Fall Foliage in Michigan’s U.P. + Lake Superior at Sunset

September 2018 – In mid-September we traveled in our RV to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to see the fall colors and to experience the beauty of the shores of Lake Superior. In the small coastal town of Ontonagon we wandered down to the beach just as the sun was setting.

WOW!

Sunset Ontonagon Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

The sun says goodnight to us across Lake Superior at Ontonagon in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

We were both in seventh heaven as we snapped one gorgeous image after another of the sun giving us its final winks before it slipped out of sight below the horizon.

Lake Superior Sunset in Ontonagon Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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The waves rolled in and pounded the shore relentlessly while the clouds moved quickly across the sky. The dark blanket of storm clouds turned a vivid pink for a few minutes as they passed.

Ontonagon Michigan Upper Peninsula Sunset_-min

The clouds turned pink for a moment as they marched across the sky.

These kinds of moments are our favorites in our traveling lives: admiring Nature in all her glory and trying to capture what we see on camera. We each stake out a spot that looks appealing and fire away.

When we were contemplating whether we should introduce a puppy to our crazy lifestyle one of our biggest concerns was what he would do while we were busy taking pics. It turns out that he loves these moments too. He keeps himself busy running between us and sniffing everything there is to sniff around us.

Sunset at Lake Superior Ontonagon Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Buddy loves these sunset outings as much as we do (and he photo bombs a lot of our pics too!).

After the sun disappeared and most of the color had faded a storm appeared on the horizon.

Lake Superior Storm Ontonagon Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Storm clouds gather in the distance and pour rain on Lake Superior.

Until this season I had seen Lake Superior for just a brief visit years ago. I had dipped my toe in the frigid water in early May and said, “Okay, that’s enough. We’re outta here!”

Mark had told me stories over the years of visiting Lake Superior one winter long ago and seeing huge waves standing bolt upright, frozen solid mid-curl. The whole lake had looked like a lemon meringue pie!

Yet so far in our travels along Lake Superior this fall the lake had been as calm as could be, giving us one wonderful beach experience after another as we skirted along the coast in Wisconsin and in Michigan’s U.P.

However, that sensational sunset we had just witnessed in Ontonagon was the last we’d see of the sun for the next three weeks! Lake Superior started to snarl and the whole Upper Peninsula snarled with it, delivering clouds and rain and nasty cold windy temps day after day after day.

Lake Superior waves Ontonagon Beach Michigan-min

Lake Superior waves dwarf a lighthouse in the distance.

Lake Superior was still fabulous, even in its bad mood. We just had to wear a lot more layers of clothing, that’s all!

Lake Superior surf Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

The waves were enormous and neverending.

We traveled up the Keweenaw Peninsula to Copper Harbor where we got a whiff of what a fantastic summer spot this is. There was a haunting beauty in the cold gray autumn air, but what a place this must be in July!

Kayaks at Copper Harbor Michigan-min

Kayaks wait for better weather at Copper Harbor.

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse Keweenaw Peninsula Michigan-min

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse has assisted mariners for over a century.

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse Keweenaw Peninsula Michigan-min

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse.

In our mission to see the fall color we had seen lots of hardwood trees starting to change, but hadn’t yet witnessed the peak anywhere. When we first arrived in Michigan we stopped at a visitors center that had a wonderful Fall Color Map on the wall. They didn’t have a printed version so I took a photo to help us with our travel planning as we zig-zagged around the U.P.

Fall foliage color map for Michigan-min

The peak fall colors in Michigan occur from late September to late October depending on where you are.

It was bitterly cold, but we just bundled up and had a ball, even though it drizzled off and on for days, in between vicious downpours that pummeled us and our trailer!

Dressed for cold weather leaf peeping in Michigan UP-min

These were One Dog Nights and we were glad to have him!

In planning which areas to visit in the U.P. we had seen spectacular photos of fall color captured in reflections across small lakes and ponds, so we started heading down small twisting dirt roads to get to a few lakes and were well rewarded for our efforts. The wind didn’t die down for a while, so our earlier pics were simple lakeside shots without reflections.

