Avoid the heavy road traffic of Labor Day Weekend by taking your well-deserved escape mid-September to mid-October.
The scenery, shops hiking paths and wine trails of the northwestern edge of Michigan from Frankfort and Sleeping Bear Dunes to Leland and Traverse City are snapshot perfect. And they follow state and local Covid protection protocols.
Picture a small town where goats on a restaurant roof can cause a traffic jam in a county where visitors to its scenic towns often gather around huge outdoor pots to watch traditional fish boils.
It is Door County, a peninsula that separates the calm waters of Green Bay from turbulent waves of Lake Michigan and where the must-take-home items are chocolate covered cherries or cherry pies and the must-visit time of year is fall.
An easy drive from Green Bay’s airport, the route on the way to the Sturgeon Bay, the first vacation town on the peninsula, is dotted with the crimsons, golds and pinksm of changing leaves. And, as TV ads say, “But wait.” The colors keep intensifying, driving northwest along curving roads through picturesque villages.
Maybe it’s the talk of the Chicago Bears’ training camp. Or maybe it’s the ads for back-to-school supplies and end-of-summer sales. All of a sudden I’m thinking about where to go for a fall getaway that is withing six hours of Chicago. Planning the trip now helps get through the “dog days” of summer.
The itch to getaway to a colorful scenic vista is upon us. The weather is showing signs of fall with warm days and cool nights and some trees in the neighborhood are beginning to show tinges of gold and orange. But before you throw a suitcase in the car and drive off there are a few tips that could up the fall color experience.
1.Don’t use your neighborhood color changes as the definitive guide. Colors in states or area of your state to the north and west may be in full fall color palette or just beginning to change south or east. In the US check fall foliage map or weather map for where the foliage is turning. Some states have color reports. Among the best in the Midwest is Wisconsin.
2.Make accommodation reservations ahead of time. You’re not alone when looking for a fall destination but to avoid bumper-to bumper traffic go during the week, not om the weekend.
3. Take advantage of local Visitors Bureaus to find the best place for what you want. . As an example, Door County in northeastern Wisconsin, and Traverse City in northern Michigan (below the Upper Peninsula) and Brown County (Bloomington and Nashville) in central Indiana keep tabs on what is available and know price points and type. The visitors centers’ websites also show where pets are welcome. Also stop at the Visitors Center for a map, brochures and suggestions because GPS will work some places but not all.
4. Because you are driving, not flying, throw those extra boots, hiking shoes, jackets, sun protector hats and sprays, water bottles, first-aid kits and backpacks into the car. Don’t be afraid to bring your own pillow for a good night’s sleep.
5. Don’t forget chargers for phones, ipads, cameras or whatever other electronics you take everywhere. Also check your accommodations before you leave, they already have enough chargers from previous visitors.
Picture a Midwestern river town that celebrates a favorite son with a presidential museum, its furniture history with a public museum, its appreciation of sculpture with an amazing garden and appreciation of art with a mega fall fair that awards half a million dollars in prizes.
Grand Rapids, Mi., a former U.S. furniture hub on the Grand River and childhood home of Gerald R. Ford is fun to visit year round. But come in the fall when the colors paint the scenery and ArtPrize paints the town. An art fair where the public gets to votes and thus, choose where some of the prize money goes, ArtPrize attracts artists from across the globe and visitors from across North America.
Unlike fine art exhibits that are confined indoors to one museum or outside to a single city plaza or street, ArtPrize blankets Grand Rapids from banks to bistros and breweries to bridges.
Because works are displayed throughout the city visitors walk through buildings and neighborhoods they may not normally get to on a brief vacation.
For ArtPrize 2018, the numbers as of mid-August were 1,417 artists working on 1,271 entries at 166 venues. The event runs from Sept. 19 through Oct. 7.
Among the places that have been venues in past years but are destinations anyway to put on the must visit list are the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, the Public Museum across the road from it downtown on the river and the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park on the eastern outskirts of town.
At the Ford Presidential Museum learn more about Watergate and Ford’s time in Congress, in the White House and at the University of Michigan. The museum is at 303 Pearl St. NW. Gerald Ford and wife Betty are buried on the grounds.
Cross the road to the Public Museum, 272 Pearl St., NW to browse through rooms of native American artifacts, treasured examples from when the town was the US furniture hub, stroll through some old Grand Rapids streets, sit at consoles as an astronaut and ride a 1928 Spillman Carousel.
