The road narrows winding left and then right, left again. The shoulder has disappeared and the yellow centerline too. You slowly meander your way north, passing oncoming traffic and cyclists at your side. You catch glimpses of vibrant blue waters through the trees, and you’re suddenly surrounded by a canopy of yellow, orange, and red leaves. A tunnel. Not a physical tunnel, rather one made by Mother Nature.
You’ve made it. You’re in Northern Michigan’s iconic (and stunning) Tunnel of Trees along M-119.
The most scenic road in Northern Michigan is a 27-ish mile stretch of narrow pavement winding it's way up on a bluff along the coast of expansive Lake Michigan. 137 curves and a max speed of 45 mph, this trip is all about enjoying Northern Michigan at a slower pace.
The Tunnel of Trees begins in the small resort town of Harbor Springs and ends in the even smaller town of Cross Village. It's a sight to see any time of the year but in the fall, oh my the Tunnel of Trees in the fall is a sight to see. The yellows, oranges, reds, and still holding on to summer green leaves are spectacular during peak season.
The Tunnel of Trees offers iconic views, delicious dining, and historical stops that make this trip a must on your to-do list. There are a few things you'll want to know before you go so read on my friend!
THINGS TO KNOW
Go during the week. Traffic will be much more bearable and not as many people on the road. Weekends are still great but you can expect lots of traffic and in-a-hurry cars to be right on your tail.
Go slow! The meandering drive is part of the experience. With 137 curves, no shoulder or centerline, and oncoming traffic, cyclists, and people all over the place, please, take your time. If you want the experience to be a fun one for everyone, driver included, make sure you're not in a hurry when you set out for the drive and pull over as much as you need.
Watch for motorcycles and cyclists. I can't emphasize how narrow it gets along this stretch of M-119. Just be careful, please.
Motion sickness. I've never experienced motion sickness on my way through the Tunnel of Trees but I've heard of people who have. If you're prone to motion sickness, make sure you plan ahead!
Make a playlist. The drive is awesome and takes longer than you think. Make a playlist with some of your favorite road trip songs and enjoy the ride!
Grab snacks, pack a blanket, bring a folding chair. Take. Your. Time. I can't emphasize it enough. Just enjoy the sights and sounds of Lake Michigan in the fall. One trip, I saw a couple sitting in folding chairs, curled up under a blanket, with binoculars and a crossword puzzle, watching from the bluff as the sun set over Lake Michigan. I thought that was brilliant.
Stop at a Nature Preserve! There are so many little hikes you can do and trails to explore as you make your way up the Tunnel of Trees. I'm not going to list every single one here but put Thorne Swift Nature Preserve and Woollam Family Nature Preserve on your list! Find out more information by visiting Little Traverse Conservancy. We're BIG fans!
Take note of the sunset. It seems like come October, the sun is in a big hurry to set. Be sure to check when the sun sets during your visit and plan more time than you think. It can get reaaaalllyyyy dark in the Tunnel of Trees.
Legs Inn. The iconic Polish Restaurant in the middle of nowhere Northern Michigan. I love this place, I really do. If you've never been you should put it on your list because there aren't many places like it around. The food is great, the ambiance unparalleled, and the outdoor garden area is something to see. It's quirky, it's delicious, and it's a stop to have on your list. That being said, consider these two things. 1. They don't take reservations and in the fall the wait can get loooonnnnnnggg and 2. It's pretty expensive. I mean, I love me some authentic Polish food but it's not in my budget to eat there more then once a year. Here's a tip: Legs Inn is a must see. Go in to enjoy the views and see this quirky restaurant, maybe grab a drink or heck, it's definitely worth sitting down and trying at least once! But if great Polish food is what you're after, consider going back toward Harbor Springs and dining at The Polish Kitchen. Another great Polish restaurant in the area with incredible food and more reasonable prices.
