by Dave Foley
When the sumac bushes turn crimson and the maple leaves burst forth in red, I adjust my priorities. Being indoors when nature is staging its annual leafy color show is just wrong. Starting in the last days of September the dominant woodland green starts to give way to yellows, oranges and reds, as Mother Nature prepares for winter. Somewhere the second and third week of October the Cadillac area fall color show hits its peak, but good color often lingers until the end of the month. You can bet that I will be outside every day this time of year. While Cadillac offers some remarkable driving tours that show off the best color, I prefer to view the scene from a canoe, kayak, bicycle, or on foot. For those who might like get an up close look at what’s happening in the woods this fall, here’s five hikes that I enjoy:
1) Silver Creek Pathway
This four mile loop follows the Pine River between the Lincoln Bridge and Silver Creek National Forest Campgrounds. Starting from Lincoln Bridge, the trail can be picked up where the trestle bridge crosses the river. Watch for a turn to the left off the ORV/snowmobile road shortly after crossing the bridge. The Pine River twists its way 3.5 miles between the two campgrounds and hikers, at one point will see the river almost continuously for a mile. With sharp eyes and polarized sunglasses, walkers may see trout sunning themselves in the clear river flow. Continuing down the west side of the river, it’s 2.3 miles between the bridges. The shorter, 1.6 mile return, trades close up river views for overlooks as the trail climbs a ridge. The trail is rated “moderate” so most will have an easy time with this hike.
To get there. Follow M55 out of Cadillac and go left at 13 Road (across from Caberfae turnoff). Take a right on 48 Road and a left on 11 ¼ Road which will become State Road which leads to the Lincoln Bridge turnoff.
2) Manistee River Trail
Judging from the number of cars parked in the lot above Red Bridge on fall weekends, this might be the peoples’ choice. It’s eleven miles from Red Bridge to Hodenpyl Dam, and another 12 miles along the North Country Trail will loop you back to Red Bridge. However, most color seekers, do an out-and-back, hiking in a couple miles and then retracing their steps. This is not a level walk. Expect some up and downs. Much of the trail follows a ridge, frequently leading to open areas where cameras will try and capture the truly magnificent vistas of trees in their autumn coats.
To get to Red Bridge, take M55 past M37 to Warfield Road. Turn right and several miles later go left on Coates Highway which crosses Red Bridge.
Photo: Fall Color peaking along the Big Manistee River
3) High Rollway on the Manistee River
This is one color show not to miss. While this feature is about walking tours, the best view is only steps away from the parking area.
During the lumbering era, logs were rolled off the top of this ridge down into the Manistee River. Now railings and viewing platforms have been added along with commercial telescopes. But there’s more to see for those looking for exercise. Walk in either direction on the North Country Trail and you’ll burn some more calories and watch nature at its best.
The Rollway can be found by going north through Meuwataka to M42 and continuing on 31 Road across Baxter Bridge. Turn left on County Line Road. From there, go to near the corner of N 25 Rd & W 4 Rd, close to the Wexford/Grand Traverse County line. Follow the main dirt road to the right after passing the old migrant housing trailers in the field. The DNR sign is a little ways down the dirt road; keep on the main road and you’ll come to the shady parking area. It’s about 1 mile from the black-top road to the overlook.
4) Waldeck Island
While the locations discussed in the first part of this feature offer the most spectacular display of autumn foliage, getting to these places involves some driving and time commitment. Close to home is Waldeck Island which is found on the north end of Stone Ledge Lake. This eleven acre preserve was donated to the Cadillac Conservancy by George Rock. An easy-walking trail circles the island and in October the maples , birch, and aspen will light up the shoreline.
Going south on M-115 take a right on 43 Road and follow it to the lake.
5) Cadillac Heritage Nature Trail
The start point is found just a few yards past the Carl T. Johnson Museum archery target enclosure. The Heritage Nature Trail is a 2 ¼ mile loop – a level ground walk with several wood bridges, an observation deck, and nature interpretive signs. Come here for an after dinner stroll and watch the setting sun bathe the woods in golden light.
This is only a starter list. There’s miles of North Country Trail to explore plus countless unnamed trails crisscrossing the Manistee National Forest. This is the season to be outdoors. Don’t let the leaves fall without you seeing them.