Take a Roadtrip this Fall along the M-22 Scenic Drive
Living in the heart of the M-22 corridor I’ve seen it through all seasons. Each has something amazing to offer, but none more varied and beautiful than autumn in Northern Michigan.
In case you’ve never planned an M-22 Roadtrip I’ve put together a list of some of the fun, food and activities to experience along the scenic drive. Named one of the top five greatest driving tours in America by Rand McNally, M-22 has something to offer everyone. But don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. Here’s my list of 22 Reasons for a Fall M-22 Roadtrip.
1. Canoe the Platte. Fall is one of the best times to take a canoe or kayak down the Platte River. The calm cool waters reflect mother nature’s painted canvas, but they also reveal a seasonal secret. The salmon run upstream in autumn to spawn and the Platte River is the perfect place to witness this natural wonder. The weir is closed this time of year which means you’ll portage around it. But on the other side the water boils with jumping fish. You couldn’t get a better view anywhere else. Riverside Canoes is located on M-22 and open until the second weekend in October for canoe and kayak rental, or fishing tackle if you’re feeling adventurous.
2. Check out the giant pumpkins by master carver Ed Moody. On a small city street in Frankfort you’ll find giant pumpkins that miraculously change overnight into fantastic jack-o-lanterns. Only here the miracle is performed by Ed Moody. They do change overnight though since it’s the only time he can work. During the day you’ll find him greeting the guests who come to visit his creations that line the sidewalk in front of his home. To catch a demonstration check out the Fall Festival mid-October in Frankfort.
3. Hike Old Indian Trail. Just on the outskirts of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on M-22 between Crystal Lake and the Platte River there’s a wilderness trail known as Old Indian Trail. There are 2 loops available, both about a 2.5 mile hike through evergreens and colorful hardwoods. But if you make it to the end you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of Lake Michigan, expanses of sandy beaches and dunes. It’s a great trip to take with your four-legged friends.
4. Benzie Fall Festival. There is so much to do at the fall festival we couldn’t list it all here. But you won’t want to miss the pumpkin chucking contest. Here you’ll see trebuchets, similar to a catapult, built by local high school students challenged to see whose construction will go the distance. Once loaded the trebuchets launch giant pumpkins into the air over Betsie Bay in Frankfort. Cheers and bragging rights go to the winning team.
5. Dinner at The Manitou. Nestled among the changing leaves along M-22 a few miles north of Crystal Lake, The Manitou Restaurant is a great place to stop and enjoy a fall meal. If you hear someone ask about Skinny Dippers they’re not suggesting a cold jump in the lake. They’re actually ordering a crispy appetizer basket of potato skins. All the soups and pies are made-from-scratch so save some room for their famous blueberry raspberry pie a la mode.
6. Visit Kilcherman’s Christmas Cove. Do you like apples? Then you’re going to love these apples. Kilcherman’s Christmas Cove grows over 280 varieties of antique apples. Great for eating and baking, some dating back to the time of Christ. This is not your typical orchard. And if that’s not reason enough to make the drive, how about the worlds largest bottle collection? Over 10,000 different glass bottles line the walls of their barn, more than the Guinness World Record!
7. Take in Breathtaking Views. The scenic drive through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park is an absolute must on any visit to Northern Michigan. The park has over a dozen picture perfect Scenic Overlooks which explain why so many of us come back year after year. No matter the season this drive is worthwhile, but the colors of autumn bring out the beauty of this hardwood forest in shining contrast to the crystal blue waters and miles of sand dunes.
8. Explore a 150 year old Lighthouse. Point Betsie Lighthouse celebrated it’s sesquicentennial in 2008. It’s the second most photographed lighthouse in the nation. In the fall don’t be surprised to find windsurfers and kiteboarders donning their wetsuits to catch huge air off the crashing waves along the sandy shore. It’s one of the best spots to surf, Yes surf, in Northern Michigan. The lighthouse is open on the weekends through mid October for tours.
9. Visit Fishtown, the historic fishing village in Leland. Wooden shanties line the boardwalk of this century-old fisherman’s haven. Today charter fishing boats bring in fresh salmon to be smoked at Carlsons, and the Manitou Transit waits to take visitors on the short journey to the Manitou Islands. From unusual cheeses to locally-made clothing, these rustic shanties hold a vast array of treasures.
10. Tour Art Galleries. For the art lover there are dozens of unique galleries all along the M-22 corridor. Stop in Glen Arbor to discover the distinct style of Sticks painted furniture at the Ruth Conklin Gallery. Becky Thacher’s exquisite jewelry is a must-see along the road to the beach. And on the other side of the peninsula you don’t want to miss Michigan Artist’s Gallery in Sutton’s Bay, where art can be fun, fresh, stylish and affordable.
11. Hop on the Wine Trail. The Leelanau peninsula is home to more than 18 wineries. Many of them are off-the-beaten-path, but well worth the diversion. Taking a wine tour has become one of the most popular activities for Northern Michigan visitors. From the tiny tasting room of Chateau Fontaine in Lake Leelanau to the large and impressive Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay, the wineries are as diverse and interesting as the wines they produce.