Going back. If you're looking to make your way back toward Harbor Springs or Petoskey, you can of course take the Tunnel of Trees route and get a totally different perspective than what you just experienced. You'll notice different patterns and trees and views. It's nice, and definitely an option but I suggest taking a totally different route. Go south on State Road, which will take you back to Harbor Springs orrrr go east on Robinson or Stutsmanville over to Pleasantview. You won't have a view of the water but the trees and fall color will be spectacular. I love exploring different roads on our way back to town.
The Tunnel of Trees is pretty self explanatory and part of the fun is finding your own way through it but an ultimate guide wouldn't be complete without showing you what you can expect along the way. Let's dive in!
Visit Harbor Springs
Your Tunnel of Trees trip starts in the small resort town of Harbor Springs. Here you'll make your way onto M-119. First, take some time to visit downtown and the little shops lining the way. Walk out on the dock by The Pier (check out that water, it’s STUNNING!), make a stop at Tom’s Mom’s for some famous cookies, and if you’re at all hungry I recommend stopping at the Paper Station or my favorite, the quaint Sam’s Graces Cafe.
If you have some extra time, Petoskey, just 10 miles away, is another town to add to your “must visit” list. In my opinion it's classic Northern Michigan, small town, beautiful scenery, and lots to do! Make your way to the waterfront and search for Petoskey stones, or stroll downtown along the same streets that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent. Petoskey is a town you’ll fall in love with.
Pond Hill Farm
As you make your way north on M-119, about 5 miles from Harbor Springs you’ll find yourself at Pond Hill Farm. Make sure you stop here!
These guys have it going on. They have everything you would hope for and more from a local farm, especially in the fall. They are open May-October and hours and what they offer varies depending on the day and season. On Saturdays and Sundays in October they feature their Fall Fest Weekends where you can expect a pumpkin patch, farm animals, hayrides, cider and donuts, squash rocket, winery, brewery and SO. MUCH. MORE.
Just know this, make this a must-do on your Tunnel of Trees list.
Address: 5699 S Lake Shore Dr, Harbor Springs, MI 49740
Five Mile Creek/Schoolhouse
Just past Pond Hill Farm, you’ll find a red, one-room schoolhouse that operated from 1880-1950. It’s really well-preserved and a sign of the historic preservation trying to be maintained along the Tunnel of Trees. I don't think there is much to see here but if one-room school houses are your thing, keep your eyes open for this one!
This is not like Pond Hill Farm but IS a great stop for a panoramic view of Lake Michigan and Beaver Island because it's 900 feet in elevation. In my opinion, there are a lot of opportunities for great views along the way so I’d keep driving, but if you have the time and want to stop, do it!
Address: 4852 S Lake Shore Dr, Harbor Springs, MI 49740
A gnarly bend in the road along M-119. I told you the drive itself is part of the fun!
Look for the Historical Marker.
Another gnarly curve along M-119, this one is marked by a sign. There is a lot of Native America history in the area and an Indian legend says that Devil’s Elbow marks the location where the devil scooped out a hollow after the Native Americans suffered from a plague. In this spot, a sign reads “A flowing spring in this ravine was believed by area Odawa Indian Bands to be the home of spirits who made their presence known in this location during the hours of darkness.”
Look for the Historical Marker.
Halfway between Cross Village and Harbor Springs, white settlers would call this area and Good Hart, Middle Village. Also the first location of the Jesuit Mission of 1741.
St. Ignatius Church and Cemetery
Sitting below the bluff near Middle Village, the St. Ignatius Church and Cemetery rest along the shores of Lake Michigan. Native Americans rebuilt the church you see today back in 1889 after a fire destroyed the previous building. The cemetery is lined with white crosses marking a Native American burial ground.
Next to the cemetery is a pathway that leads to Middle Village Beach along the shores of Lake Michigan.
Address: 101 N Lamkin Rd, Harbor Springs, MI 49740
This is one of those blink and you'll miss it small towns along Lake Michigan's coast. But make sure you don't miss it! This small but mighty little town is a great place to get out and stretch your legs. Check out the little stores along the highway: Primitive Images, A Studio Shop, and the Good Hart General Store.
