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Color Change and Michigan Fall Foliage and Leaves

Peak Fall Color Predictions, Maps, Driving Tours, Train Rides

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Fall Colors at McClumpha Park in Plymouth Township

Fall Colors at McClumpha Park in Plymouth Township

Photo © Laura Sternberg, Licensed to About.com
Updated June 01, 2014
Michigan hosts some of the best autumn colors in the nation. The trick is to time your walk, drive or train tour to hit the height of the fall-color change. To that end, here is some quick and dirty information to send you on your way to discover Color Change and Michigan Fall Foliage and Leaves.

Why do Leaves Change Color?

Leaves change color as the result of the changing ratio of three pigments within each: Chlorophyll, Carotenoids and Anthocyanins. The production of each pigment is in turn affected by several factors. The main factor that triggers the color-changing process in the fall is diminishing daylight; but tree species, temperature, rainfall and soil moisture can all affect pigment production and therefore leaf color, vibrancy and fall. For instance, the red tones (determined by the production of anthocyanins) are the colors most affected by weather conditions.

When Do Leaves Change Color in Michigan?

Generally speaking, peak fall foliage in Michigan can range from mid September through the end of October. As might be expected, the upper peninsula reaches peak fall color change before the rest of the state, although there are some exceptions. The Metro-Detroit area tends to host a full range of colors in mid to late October.

There are several resources, much like a daily weather or allergy forecast, that make predictions about when leaves will change color in Michigan. They also keep track of the color-changing progress at various locations throughout the state, including the Metro-Detroit area:
  • The Weather Channel website posts a map of current fall-foliage conditions in the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan.

  • The Pure Michigan website (Michigan's tourism site) posts a map each year with a prediction of color-change peaks across the state as represented by zones. They are depicted much like plant hardiness zones, and the map can be used as a general guide.

  • The Foliage Network website provides reports every few days for the whole midwest region that keep track of color, as well as leaf drop. These factors are depicted in zoned maps.

Fall-Color Tours

In much of Michigan, including the southeast, Metro-Detroit area, viewing the vibrant fall foliage may require nothing more than stepping outside; but if you want to devote a morning or afternoon or weekend to the enterprise, here are some ideas:
  • Do-It-Yourself Drives:
    • Michigan's Gold Coast rated second in Travel and Leisure's America's Best Color Drives. The route is described as starting at Traverse City. It then meanders 100 miles through Northport, Inspiration Point and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

    • Meanwhile, The Travel Channel recommends the Lake Superior Circle Route in the Midwest for excellent fall foliage. The route includes stretches in not only Michigan but Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ontario, Canada.

    • If you want to confine your fall-foliage viewing closer to home, check out True Colors: Detroit’s Fall Tour Guide. The book provides readers with basic information about Detroit’s trees and leaves in the fall.
  • Train Tours: While driving is a valid way to experience fall colors, a train ride gives you time for observation and can also be an experience in and of itself:
    • The Michigan Steam Train provides train trips to catch at least close-to-peak color change. In 2013, the train offers both full-day and one-hour excursions scheduled on three Saturdays in October: 5th, 12th, and 19th. Prices range from $25 an adult to $79. Routes vary and run between any of the following cities: Boyne, Cadillac, Clair, Lake George, Mt. Pleasant, Owosso, and Yuma.

    • The Southern Michigan Railroad offers a train ride along the basin of the River Raisin. It operates out of Techumseh, MI. on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and lasts two-and-one-half hours.

    • If you are considering other Midwest states for tours, check out TrainTraveling.com, which posts a list of fall-color train rides in every state.

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