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.
#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.
Maritime Center at Vantage Point
This venue 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 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 the 1830’s 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 a great example of what was in just about every country village and town in Michigan. Known for their 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 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 1900’s railway depot near the shore. You can also see one of the last remaining chimneys from a sawmill used in the lumbering era from the train depot.
Port Hope is historical. It has many buildings and sites 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 continue to head north on M-25 to get to your next stop, Lighthouse Park.
#4 Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse
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 interior of the house created the need for a new structure. The new keeper’s house and attached 89-foot tower were built of the finest brick available. The light is still an active aid to navigation, making Pointe aux Barques one of the oldest continuously operating Lights on the Great Lakes.
#5 Michigan Fall Color Tour – Grindstone City
White Church Gallery – Shows over 25 fine artists from all over Michigan in a renovated 1880’s Methodist Church. They carry fine art, wood, glass, ceramics, jewelry, fiber, and more. White Church Gallery is the first true dedicated art gallery in the Thumb. The uniqueness of the restored church and remoteness of location makes it an amazing 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.
#6 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 the 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.
#7 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. However, 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.
#8 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, marsh connected by an intensive trail system. There is an extensive boardwalk that traverses the wet and boggy areas of the park. It’s a good spot to stretch your legs and work off lunch.
#9 Michigan Fall Color Tour – Caseville
Caseville 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 check out the color changes along the shoreline.
#10 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. The company operates between spring and fall, depending upon the weather, and has four boats: the Osprey, the Argo, the Patsy, and the Sunflower. You can see the Osprey and the Argo tied up in Caseville harbor at the fish house just south of the break wall. They are open seven days a week. Be aware “it smells like fish”.
#11 Sebewaing’s Charm
Sebewaing – Our last stop for our up north Michigan fall color tour is one of the oldest settlements in the Thumb. First established as a mission among the Native Americans who lived in the area for generations. The town is the headquarters of Michigan Sugar. You will be able to see large mounds of locally grown sugar beets that are being prepared for processing. Here the tour concludes. Continue on M-25 toward Bay City and I-75 or head East on Owendale Road until you head on M-53 south toward Utica and Detroit.
Most Asked Questions About Michigan Fall Color Tours
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.
Besides the 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 Penninsula offers beautiful fall leaves earlier than the rest of the state.
Once the colors start appearing 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.