First, it was the iconic Upper Peninsula pasties squaring off against each other in a no-holds-barred, if-only-for-fun, competition that went down to the wire.
Now, the battle really gets colorful as scenic drives, hikes and overlooks take centerstage in a take-no-prisoners contest to determine where visitors (and residents) of the Keweenaw Peninsula can find the best explosion of red, orange and yellow in Michigan’s Copper Country.
The Keweenaw Fall Colors Challenge launched on Aug. 25 and continues through the week of Sept. 29, featuring head-to-head, popular-vote matchups that dwindle from the pre-selected Sweet 16 to the championship round.
“There’s no wrong answer, but there’s no right answer because everybody has their favorite spot to check out what nature has in store for us,” said Brad Barnett, executive director of the Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau. “People are passionate about fall colors, and it’s a great way to engage with friends, family and the larger color tour community.
“You can get involved while visiting or just being a part of the campaign for the place you remember seeing something amazing.”
The schedule features sleepers and the time-honored favorites, Barnett said. Here’s how to get involved and a look at the opening round:
- August 25: Match 1: Brockway Mountain vs Gratiot Lake Overlook
- August 27: Match 2: Mount Baldy vs Covered Road (Freda Area)
- August 30: Match 3: Isle Royale National Park vs Pilgrim Community Forest
- September 1: Match 4: Mount Bohemia vs Estivant Pines
- September 3: Match 5: Bare Bluff vs McLain State Park
- September 6: Match 6: South Shore Drive vs Mont Ripley
- September 8: Match 7: Covered Drive (US 41) vs Hungarian Falls
- September 10: Match 8: M-26 Scenic Drive vs Churning Rapids
Recent weeks have paired warm days with cooler overnight temperatures – along with some rain – that create a perfect environment for northern hardwoods to make dramatic turns right on schedule. Peak colors generally hit the Copper Country at the back half of September and the first two weeks of October.
The geography of the region, which is generally the hardest hit by winter snowfall, also makes for prime and long-lasting color. The Lake Superior micro-climate of Copper Harbor delays the burst to extend the sight-seeing timeline as areas to the south and west change first and then the tip of Michigan follows.
Discover more: Plan a trip with these 36 sites to get outdoors
In addition to the contest, the County Road Association of Michigan has highlighted drives that will make the trip memorable with a series of “don’t miss” roads that reflect the views of experts.
“Driving the county roads is an ideal way to view fall colors,” said Denise Donohue, executive director for the County Road Association (CRA) of Michigan. “Fall is a special time of year to discover new drives that showcase Michigan’s natural beauty.”
Here’s what the agency recommends:
- Brockway Mountain Drive
- Lac La Belle Road
- Gratiot Lake Road
- Mohawk-Gay Road
- Eagle Harbor Road
- Cliff Drive
- Five Mile Point Road
- Covered Drive Road
- Freda Road
- Calumet Waterworks Road
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Why do the colors change?
Here’s a quick color season primer for those who have forgotten, or just want to look like the smartest person in the car when the question pops up.
The spring and summer sun foster the production of Chlorophyll, which turns budding leaves green and allows them to stay that way until fall, when the shorter days and cooler temperatures change the equation.
Orange hues comes from Beta-Carotene, one of the most common carotenoids present in most leaves. Strongly absorbing blue and green light, it reflects yellow and red light from the sun, giving leaves their orange appearance.
Red tones come from Anthocyanin production that increases dramatically in the fall months and protects the leaf.
Yellows are the result of Flavonols, a protein that is always present in leaves but not seen until the production of Chlorophyll begins to slow.
After scenic drives and hikes, but before calling it a night and restarting again the next day, here are some popular dining spots in and around Keweenaw.
- Fitzgerald’s: Awesome waterfront dining on Lake Superior in Eagle River. Great beer selection and really delicious BBQ.
- Harbor Haus: Located in Copper Harbor, and inspired by Austrian/German cuisine, amazing seafood entrees and incredible Lake Superior views.
- Keweenaw Mountain Lodge: Historic property just outside Copper Harbor. Great cocktails and selection. Access to golf course and mountain biking trails for those looking for fall entertainment
- Parkview Grill: Located near Twin Lakes State Park, this restaurant is right off the MDNR ATV/Multi-Use Trail. Great Americana food, hearty portions, and friendly service.
- Mohawk Superette – This unassuming convenience store in Mohawk is known for fantastic pasties! Winner of the 2020 Keweenaw Pasty Challenge, you can grab a few for the road on your way up to Copper Harbor.
- Four Suns Fish & Chips – Located across the street from the historic Quincy Mine and with plenty of outdoor seating, locally caught whitefish and perch meals are highlights of a visit. Customers can bring their own beer and wine while taking in the mine’s great scenic backdrop.