Northern Michigan keeps me coming back again and again no matter the season. But there is just something so magical about visiting during the fall as Mother Nature begins to paint the rolling landscape with vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. "Up north" as we like to call it, is one of the first areas in Michigan to peak with color. While the exact time varies every year depending on a number of factors, the second or third weekend in October is typically the perfect time to plan a trip. This year I hit the road for the ultimate fall getaway with my mom in Charlevoix, Michigan. I had only ever passed through this quaint town or visited for the day so I was excited to have three full days to explore.
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Visit Charlevoix. The itinerary was created by me based on personal research and all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Where to Stay
We were hosted for the weekend by the Weathervane Terrace Inn & Suites. The hotel, located in downtown Charlevoix, is hard to miss with its castle like towers and intricate stonework designed by Charlevoix native Earl Young (more on him below). Not only are the rooms so spacious - our suite had a separate kitchen and living area with a fireplace and balcony - location is everything here. The hotel is located only 300 feet away from the beach and within easy walking distance of downtown shops and restaurants. The rooms are also motel style so you access your room from the outside which was perfect for not having to worry about passing through lobbies or other common spaces during COVID-19. During our stay housekeeping would replenish any toiletries needed but they weren't doing any of the typical cleaning services, which I prefer during this time. The room itself was very clean and we knew once we entered we would be the only ones touching anything until we left. My mom also said it was one of the comfiest beds she's ever slept in and after a long day of exploring it was the perfect place to come back to and relax for the evening.
What to Do
Wander the grounds at Castle Farms: This is a definite can't miss stop while in Charlevoix and one of Michigan's premier historical attractions. Castle Farms was built in 1918 by Albert Loeb, the acting President of Sears, Roebuck, and Co. as a model dairy farm and was designed after the stone barns and castles found in Normandy, France. It has since undergone a massive restoration and now hosts weddings and events in addition to daily visitors. As soon as you arrive you'll feel like you're stepping back in time as you wander through the gardens, meet Norm the dragon, and experience Michigan’s largest outdoor model railroad. You can follow the numbered stops on a self-guided tour or hop on one of the daily tram rides which circle the property and provide additional historical insights. Don't miss the chance to sip wine at 1918 Cellars, play chess on the life size board, or view the many collections and World War I memorabilia.
Search for Charlevoix stones at Fisherman's Island State Park: Fall is one of the best time to search for beach treasures as the stronger winds and waves wash so much up on shore. There is a parking lot at the end of the road before you turn into the actual state park area or you can keep driving and find a spot in one of the several other smaller lots. All provide easy access to the beach with no hiking required. You could spend a few hours here relaxing and taking in the views but we were able to find a handful of stones and beach glass after only 30 minutes or so of hunting. There were a few people who were also camping within the park if you're looking for a more adventurous place to stay.
Visit Friske Orchards: This is the place to be on a Saturday in October in Charlevoix. If you have small kiddos Friske Orchards has a lot of activities for them to enjoy including an apple sling shot, petting zoo, pony rides and a large playground area. It was very busy the day we went so we opted to grab some donuts and apple cider (served cold, hot, or in slushie form) from the outdoor tent and enjoyed our treats while wandering through the u-pick orchards. They also have a small store up front selling baked goods and other apple inspired foods and beverages.
Sip cider at Royal Farms: Located next door to Friske Orchards you'll find what my mom and I joked was the adult version of fall fun. Royal Farms was FAR less crowded here which was a nice change and you will find similar offerings in their store including cider, pastries, pies and more. Head through the wine garden to the tasting room where you can enjoy a flight of 4 or 6 different wines and ciders. We also ate lunch here and while the cafe menu is limited, the food was very good. I highly recommend the white cheddar Mac and cheese and cherry chicken salad! If you're looking to extend your visit throughout the afternoon, purchase tickets for the hayride or get lost in a maze of corn.
Sample a colorful flight at Bier's Inwood Brewery: Fall colors in beer form? My kind of place! I always love sampling local beer on my travels and Bier's Inwood Brewery offered the perfect fall aesthetic. Located in an old farmhouse, you can enjoy wine, beer and wood fire pizzas. Be sure to try the Everything Nice cider with cinnamon and brown sugar for all the fall flavors. The patio is lined by colorful trees and has plenty of room for social distancing including fire pits and live music.
Tour Earl Young's Mushroom Houses: Hop on the open-air GEM cars with Mushroom House Tours as you visit all 28 of the unique homes designed and built by Charlevoix native and legend Earl Young. The homes are constructed from stones and boulders pulled from Lake Michigan and look like they are straight out of a fairytale with their unusual shapes and round rooflines. Our guide was so knowledgeable and provided the history of each structure including details you wouldn't ever know if you were to just walk to see the houses on your own. It was a bit chilly by the water in October so be sure to dress warm - they also had blankets available for the ride which was a nice touch. It truly is an experience you cannot get anywhere else in the world and one that will not be forgotten!
Explore downtown Charlevoix shops, Farmer's Market, and the marina: Downtown Charlevoix is very walkable and has so many places to explore. Typically, Apple Festival is held the second weekend of October but was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19. However, during our visit there was a Farmer's Market along Bridge Street with lots of great fall produce and locally-made goods. Wander down by the marina to enjoy views along the water and admire the many boats docked. There are also plenty of shops to visit. A few of my favorite stops are:
Go leaf peeping: You can't visit Northern Michigan during the fall without enjoying the colors. Really any direction you head you're bound to see the leaves starting to change or hitting their peak in most areas. Click here to discover some of the suggested routes by Visit Charlevoix. During our stay we explored the East Jordan route on our way to Boyne Mountain (see below) and also headed farther north toward the famous Tunnel of Trees. Unfortunately, the tunnel is one of the last ares to peak so it was still pretty green while we were there October 9-11. However, we looped through Stutsmansville and Good Hart on our way to the tunnel and both areas had a TON of color. On our way home we also stopped at Deadman's Hill off US-131 South which offers extensive hiking trails or gorgeous views of the Jordan River Valley at the overlook - no hiking required.
Ride the scenic chair lift at Boyne Mountain: Located 30 minutes from downtown Charlevoix, the chair lift at Boyne Mountain offers a unique way to take in the fall color. Rides are $10 per person and can be purchased online in advance or in the Activity Center. The ride offers great views from all directions and is long enough for you to really enjoy it. Once you get to the top you can hike one of the many ski trails or grab a fall-inspired cocktail from the Eagle's Nest and take in the scenery.
Visit Pond Hill Farm: I have visited Pond Hill multiple times in the summer, fall and winter and it really is one of my favorite Northern Michigan stops. Located north of Charlevoix in Harbor Springs, I would suggest adding this stop to your fall color tour to save drive time. Here you'll find a magical pumpkin patch and lots of fun pumpkin-themed activities and games. They added a large outdoor bier garden this year which is a great place to enjoy wine, beer, or food from their farm-to-table cafe. If you're just looking to grab a drink head over to the bonfire pit and order from their walk up window.
Where to Eat
I love creating detailed travel guides to ensure you get the most out of your time. On this blog I'll be sharing some of my past trips in hopes that it helps you plan your next adventure. Pack your suitcase you never know where I'll be heading next!
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