Good Hart General Store
If you make one stop in Good Hart, make it the Good Hart General Store. You'll see not much has changed since it was built in 1934. It’s a post office, deli, bakery, and gift shop all in one. Grab some snacks but mostly take a chicken pot pie with you for the future. Seriously, they’re the best!
Address: 1075 N Lake Shore Dr, Good Hart, MI 49737
Old Council Tree
Look for the Historical Marker.
At this location, tribal chiefs held councils. It was also used for navigation during seasonal migrations.
Address: 4742 N Lake Shore Dr, Harbor Springs, MI 49740
L’Arbre Croche (Crooked Tree)
Look for the Historical Marker.
L'Arbre Croche, translated to Crooked Tree, was the name given to the area between Harbor Springs and Cross Village because of a large identifiable tree with a crooked top along the bluff. It could be seen for many miles and was a landmark for those traveling by canoe.
Address: 5259-4669 M-119, Harbor Springs, MI 49740
Woollam Family Nature Preserve
This Nature Preserve is a short .5 mile hike to the lakeshore. Sand dunes, rocks, and a public access shoreline, here's another chance for you to get down by the water! A lot of the M-119 shoreline and the Tunnel of Trees is privately owned so take advantage of this rare spot! You can find a map here!
You've made it to Cross Village, population 93 (2010 census) and home to the iconic Legs Inn. Take a second to look around!
Three Pines Studio
Cross Village is home to the wonderful Three Pines Studio. Every October they host the Glass Pumpkin Patch Day which is definitely worth seeing. This art gallery features work from area artists and is worthy of a stop anytime of the year.
Address: Three Pines Studio, West Levering Road, Cross Village, MI
Named for the stove legs lining the roof, the iconic Legs Inn was named #2 for Michigan's most iconic restaurants. Hand carved wooden structures, taxidermy, a Zoltar machine, this quirky Polish Restaurant is a place you really have to see to believe and is the perfect ending to your Tunnel of Trees trip.
They don't take reservations and in the fall season the wait can get long so make sure you are prepared and give yourself enough time. The food is delicious and worth the wait, especially if you've never been! Spend your time waiting by looking at all of the different rooms and taking in the hand made decor, it's endless. Make sure you also check out their outdoor garden area too. There aren't many places with a view like that of Lake Michigan!
Address: 6425 N Lake Shore Dr, Harbor Springs, MI 49740
Sturgeon Bay Beach
Wait! You don't have to be done yet. If you're looking for some beach time, you can head north to Sturgeon Bay Beach. This sand dune escape right on the shores of Lake Michigan is B-E-A-UTIFUL on a warm fall (or summer!) day.
Address: 9680-10498 N Lake Shore Dr, Carp Lake, MI 49718
The Drive Back
If you're heading back to the Harbor Springs or Petoskey Area, there are various routes you can take. I'm always amazed while driving back through the Tunnel of Trees, all of the new things I see. Going the opposite way gives you a completely different perspective and you'll see things you didn't notice before. The downside, being that the curves and narrow roads make the journey longer than if you take an inland road. It's worth it if you have the time!
If you're anxious to get back, my recommendation would be to drive toward Harbor Springs and Petoskey along State Road. You can either get on State Road from Cross Village or cut over from Good Hart on Robinson Road. Wind your way through the back roads and enjoy the fall color away from the coast, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. I like to take Robinson or Stutsmanville and make my way east to Pleasantview. The trees are AMAZING in the fall and it's not quite the tunnel of trees but they're definitely worth seeing!
There you have it! Your ultimate guide to the Tunnel of Trees. I'm so excited for you to go and see it for yourself! Let me know what you think in the comments below. Have you been? Is it on the list? Tell me more.
Also, don't forget to download this 1 page PDF of this blog post so you can have it with you as you drive the Tunnel of Trees! Click here to download.
Enjoy the ride my friend,
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