Autumn Adventure in Empire

Photo by Jessie Zevalkink

Fall Colors to Peak October 12-19, 2019 in Northern Michigan

Autumn colors are just a few weeks away from their projected peak, making it the perfect time to plan for a Northern Michigan color tour. Whether you are looking for the most active way to enjoy the scenery or a more laid-back approach, Empire is the perfect jumping-off point for your fall weekend getaway.


Empire Lakeshore Inn

The village of Empire is home to a newly expanded hotel, the Empire Lakeshore Inn. Fall room rates range from $89-$189/night depending on if you book for a weekday or on the weekend. The Inn is conveniently located just a short walk from downtown, where you will find great food and shopping.

Duneswood Resort

If you’re looking for a cozy spot to sleep amongst the trees, we recommend booking your stay at the Duneswood Resort. The hotel is located just south of the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb with direct access to the Sleeping Bear Dunes Heritage Trail. Room rates range from $95-$160 during the fall, making it an affordable, spot for a quiet couple’s getaway.

Hiking & Beach-Ambling

There is no doubt that Northern Michigan has incredible hiking year-round, but fall takes the trails to a whole new level. Here are some of our favorite hiking trails for seeing fall foliage.

Empire Bluff Trail

Photo by Jessie Zevalkink

This moderate 3/4 mile trail to the edge of the Empire Bluff offers one of the most iconic views of the region, and in the fall it is at its most breathtaking. The trail winds out and back through a beautiful hardwood forest, for a total hike of about 1.5 miles. Dogs are allowed on this trail, so bring your canine companion (on a leash) along for the adventure!

Empire Village Beach

This stretch of beach located right in Empire boasts one of the most incredible views in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. To the north you will see Sleeping Bear Point jutting out into Lake Michigan, and to the south you will see the Empire Bluff rising out of the water. This stretch of beach is perfect for a picnic on a sunny day and is the local favorite for viewing the sunset.

Esch Road Beach

Located just four miles south of Empire, Esch Road Beach is a quiet stretch of shoreline with views of the Platte Bay and Empire Bluff. Fall color is magnificent along the shoreline here and if you look carefully, you may find some Petoskey stones on the shore.

photo by Jessie Zevalkink

North Bar Beach

Located just north of Empire, North Bar Lake is surrounded by fall color and has a beautiful trail that winds along the inland lake, leading out to Lake Michigan.

See the Fall Color by Water, Bike, or Car

There are plenty of ways to experience the fall color while in Northern Michigan. Perhaps one of the more unique ways to experience the changing of the season is to take to the water! There are phenomenal rivers and inland lakes around the region whose shores are lined with beautiful hardwood trees that light up with brilliant color come fall. If you are looking for a less strenuous way to experience the color, hop in your car and roll the windows down: there are endless country roads for you to explore.

Crystal River Kayak Adventure

Kayak the Crystal River in Glen Arbor and experience the fall color! You can rent single or double kayaks from Crystal River Outfitters, and they will shuttle you to the starting point so you can relax and enjoy the ride. Check out their website or call them at 231.334.4420 to book your trip today!

SUP or Kayak on Lake Michigan

If you’re looking for more of a free-form adventure, try kayaking or paddle boarding one of the inland lakes around. Or, if the conditions are right, head out on Lake Michigan for some views of fall color from off-shore. Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak in Empire rents kayaks and stand-up paddle  boards wherever your water adventures might take you. They will set you up on Lake Michigan or South Bar Lake with gear, or you can take your adventures further away with a full day rental.

photo by Jessie Zevalkink

Cycle the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

The Heritage Trail is a great way to experience fall color, with over 17 miles of paved trail that winds through hardwood forests. Bike rentals are available at The Cyclery in Glen Arbor, or from Empire Outdoors in Empire.

Go for a Drive

Empire is the gateway to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and is located just a few miles south of the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7.5-mile loop through beautiful forests and along the dunes. Take an hour or two to wind through the drive, stopping to take in the views at the lookouts along the way. We also recommend getting an old-fashioned map and letting it lead you north! There are endless backroads that invite you to slow down and take in the view.



Photo by Liam Kaiser Creative

If you plan your trip right, you can catch some great local entertainment. Our favorite event of the fall is the Empire Hops & Harvest Festival. The first weekend in October we shut down Front Street to showcase a number of breweries, restaurants, and bands. Come celebrate the autumn season and listen to some music! This year’s dates are October 4 and 5.

Shopping, Dining & More!

In between all the oohs-and-ahhs over the fall color, you’ll need to refuel and maybe pick up a souvenir to take home. There are a number of restaurants and gift shops in Empire to wander into.

You can start your day in the Village of Empire at Joe’s Friendly Tavern for breakfast or stop in at the new Blue Heron Mercantile for a cup of coffee and a locally-made baked good.

Pick up a freshly made sandwich at Shipwreck Cafe for lunch and when you are ready for dinner, come back to the Empire Village Inn for pizza and a craft beer.

In the mood for some hot chocolate or a piece of artisan chocolate? Check out The Grocer’s Daughter to satisfy your sweet tooth.

There are plenty of great shops to stop into along the way, so take your time after breakfast or lunch to walk around M-22 and Front Street in Empire. We’re sure you will find something here that you love!