Fall foliage Worm Lake Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

A brilliant maple tree lights up a dreary morning at Worm Lake.

Fall foliage Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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We took many walks in the woods where the trees were starting to show off their most vibrant shades.

Fall foliage Ottowa National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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Autumn leaves Ottowa National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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Up close it is amazing to see the color patterns on each leaf.

Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Pretty patterns.

Autumn leaves Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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The colors were absolutely yummy. Buddy thought so too!

Fall foliage is yummy to a puppy-min

Buddy samples the fall colors.

Fall color Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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As we walked around we saw other fun woodsy things like bright red berries and pure white fungus.

Fall berries Michigan Upper Peninsula Ottowa National Forest-min

A hint of Christmas to come!

Ferns and mushrooms Michigan Upper Peninsula forest-min

These bright white fungi were shaped like miniature willow trees, each one about an inch tall!

We made our way back to the coast to visit the Miner’s Castle Overlook which is part of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Lake Superior is shockingly clear in this spot, and if you didn’t know you had to wear a winter jacket to enjoy the view, the turquoise color would make you think the water was as warm as the tropics!

Miner's Castle Pictured Rocks National Park Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Miner’s Castle at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Some of the best color we found was in Hiawatha National Forest on the small ponds and lakes scattered in the woods south of Munising.

Fall foliage Ottowa National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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Fall foliage Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

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At Moccasin Lake and Red Jack Lake we saw some wonderful mirror reflections in the early morning before the wind picked up.

Autumn leaves Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Colorful reflections at Moccasin Lake in Hiawatha National Forest.

Autumn leaves Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Red Jack Lake

One day was particularly cold and when we got to the edge of the lake mist was rising off the glassy surface.

Autumn Hiawatha National Forest Michigan Upper Peninsula_-min

Mist at Moccasin Lake

East Lake fall foliage Michigan Upper Peninsula-min

Mist at East Lake

Another fantastic spot we bumped into that doesn’t get any press and isn’t even labeled on Google Maps is Mequisten Recreation Area just a few miles south of Munising on National Forest Road H-13. A beautiful boardwalk takes you all around a series of small ponds with lookouts positioned every few hundred yards. We loved this little jewel so much we went back three times. Buddy had a blast running on the boardwalk. He sounded like a herd of elephants as he tore around, especially when he met another dog and they tore around together!

Mequisten Recreation Area Munising Michigan Upper Peninsula-min-2

Mequisten Recreation Area has a wonderful boardwalk with benches and overlooks.

We didn’t get the crisp sunny air that we had expected during our Upper Peninsula fall foliage tour, but the autumn colors were everything we had hoped they would be!

Puppy at Red Jack Lake in Autumn Michigan Upper Peninsula Hiawatha National Forest-min

Buddy framed by autumn leaves at Red Jack Lake.

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20 thoughts on “Fall Foliage in Michigan’s U.P. + Lake Superior at Sunset

  1. Wonderful pictures…My brother and wife live at Houghton!! Did you happen to visit the Jampot close to Calument?? A group of Monks run it and we try to visit it whenever we get up that way!! Leaves are just starting to turn In Northern Indina!!

    • We went through Houghton twice, Pat, on the way up and on the way down!! Such a cute town. We didn’t get to Jampot but it sounds very interesting. Thanks for the tip — we’ll look for it next time. Enjoy the fall colors as they change!!

    • Thank YOU, Mary for coming back to read our stories and enjoy our pics again and again. This has been a very fulfilling trip for us with lots of new sights (and smells for Buddy). I’m so glad we shook it up a little bit and tried hitting such a northerly destination so late in the season. Happy travels to you!!

  2. Love the autumn reflections in the still water. The vibrant colors make me think they were hand-painted with a brush! Just beautiful.

  3. Hi Mark and Emily,
    You made some wonderful photos, and thanks for sharing.
    Where did you camp and for how many days were you there?
    Thanks,
    Steve

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