Scenic Northwestern Lower Michigan is an ideal place to spend a day marveling at the gorgeous colors of fall foliage. Perhaps the best color tour route in the area is following M-22 from Manistee, Michigan, to Traverse City, Michigan.
M-22 runs just over 116 miles, winding along the shores of Lake Michigan and passing through many quaint villages along the way. If you are starting your color tour in Manistee and heading North, you can find M-22 at a junction with US-31 just North of town. M-22, also known as Orchard Highway, connects with US-31 in front of the Little River Casino Resort, an easy landmark to find.
This first section of M-22 winds through rolling hills and seemingly endless acres of forest, providing spectacular views of the changing leaves. This route will lead you first into the village of Onekama (pronounced o-NECK-a-ma), a beautiful little town nestled on the shores of Portage Lake as well as Lake Michigan.
Onekama, though small, features some of the county’s best dining. The Glenwood, located on the North end of the village, offers fine dining on a seasonal basis. Another wonderful seasonal restaurant is Portage Point Inn, located at Portage Point, near where Portage Lake and Lake Michigan meet. However the best dining on Onekama is open year-round, and can be found at the Blue Slipper Bistro. The Blue Slipper is located right on M-22 and is one of the first businesses you will see as you enter Onekama. The establishment provides as casual fine dining atmosphere with an incredible menu of Italian dishes. In addition to an assortment of fabulous and unique dishes, the menu also features a build-your-own-pasta option, allowing you to customize your meal with whatever noodles, sauces, and toppings you desire.
Continuing North along M-22, you will find yourself passing through a string of charming villages. Next along the way is Arcadia. If the weather is nice, Arcadia’s public beach is one of the best and prettiest in the area, and is a great place to stop and take a scenic walk along the shores of Lake Michigan.
The neighboring villages of Elberta and Frankfort are a few miles North of Arcadia. In addition to striking views of changing leaves, Elberta and Frankfort offer additional dining opportunities. The Cabbage Shed, located in Elberta, is a casual dining establishment with a menu featuring burgers, steaks, chicken dishes, and the like. The restaurant and bar also often hosts open mic nights and hosts local bands, making it a great place to stop for entertainment.
My favorite place to eat in all of Michigan is The Fusion in Frankfort. This Asian restaurant offers Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines with an American flair all on one menu. The portions are generous and everything I have ever tried there was excellent. They have the best hot and sour soup I’ve ever eaten, and the sushi selections are delectable as well. If you like curry dishes, The Fusion specializes in curries, making this restaurant a must-visit stop along the route of your color tour! The atmosphere features a clean, modern décor that is also a nice balance of warm and cozy.
Farther North along M-22 is the village of Empire and the fabulous Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of the largest protected areas of sand dunes in the country, and the miles upon miles of unspoiled nature provide some of the best fall color viewing in the state. The road continues through the Leelanau Peninsula, one of the prettiest parts of the area and home to many wineries and vineyards.
M-22 comes to an end in Traverse City, one of Michigan’s premier vacation destinations. Traverse City offers a the conveniences of a major city while maintaining a small town atmosphere.
The route along M-22 from Manistee to Traverse City is undoubtedly one of the best places to view fall colors in Michigan. If you happen to be in the area this fall, spending a day traveling this gorgeous, winding road will certainly be one of the highlights of your trip!