Thursday, September 15, 2011

From the Keweenaw to Monroe

As a travel writer I've been in every county of Michigan, but I still have my bucket list, which includes spending six weeks on the road following the fall colors from Copper Harbor to Monroe. My starting point would be on top of Brockway Mountain, near Copper Harbor, which offers a view of the surrounding mountain ranges and Lake Superior. I'd start the trip in mid-September and end it about Nov. 1.
Here are some spots I'd stop at:
* Big Bay in the Huron Mountains northwest of Marquette. I'd paddle Independence Lake, and take a drive on County Road 612, which goes through the mountains, and make stops to hike to the Yellow Dog River. The Thunderbay Inn is a good, cozy place to stay, with a bar-restaurant, and the prices are reasonable.
* Marquette: The view of Lake Superior is worth the stop. The Landmark Hotel gives you a good vantage point. It's one of the top notch places to stay in the U.P.
* Lake Superior lakeshore. Follow M-28 to Munising,  stopping along the way to look at the big lake. In Munising, take a boat tour of the Pictured Rocks, which are trimmed with fall colors.
* Munising to Grand Marais. Take H58, which is now paved all the way to Grand Marais. Stop at Chapel Falls for a small hike in the woods. Also, check out the restored lighhouse at AuSable Point. 
* Grand Marais to Newberry. Follow H58 along Lake Superior, and stop along the way for walks on the beech. Head south on H17 to Newberry, where you'll find plenty of motels and restaurants.
* Tahquamenon Falls. If you've never seen them, fall is a great time of year. Less crowds, and fall color to boot. 
* Mackinac Island. The crowds are down, and its cooler, so walking around is a joy.
* Cross Village. Take County Road C 66 west off of I-75, and spend time exploring the little village perched on Lake Michigan. Stop at the Legs Inn, a quirky bar-restaurant hand built from local wood by its founder. Follow M-119 south, which is called the Tunnel of Trees, to Harbor Springs. It's slow going because of the winding road, and traffic.
* The apple harvest. The fruit growing region along Lake Michigan from Traverse City to Manistee is worth several days, if you like the harvest season and road side stands. I usually buy too many apples and pears because I know the money is getting right in the pockets of Michigan farmers.
* The elk herd. Gaylord and Vanderbilt on I-75 are the gateway to the Pigeon River State Forest and its elk herd, which is active in the fall because its mating. Check with the DNR for sites where the elk can be seen. 
* Float the Au Sable River. The crowds are down, and it's a good time to paddle one of the states best trout streams. Grayling is a good place to cast off, but Mio has even less crowds, and the river is wider there. It's all easy  paddling, even for a novice. 
* The Thumb. This region is often overlooked, but it has a certain charm in the autumn when the farmers are in their fields harvesting sugar beets, beans and corn. Stops in towns like Bay Port, Bad Axe, Caro and Cass City offer a glimpse of rural life. They're not touristy and there are more grain elevators than gift shops.
* Southeastern Michigan. There's more to see here than factories. The Huron-Metro park system offers access to the Huron River and lakes. There's some good hiking in the parks, too. Apple orchards and cider mills abound. 
* Monroe. It's almost a forgotten place, but it was the hometown of General George Armstrong Custer and there's a museum there to honor him. Monroe is a low-impact city on Lake Erie. For a pleasant afternoon, check out Sterling State Park, just north of Monroe. It offers a view of the lake and picnic areas. 

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