Today you will travel north along M-25. This tour will not be found on the Pure Michigan Fall Color Tour as it’s a closely guarded secret. M-25 is considered one of Michigan’s first scenic highways as most of it closely hugs the shore all the way around the thumb. Our first stop to finding Michigan fall colors is to see if we can catch a glimpse of one of the big freighters moving up the St. Clair River.
Michigan Thumb Fall Color Tour Map 2022
#1 Port Huron
Our Fall color tour starts at the gateway to the Thumb. In the 1800s, stagecoaches plied their way north to lumber camps along ancient Indian trails on the Lake Huron shoreline while schooners and steamships passed on their way to the upper Great Lakes.
Today you can get to all the neat locations in the Thumb in only a few hours along this ribbon of highway around the Thumb.
Maritime Center at Vantage Point
Maritime Center at Vantage Point is a great place to watch the freighter and boat traffic on the St. Clair River. You can see the expected passage of named ships on the Boatnerd vessel passage page.
The Maritime Center holds artifacts from the history of shipping in the river. It’s free to visit, with indoor and outdoor seating available. There is also a snack bar and food vendors outside seasonally. Talk about a walk along the mile-long boardwalk and natural pathway. On Sundays shipping, history presentations are conducted. The farmers market is open from 8 am until 2 pm on Tuesday and Saturday in season. Plenty of parking and free Wi-Fi is available.
#2 Traveling up the Sunrise Side of Lake Huron – Lexington
Lexington – Our first stop to find Michigan fall colors is only a little over a ½ hour from Port Huron. This town was first settled in 1830, supporting lumbering and early farmers with blacksmiths, shoemakers, and fishing. Today it’s considered “on the edge” of suburbia for Metro Detroit.
Lexington General Store – This store was built in the late 1800s and is an excellent example of what was in just about every country village and town in Michigan. It is known for its large candy selection, including the old-fashioned penny candy. Walk along with old squeaky wood floors, and browse gifts, lake signs, candles, kitchenware, jellies, and souvenirs. Listen for the “cha-ching” from their pull handle register from every sale. This is a neat step back in time.
#3 Catch the Michigan fall colors in Port Sanilac
Port Sanilac, Michigan, is a small town located on Lake Huron. The town is home to the Port Sanilac Lighthouse, which was built in 1886 and added to the National Register of Historic Places. The lighthouse sits on a small bluff overlooking the lake and harbor. It’s a great spot to take pictures.
Today, you can take a walk along the beach at Port Sanilac Harbor, which overlooks Lake Huron and is surrounded by trees and wildlife. You’ll be able to see sailboats and cruisers coming in from all over the Great Lakes and enjoy the beautiful scenery of this quiet area.
You can see a live webcam of the Port Sanilac Michigan harbor and the lighthouse. Using the viewer controls, pan right to see the lighthouse in operation at night.
#4 Michigan Fall Color Tour – Port Hope
Port Hope – We are nearing what is considered the Upper Thumb at Port Hope. Here the railway ended, and you can visit one of the finest examples of the early 1900s railway depot near the shore. You can also see one of the last remaining chimneys from a sawmill from the train depot used in the lumbering era.
Port Hope is historical. Many buildings and sites are registered in the National Register of Historic Places. With 11 sites, it’s the largest in the Thumb and maybe Michigan for a single location. Port Hope is a day-trip destination all to itself, and we pointed out the highlights in Port Hope – A Charming Village To Explore On The Lake Huron Shore. Once you’re done with Port Hope, head north on M-25 to get to your next stop, Lighthouse Park.
#5 Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse on Michigan Fall Color Tour
Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse – The original Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse was constructed of stone taken from the shore of Lake Huron in 1848. The keeper’s house and separate tower were located on a three-acre clearing hacked out of the dense wilderness.
By 1857, the ravages of shoreline weather and a fire in the house’s interior created the need for a new structure. The new keeper’s house and attached 89-foot tower were built of the finest brick. The light is still an active aid to navigation, making Pointe aux Barques one of the oldest continuously operating Lights on the Great Lakes.
#6 Michigan Fall Color Tour – Grindstone City
Grindstone City is a small town in Michigan centered around the Grindstone City General Store. This town has a lot of history, and you can take a walk to the harbor and pier to catch a glimpse of the enormous grindstones that were once made in the town.
The Grindstone City General Store is well-known for its amazing colossal ice cream cones and its selection of classic candy!
White Church Gallery – Shows over 25 fine artists from all over Michigan in a renovated 1880s Methodist Church. They carry fine art, wood, glass, ceramics, jewelry, fiber, and more. White Church Gallery is the first actual dedicated art gallery in the Thumb. The restored church’s uniqueness and its location’s remoteness make it a fantastic place. The centerpiece of this renovated church is a beautifully restored qua-trefoil stained glass window at the front of the gallery crafted by Tom Newton. You can sit on the pews of the old church across the street at Rybak’s Ice Cream on the front porch.
Lunchtime at Shelly’s
Shelly’s Bar & Grill – It’s lunchtime. Shelly’s is one of those hidden gems that no one talks about. They don’t advertise much because they don’t need to. A favorite with the locals and bike clubs touring the shoreline. It’s one of our go-to places when we want to get away from the crowds and tourists of Port Austin. Make no mistake; it’s tavern food. But they have large portions, and if you’re lucky enough to find they have walleye available – get it. Don’t let the exterior put you off. It’s super clean, and they have the coldest beer at the tip of the Thumb.
#7 Michigan Fall Color Tour – Port Austin
Port Austin – After lunch, you can keep hugging the shoreline or cut through the back roads through Port Austin. Stop in town and browse its shops and galleries.
If you have time, stroll the harbor or head to Bird Creek County Park for a stroll along the beach on the long boardwalk. If you’re ready to travel, keep heading east out of town.
