The Minimalist Traveller

Fall colors. Trip to Up North. The scenic M-22

It’s the time of the year, when Michigan is changing colors. Considering that it’s a maple tree area, you can get full specter of traffic light: all the shades of red, yellow and green. Two weeks ago we decided to have a long weekend and took off direction Traverse City. Starting on Thursday afternoon, our goal was to reach the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes before sunset. After five hours of driving we wanted to sit on the sand, have a picnic with cold white wine and watch the sun setting over the lake. Well, turns out, you can’t really see sunset on a cloudy day. That said, everything else worked out perfectly.

We parked the car, filled the bag with food and wine and hiked about 30 minutes through woods and up the dunes until we reached the lake and that amazing view. The best thing, when traveling off season – prices are lower and places are not as packed as on peak season. Besides us there were 3 other people on the dunes.

For Friday we had planned to do the scenic drive of M-22, a 116 mile long road in Manistee, Benzie and Leelanau counties. 2015 it was voted America’s Number One Best Scenic Autumn Drive by 10Best and USA TODAY ūüôā Knowing us and our lazy travelling style we didn’t even dream of making it all the way. We put our plan on the map and had a route that starts in Traverse City, goes to Suttons Bay, turns then to Leland and its historic Fishtown and continues south after that until it would be time to go back to hotel and our booked dinner.

Suttons Bay was not really impressive and if short on time, just skip it. Leland, our next stop on the other hand, was a cozy little town with the historic Fishtown, a working waterfront with cute shops and restaurants right along the docks. We got some bread, cheese and smoked white fish for our lunch picnic later. A short drive, 30 minutes later we found a nice sandy beach near Glen Arbor to have a snack before continuing to the small village of Empire, headquarters for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, also named the most beautiful place in the United States by the viewers of Good Morning America. Our goal there was the Empire Bluff Overlook. One that promised (and delivered) magnificent view of the dunes and lake. Unlike the Pyramid Point yesterday, this one was more developed and therefore also crowded.

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a must-do when visiting the Sleeping Bear Lakeshore. It’s an amazing 7.4 miles drive through forest and sand dunes, offering spectacular views of the Glen Lakes, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and Lake Michigan as well as great hikes in those sand dunes. The drive starts with the covered bridge. First one I ever saw. Or heard of. They were apparently built to protect wooden bridges from rain and snow, which can cause rotting of the timbers. It was cheaper to repair the roof than to build a new bridge.



The next stops we made were the picturesque Glen Lake and dune overlooks. There is also Cottonwood Trail, a nice, almost an hour long hike on this sunny fall day. Besides the amazing view of the dunes I saw some berries just next to the path and I would swear they were cow berries, a well known and healthy berry in Estonia. After I tried few (even though Scott was certain they are poisoned and I’m gonna die a painful dead right there in the middle of the dunes), turned out, they were bear berries instead. Oh, well, can’t always be right.

After driving through beech-maple forest we made our last stop at the Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dune overlook for one more spectacular view over dunes and the lake. The dunes there are fairly steep and several signs warn you not to go down, because climbing up would take either up to two hours or calling a rescue team.

The last stop for the day would be where Otter Creek is flowing into the lake. It was already sunset time, so we got to see the water changing color from light blue to dark orange.