Amble through the Sculpture Park and inside the main building to discover more than 200 pieces by well-known artists. Around every curve in the path come across works by Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Jean Arp, Richard Hunt Anish Kapoor, Claes Oldenburg, Jaume Plensa and other pieces to photograph and put on Facebook or Instagram.
There is also a terrific children’s garden that adults would love and a peaceful Japanese Garden. The Meijer Gardens are at 1000 East Beltline Ave NE.
BTW Grand Rapids is a good stop on the way up to Traverse City or when doing a triangle that includes Holland and Grand Haven, MI.
BTW if you see bear cubs, pull to the side to take photos because “bear jams” instead of ordinary fall color “peeps” make it hard for people merely driving through the park from Nashville to get to Ashevill, NC.
Overlooking the St. Croix River on the Minnesota side of a waterway that also borders Wisconsin, Stillwater has several historic B and B’s, antique shops and cafes.
I stayed at the Rivertown Inn for its romantic rooms, great breakfasts and charming hosts. However, there are several other good B&Bs.
A good way to see color from the town is a paddle boat excursion.
When ready to look for a long color drive, head north on Highway 95 to follow the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.
Both sides of the highway are state parks. The scenic byway goes from Point Douglas near Hastings to north of Sandstone, MN.
If you didn’t take a paddle boat in Stillwater you can do so from the Minnesota side of Taylors Falls. From Taylors Falls continue north on M35 and then I 35 to Duluth where you pick up M61 along the North Shore of Lake Superior.
The route takes you to Grand Marais. The North Shore is a nationally designated “All American Drive” for its scenic overlooks, fall color, hiking trails and waterfalls. Be sure to make an overnight reservation ahead of time.
Now that leaves on a few trees are changing is the time to figure out where to go to see spectacular color in a few weeks and next month.
But if you don’t want to merely drive some place for fall color and then head back home then consider a vacation destination with great views, hiking, biking, fun shops and lots of lodging and dining choices.
Even though leaves are already beginning to change, only a few places on the US border with Canada reach peak color in September. The problem is that when trees are ablaze with reds and golds in mid-October the roads are often clogged with what some locals in famed fall states call “leaf peepers.”
One way to avoid some of the traffic and find a place to stay is to go during the week, not the weekend. Another, is to go early or late in October instead of the middle weeks.
To help you on your way here are some sites to check for color and a couple of color drives to take.
The University of Illinois Extension site has links to several states’ fall color reports and some suggested drives at Extension Illinois
Color drives and wine tasting await in Traverse City, MI
Called TC by residents and frequent vacationers to the Grand Traverse Bay area, Traverse City is known as the Cherry Capital in spring and summer. So if you go up there pick up some chocolate covered ones or the preserves.
However, in fall go for the color, the apples and the wine. Michigan, and particularly the Traverse City area, is known for all three.
All the drives around TC are spectacular as you motor north from the city up the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas because much of that area has OMG hill top views of Traverse Bay’s bright blue water.
A great place to stay in the middle of the National Lakeshore is The Homestead, a full service resort with wonderful views and a great location.
If thinking of staying on the Leelanau Peninsula check out Black Star Farms. Its rooms fill quickly with return guests so try to decide early.
Basically a B&B style inn with gourmet breakfasts and a glass of wine to welcome guests, the place is nicely located to drive north to shop and eat in Suttons Bay, explore Northport further up and the lighthouse up at the point. Black Star Farms also has its own wine and is near several other wineries.
Go west from Suttons Bay to the cute town of Leland and its historic Fishtown.
The Leelanau Peninsual has several excellent wineries so take the wine trail there. Pause to look across the vineyards towards the bay to snap a photo.
Over on the Old Mission Peninsula, two fun places to stop while doing wine tastings there is the old General Store and the lighthouse. Be sure to have the camera or cell phone ready because, well, just go, you’ll see.
Thoughts on where to stay
Some of the wineries on Old Mission have accommodations but there are several good adult lodging choices in TC Including the Wellington Inn B&B and the Park Place Hotel. Families might like the Sugar Beach Resort Hotel because it has an indoor pool, game room and comp’d breakfast. But the TC area has enough different type accommodations to suit every budget and lifestyle. Same is true for restaurants because the area is a year-round destination.
Start planning now for your fall getaway. Have fun!