12. Dine along the water’s edge. When the warm summer’s breeze becomes a brisk autumn wind, find a room with a view and enjoy the scenery from the cozy warmth of the restaurant. Check out The Bluebird in Leland, where tables line the windows along the Leland River. Or visit Knot Just A Bar in Omena where you gaze over Grand Traverse Bay or sneak next door for a sip of wine from Leelanau Cellars tasting room.
13. One Fish, Two Fish, They Fish or You Fish. All along the Platte and Betsie Rivers you’ll find fishermen casting their lines for salmon and trout as they head up stream. If you like to fish, bring your wadders as the water’s getting colder. For a learning adventure take a quick detour over to the Platte River State Fish Hatchery on US31 and 669 just past Honor. This is Michigan’s primary salmon hatchery, where eggs are harvested for coho and Chinook salmon to be raised and restocked in Michigan’s lakes.
14. Feeling Lucky? Visit the Casino. The Leelanau Peninsula is home to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and their original Northern Michigan casino, Leelanau Sands. From gaming, to dining to fantastic shows, they’re a little bit of Vegas in the tiny town of Peshawbestown just north of Suttons Bay. The tribe also opened a cultural museum, Eyaawing perched along grand traverse bay on M-22 near the Casino.
15. Bike or Hike the Betsie Valley Trail. One of the newest rail-to-trail programs, the Betsie Valley Trail is a 22 mile pathway from Frankfort, through Elberta and Beulah on to Thompsonville. Much of the trail is non-motorized and perfect for bikes and pedestrians. The entire trail is stunning this time of year. So pack your bikes, rollerblades and walking shoes for a great excursion through the land surrounding M-22.
16. Take a Beach Walk. The waters of fall are often too cold for swimming, but the beaches are still a great place to enjoy nature’s gift to Northern Michigan. Follow M-22 from Frankfort to Empire and explore some of the roads that lead to small beaches. Peterson Beach, Otter Creek and North Bar Lake are great places to hike the dunes, comb the shores for fossils and capture the picturesque views of Lake Michigan. Or join the park rangers for an evening beach patrol along Sleeping Bear Point in Glen Haven.
17. Shop ‘Til You Drop. The M-22 scenic drive takes you through a half dozen quaint towns defined by their unique locations and the collection of small businesses that make up these communities. Take time to browse through their stores, sample their homemade edibles and bring home something to remember your journey. Perhaps some M-22 logowear would be appropriate. The brand was created by local kiteboarders to symbolize the amazing experiences found on M-22.
18. Endulge Your Inner Foodie. From an agricultural perspective this region has become well known for cherries and grapes, but there’s much more to be discovered. Farms and orchards line the M-22 roadside. And the corridor is home to many amazing food producers. Grocer’s Daughter chocolates in Empire makes my favorite sweet; chocolate covered candied ginger. Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor started as a small t-shirt company and now produces cherry BBQ sauce, bottled sodas and so much more. You can watch fudge made on a marble slab at Murdick’s Fudge Shoppe in Suttons Bay. Or create a real memorable experience from Learn Great Foods fabulous culinary tours. Foodies beware, you’ll be in heaven here.
19. Cruise the Dunes. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of this area’s most well-known features. It’s so large it can be seen from outer space! And now visitors can experience the lakeshore from a new perspective. Sleeping Bear Dunes Boat Cruise operates a boat tour of the National Lakeshore from Frankfort harbor. Their narrated tour entertains you and the breathtaking views are unforgetable. If you’ve never seen the lakeshore from the water, you can’t beat this trip. Sailing twice daily until mid-October.
20. Stand on the 45th Parallel. M-22 wraps around the Leelanau Peninsula on both coasts and has the unique claim of crossing the 45th parallel, not once, but twice! So go ahead, get out of your car and take that photo next to the big green marker. You’ll find one alongside Lake Leelanau on your way north to Leland, and then cross it again just north of M-204 and Suttons Bay near the Vineyard Inn. Looking for other ways to experience the 45th? Check out Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery near Lake Leelanau and 45th Parallel Cafe in downtown Suttons Bay.
21. Drive back in Time at A & W. Feeling nostalgic? What better treat than enjoying an A & W rootbeer float, coney dog and fries served carside! At the corner of M-22 and M-115 in Frankfort this family-owned A & W restaurant is a great stop, especially if you’re traveling with kids. With a free jukebox, affordable all-american fare and the best rootbeer around, you just can’t beat it.
22. Stop, Look and Listen. The change of seasons brings much to enjoy if we take a moment to do so. Listen for the honk of Canadian geese overhead as they migrate in their tell-tale V-formation. Examine the forest floor and you’ll discover mosses and fungi of all sorts thriving on the moist soil. Bite into a honeycrisp apple and enjoy the syrup-sweet taste of Michigan’s fruitful harvest. Soak it up and savor this season.
Autumn in Northern Michigan has so much to offer. So to all you leaf-peepers, welcome! I hope you’ll enjoy these stops as much as I do. While you travel along M-22 through Benzie and Leelanau counties don’t hesitate to take a few detours of your own along the way. And whatever you do, don’t forget your cameras!