Northern Michigan aces autumn

Marie Havenga • Nov 3, 2018 at 11:00 AM

Michigan is full of fall fascination, so it's no wonder so many are “Smitten with the Mitten” this time of year.

We recently headed out in our motor home for an “up north” color tour.

Traveling north on U.S. 131 in mid-October, the colors sparkled around Cadillac.

But no Pure Michigan color tour seems complete without a trek through the Tunnel of Trees.

This iconic stretch of M-119 runs from Harbor Springs to Cross Village. Because it's a narrow road, trees overhang from both sides, thus, the name. But because it's not a full two lanes, don't get so busy gawking at the beautiful colors that you forget to watch for oncoming vehicles.

You'll travel about 20 miles through some of the best scenery in Michigan, with many scenic overlooks peering over Lake Michigan.

Be sure to stop in the town of Good Hart. The Good Hart General Store is a true step back in time, with a post office (complete with old-fashioned post office boxes), snacks, deli, fresh baked goods, ice cream, Michigan specialty items and more.

The store, tucked into a glorious fall splash of colorful trees, is known for its homemade beef or chicken pot pies, available for purchase or shipping.

You also won't want to miss the historic Legs Inn in Cross Village, the official end of the Tunnel of Trees. Built in the 1920s by Stanley Smolak, the Polish restaurant was named by the Michigan Historical Commission as one of the most unusual landmarks in the state.

The name “Legs Inn” comes from the row of inverted cast iron stove legs Stanley used to create the decorative railing on the building's roof.

Check out the teepee on the outside, then head inside where a gift shop and tantalizing scents of authentic Polish food waft through the restaurant.

You can dine on smoked kielbasa, cabbage rolls, homemade sauerkraut, pierogies, potato pancakes and more, surrounded by wood carvings, totem poles and natural stone that Smolak so delighted in.

Even if you're not hungry, stop for a spell and have a cup of coffee or drink on the outdoor patio if weather permits. The restaurant offers stunning views of Lake Michigan. If it's evening, stick around for what's bound to be a most memorable sunset.

We spent the night at Wilderness State Park just west of Mackinaw City. If you haven't been, definitely add it to your to-do list. The park sits on the shore of Lake Michigan and offers breathtaking views of rolling waves.

It was too cold for a campfire, so we played a game of Monopoly in the motor home before settling in for the night.

I can't think of a sweeter sound to fall asleep to than salt-free surf meeting sand.

In the morning, we bundled up for a stroll on the beach as the tent campers next to us, teeth chattering, packed up early and headed out.

We then headed for Mackinaw City for photos of the bridge, pasties and smoked whitefish. We stumbled upon Mystery Town, USA, a fairly new attraction that young kiddos will likely find interesting.

This walk-through attraction brings to life some of the world's greatest mysteries, interactive displays of the Bermuda Triangle, outer space, Atlantis, the Loch Ness monster, Big Foot and more.

To experience fall colors from more of an aerial perspective, we headed south to Boyne Highlands and hopped a chair lift to the top of a ski hill. Although snow began to fall the closer we got to the top, we could see dramatic colors for miles.

If you're looking for a new twist on a fall color tour, this is it. Don't forget your camera!

Finally, after checking out the apple festival in Charlevoix, and buying some awesome hats with the lower and upper peninsulas embroidered on them, and of course a bag of tasty Tango apples, our GPS directed us to the Ironton Ferry Dock.

We were unsure if the cable ferry could accommodate our motor home, but the friendly attendant waved us aboard.

So, for the mere $3 fare, we added a boat ride to our fall color tour itinerary, with a 10-minute jaunt across the south arm of Lake Charlevoix.

This historic cable ferry has been serving the area since 1883. The current vessel, put in place in 1925, came from Ferrysburg.

If you're in the area, it's a fun little nostalgic cruise. And, depending on where you're headed, can also save you some miles on the road.

The ferry, located just off M-66 about 6 miles south of US-31, runs through mid-November.

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