Destination: Fall Color

Destination: Fall Color

Whenever the beauty of fall foliage and the call of the road beckon next, you might want to consider a visit of Michigan’s northern region. The colors are simply stunning.

Compared to our home state of New Hampshire, Michigan is 6.3 times as large and has 20.1 million acres of forest. Five of the Arbor Day Foundation’s top nine trees with the best fall colors are native to both states. While the sugar maple follows the motions of a color wheel, the red maple deepens its red or goes to yellow. Another great example is black gum, which turns purple, then becomes an intense bright scarlet. Bill Cook, a biologist and forester with Michigan State University, points to the northern red oak as another “shared” tree with spectacular color. When we asked him to specifically compare Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to New Hampshire, his response was “U.P. hands-down… Lake Superior beats the snot out of the mountains.”

On the other side of Lake Michigan, “the best driving routes are straight up M-22 along the bay,” says Dan Phillips of the Western Michigan Region of the Porsche Club of America. “You can go all the way to Northport, drive in a figure-eight loop around north and south lakes Leelenau. And, be sure to hit Schomberg Road for the awesome view at the top of the hill, from which you can see Lake Michigan.” His advice is to “mix it up, have some roads along the bays, and others through the countryside. Go for the squiggly lines on the map.” Picking up US-31 around Traverse City, you can then head up towards Torch Lake, which, according to local legend, was ranked by National Geographic as the third most beautiful lake in the world. After Charlevoix and Petoskey, US-31 runs into M-119 and the "the tunnel of trees”, which hugs Lake Michigan right below the Mackinac Bridge.

Aside from great food stops like Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen near Torch Lake and wineries in the area, Dan also really liked Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club. It was the crowning end of his group’s Fall Colors Tour to Traverse City. “Finding the right place to eat after the long foliage drive is half the battle,” he admitted. “The view as you golf and dine can’t be beat. It’s just awesome.”

Apparently Porsche aficionados think alike. Jim Gratton, a PCA Northlander, quickly remembered Polly’s Pancake Parlor as the perfect end for a White Mountains driving tour In New Hampshire. His other favorite spots include New London, Lake Sunapee and Mt. Monadnock.

If you are interested in Michigan’s foliage, the hotline is 1-800-644-3255. (For New Hampshire updates, call 1-800-258-3608.) Depending on where you want to go, the U.S. Forest Service may offer a view using webcams it has placed in different parts of the country to monitor air quality. You can also check NASA satellite images like the ones made available by The National Weather Service office in Gaylord, Michigan or take the easy route by following pre-planned tours like the ones suggested at

Your best option of all might just be seeing it from the seat of your Pilatus PC-12. We can arrange that, you know. Airports you might want to consider for quick stops to see the leaves up close and personal include Hanley Field Airport (5Y7) inside Hiawatha National Forest on the Upper Peninsula; Frankfort Dow Memorial Airport (KFKS) to scout M-22; Torchport Airport (59M) to see the area around Torch Lake; Woolsey Memorial Airport (5D5) near Lake Leelanau; or, Harbor Springs Airport (KMGN) for picking up US-31 or M-119 near Petoskey.

According to Mike Day, Professor of Tree Physiology at the University of Maine’s School of Forest Resources, the timing of the changing colors is driven by complex interactions of plant genome, day length, temperature, and soil water availability, roughly in that order. In some species (aspen and birch for example) fall color is due mainly to the degradation of chlorophyll (green) leaving behind the xanthophylls (yellow). Other trees, like maples, ash and oaks, produce new pigments in the anthocyanin group (blue, purple, red) that are not present in leaves we see in the summer. The anthocyanins act as sunscreens and antioxidants and are produced in fall to protect the tree’s recycling process from being damaged by excess light.

Note: This article is displaying as it appeared in Volume 09 of our PlaneSense: Informational Quarterly newsletter.

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