Michigan’s Benzie County is a hidden gem for fall color travel

Michigan’s Benzie County is a hidden gem for fall color travel

When it comes to excellent in-state spots for fall color, Michiganders have seemingly endless drives and destinations to choose from. But this might be the year to explore a lesser-known beauty: Benzie County, which boasts all the stunning scenery of Northwest Lower Michigan, yet with a quieter vibe than its neighbors to the north in Leelanau and Grand Traverse.

Don’t let the peaceful pace fool you, though, as there’s much to see and do here. Picture miles of Lake Michigan coastline, inland lakes and rivers, parks and preserves, historic sites and scenic small towns with plenty of places to shop, eat, and imbibe. To help you plan your trip, we’ve gathered five fall highlights in Benzie County, ranging from one of the country’s most incredible fall drives to . Read on for more:

M-22 in Suttons Bay

M-22 is regarded as one of the most scenic drives in the state, and it’s especially beautiful in the fall. | MLive file photo

1. When it comes to breathtaking fall drives, the winding, shoreline-hugging M-22 is not only one of the best in the state, it’s considered one of the best in the nation. There are so many highlights along this 116-mile roadway that it makes a great anchor for a fall trip through any or all of the scenic counties it spins through (Manistee, Benzie, and Leelanau).

Highlights along the Benzie portion of M-22 include the sweet towns of Elberta and Frankfort, epic views at Inspiration Point, the historic Point Betsie Lighthouse, beautiful Crystal Lake, and one of Michigan’s crown jewels, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

More information on M-22 trip planning can be found at visitbenziecountymichigan.com.

Michigan Legacy Art Park

Courtesy Traverse City Tourism

2. Tucked away on 30 wooded acres beside Crystal Mountain resort, Michigan Legacy Art Park turns a beautiful and serene hardwood forest into an open-air art gallery. The park offers two miles of walking trails that wind through the trees to showcase 49 sculptures, 31 poetry stones, and, of course, the always-lovely Michigan outdoors.

The park is operated as a non-profit and is open from dawn until dusk every day of the year, with occasional events and workshops. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children. More information can be found on the park’s website here.

Sleeping Bear Dunes in autumn

Courtesy Traverse City Tourism

3. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore straddles two counties: Leelanau and Benzie. If you’ve only ever experienced the park’s more popular attractions — like the Dune Climb, Pyramid Point, and Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, all of which are located in Leelanau County — then it’s time to check out the lakeshore’s quieter southern portion.

Fall is a great time to explore the treasures in this part of the park, including Point Betsie Lighthouse and the scenic Platte River. Or, take a hike to see fall color on foot: the Platte Plains Trail system offers 15 miles of looping, forested trails and the Old Indian trail has two roughly 2.5-mile loops. Both trail systems offer spectacular woods and water views over Lake Michigan. More information can be found on Sleeping Bear Dunes’ website.

Crystal Mountain fall chairlift rides

Courtesy Traverse City Tourism

4. If you’d like to level up your leaf peeping, check out Crystal Mountain’s fall color chair lift rides. Visitors can ride the resort’s Crystal Clipper chairlift to the top of the mountain, enjoying panoramic views of three counties during peak fall color season.

And if you can’t make it in person — or you want to take a peek at how far along the fall color may be — you can check out the local scenery via the resort’s webcams.

Crystal Mountain’s 2020 fall chair lift rides will be held on Sundays, October 4, 11, 18, and 25 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The cost is $5 per person.

Find the fall chairlift ride schedule and more details here.

Elberta Bluffs

The stunning Elberta Bluffs sit along Lake Michigan in Benzie County. | Photo courtesy Visit Traverse City

5. For a scenic detour, swing by the historic Elberta Life Saving Station (restored and now a stunning events venue) for views of the surrounding autumn-hued hills. Then take a quick jaunt up Bye Road to the Elberta Bluffs, which overlook Lake Michigan and offer peeks at Sleeping Bear Dunes to the north and Manistee to the south.

For more regional travel information and trip-planning assistance, check out visitbenzie.com.

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