#8 Michigan Fall Color Tour – Port Crescent State Park
Port Crescent State Park – This state park is one of the larger state parks in southern Michigan. Located at the tip of Michigan’s “thumb” along three miles of sandy shoreline of Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay, the park offers excellent fishing, canoeing, hiking, cross-country skiing, birding, and hunting opportunities.
A little-known aspect of this park is that it sits on the location of a ghost town. Port Crescent prospered as a lumber town from about 1864 to 1881. One sawmill became so busy salvaging thousands of trees felled in one of the infamous fires experienced by the Midwest in 1871 that it added a 120-foot brick chimney to help power the plant. The remains of this chimney are visible in the campground area.
#9 Huron County Nature Center
One of the treasured spots along the shore is the Huron County Nature Center. With its groomed trails going into the dunes and forest, you can experience what the area was like before the European settlers came to the area. The Center is located midway between Caseville and Port Austin. The wilderness arboretum offers over 120 acres of woods, dunes, and marsh connected by an intensive trail system. An extensive boardwalk traverses the wet and boggy areas of the park. It’s a good spot to stretch your legs and work off lunch.
#10 Michigan Fall Colors Tour – Caseville
Caseville and Its Huge Breakwall – Watch for signs for the Caseville break-wall. This long structure takes you out into the Bay without getting your feet wet. Watch the boats leave the harbor and check out the fisherman who is having a bit of luck with the perch. It’s also a fine spot to look back and see the color changes along the shoreline.
#11 Michigan Fall Color Tour – Bay Port
Bay Port – From Caseville, continue to head west on M-25. You will pass Sand Point. This spike of land extends over a mile into Saginaw Bay and has some of the neatest cottages in the area. Cruise safely west along Wild Fowl Bay until you reach the town of Bay Port. Watch for the big fish sign and turn right toward the docks.
Bay Port Fish Company – Bay Port Fish Company has been a commercial fishery in Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay since 1895. Depending upon the weather, the company operates between spring and fall and has four boats: the Osprey, the Argo, the Patsy, and the Sunflower. The Osprey and the Argo are tied up in Caseville harbor at the fish house just south of the break wall. They are open seven days a week. Be aware that “it smells like fish.”
#12 Sebewaing’s Charm
Sebewaing – Our Michigan fall color tour map includes a stop at one of the oldest settlements in the Thumb. First established as a mission among the Native Americans who had lived in the area for generations. The town is the headquarters of Michigan Sugar. Large mounds of locally grown sugar beets are being prepared for processing. Continue on M-25 toward Bay City and I-75.
#13 Akron – the Indian Dave Historical Marker
This is one of the more obscure stops on our Michigan Fall color tour 2022. At the Wisner Township Cemetary entrance is the historical marker for a local legend, Indian Dave.
He was born in 1803 and given the name Ishdonquit. According to local legend, Indian Dave was there when the tribal chiefs signed the Treaty of Saginaw in 1819. The United States claimed about four million acres of territory in this treaty, roughly one-third of Michigan’s lower peninsula.
Indian Dave was a bit of a nomad, spending much of his time in Tuscola County in a makeshift wigwam but displaying his skill by crafting baskets, arrows, and tiny toys for children. He died at the age of 106 and is buried in an unmarked grave at the Wisner Township Cemetery. The historical plaque commemorates an individual who was an important part of Thumb’s history many years ago.
#14 – Quanicassee – Legend of Jenny, The Beer Drinking Bear
The name “Quanicassee” is of Native American origin, meaning “lone tree.” The entire area had been a fishing village, and the marshes were known for wild rice long before the arrival of white settlers. In the early 1900s, entrepreneur Frank Vanderbilt built a nearby hotel and started collecting wild animals for a roadside zoo.
One of his early acquisitions was a female black bear. Named Jenny, the bear was known for taking a beer. Soon the bear became aggressive, and Frank could no longer care for her. He unwittingly gave her to a hunting club, who then placed the bruin on the menu at a wild game dinner. It was said that out of guilt, Frank Vanderbilt placed a statue of Jenny near his former resort’s site. It can be seen today as one of the Thumb’s roadside attractions.
#15 – Bay City Center Avenue Historic Byway
Our final stop to catch the fall colors in Michigan is Bay City.
This is a 1.5-mile trip east of Center Avenue Neighborhood District (along M-25) from downtown Bay City to the city borders. One of Michigan’s most exceptional collections of architecturally noteworthy dwellings and institutional buildings may be found along these city blocks.
The opulent houses originated in the early 1870s when some of Bay City’s most prosperous families began to build residences along the tree-lined boulevard, eventually becoming one of the town’s main east/west thoroughfares. These affluent individuals reflected their wealth in their homes and built exquisite Victorian palaces on well-spaced grounds with vast lawns and adequate setbacks from the road. Travel this route to relive a time when logging, shipbuilding, agriculture, and trade flourished in this bayside metropolis.
Most Asked Questions About Michigan Fall Color Tours
What are the best dates for a Michigan Fall Color Tour?
The time to be in Michigan for peak fall color is in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, starting as early as the second week in September. Mid-October is the best bet for most of the northern half of the lower peninsula.
Where to see fall colors in Michigan?
Besides beautiful Michigan’s Thumb region, you may want to consider a fall wine tour. Two excellent areas are Southwest Michigan near Benton Harbor and Paw-Paw and Northeast Michigan near Leland and the Old Mission Point Peninsula. The entire Michigan Upper Peninsula offers beautiful fall leaves earlier than the rest of the state.
How long do fall colors last in Michigan?
Once the colors appear in late September, they will continue strong in the Thumb until mid to late October. The further north you go, the color gets less evident.