Muted Fall Colors Still Doesn’t Slow Tunnel of Trees Traffic

Summer is over but the tourism season in Northern Michigan never ends, it just shifts. Gone are beach goers and in come ‘leaf peepers.’

The mild autumn had delayed the color change in some of the most scenic spots in Northern Michigan. That hasn’t delayed the tourists.

The ‘Tunnel of Trees’ is an attraction that speaks for itself. A narrow, winding highway running up along the lakeshore brings thousands of people to Emmet County every fall. Even on a weekend when they are not getting those peak colors, in a season where they might not be getting peak colors because it’s been so mild, still people are making their trek from all across the midwest, if not further, and many of them stopping at the world famous Legs Inn.0016fp08 25 57 14still001

“Given our location at the end of the tunnel, naturally we are a destination,” said Mark Smolak, co-owner of the Legs Inn.

On a busy, beautiful weekend, the drive will be slow through the Tunnel of Trees from Harbor Springs but at the end is one of the area’s most well known and most eclectic restaurants.

“We’ll see an increase in business this time of year that will rival our peak summer months,” said Smolak.

The 100-year old Polish restaurant feasts on the color tourists chasing the best views. Next weekend is their last weekend before closing for the winter, and when they look at the tunnel, they may close before the peak color season.

“Mother Nature determines when the colors are going to peak,” said Smolak.

The muted fall colors haven’t hurt the traffic.

“I had heard about the colors of the trees and stuff and I wanted to come out and check it out,” said Billy Rogers, a motorcyclist from Arkansas who’s working in Traverse City.

Coming from as far as Arkansas or even just downstate, the lack of color is disappointing.

“We haven’t yet seen the colors that we had been expecting the last few years,” said Christine Caster, of Grand Ledge, “So we’re hoping we get them in the next couple weeks.”

But the tunnel is a year round attraction, 20 miles of narrow, windy road along the Lake Michigan coast.

“We love being by the water and the color of the green is just enjoyable,” said Rob Caster, Christine’s husband, “There’s a lot more trees than we’re used to down where we live.”

“I get out around the coast and look at different places, different houses,” said Rogers, “The real estate up here is really nice.”

As for the Legs Inn, they have one more week. Maybe Mother Nature will cooperate and time the peak just right.

“Given the location near the shore, the tunnel tends to peak a little later than the rest of the area up here in the Tip of the Mitt,” said Smolak, “So we think the colors will still be an alluring drive next week.”