. Historic Alpena is situated on the shores of Thunder Bay. This city boasts several motels and lodges with fantastic views of Thunder Bay and Lake Huron. One of the nicest places to stay is not a chain motel, but the Big Bear Lodge located right on US-23. It’s a beautifully rustic lodge, with completely modern amenities. Its location is conducive to walks along Thunder Bay, through downtown Alpena, and to the local shopping mall. Be sure to get up early enough to watch the amazing sunrise before heading out on the last leg of your 2010 Michigan color tour.
From Alpena to Mackinaw City you’ll travel through Presque Isle, Rogers City and Cheboygan. The fiery golds, reds and oranges of autumn will take your breath away along this part of the route. When you reach Mackinaw City, be sure your dinner includes fresh-caught whitefish at the Lighthouse Restaurant. Of course, one of the many mom-‘n-pop restaurants may be more to your liking – same fresh-caught fish, just a different atmosphere. Take some time to gaze at the amazing view of the Mackinac Bridge connecting the Lower and Upper Peninsulas. You can see from one shore to the other – five full miles.
There you have it – one of the best two-day color trips in the country.
Ready for more adventure – hold your breath, hop on the breathtaking Mackinac Bridge, and take on the Upper Peninsula! They’re just waiting for you to show UP!
Ending your trip now? For a quick trip back to the Ohio line, or anywhere in Michigan, just jump on I-75 South and your two-day journey becomes a half-day trip back to the Flint, Grand Rapids, or Detroit areas – and just a bit longer to many locations in Ohio and Indiana.