One of the best things about fall in this region, 260 miles north of Detroit, is that you don’t have to plan a weekend way in advance. Outfitters can generally get you on a river without a reservation. That’s why (unsure of my paddling skills and not wanting to get wet), I rely on Big Bear Adventures in Indian River to set up a beginner’s trip. I drag my fingers through the crystal-clear water as a veteran guide navigates my canoe around twists and turns of the swift-moving Sturgeon River, which connects to the 40-mile Inland Waterway, the longest chain of lakes and rivers in Michigan. We glide from the river onto Burt Lake and up to the dock, all without tipping our canoe even once.
Water and woods not only define this area, they’re largely the reason it was settled. At Lumberman’s Monument, atop a bluff 15 miles west of Oscoda, a spectacular view of the Au Sable River ringed by woods ablaze in fall color takes my breath. I tromp down the 272 wooden steps for a look, but the return trip wears me out. Time for a leisurely fall foliage trip on the Au Sable paddleboat River Queen. Later, a short loop along the scenic Ocqueoc Falls Bicentennial Pathway (12 miles west of Rogers City) in Mackinaw State Forest reveals small but picturesque Ocqueoc Falls, which tumbles clear and fast over rock shelves.
Still, a girl’s gotta eat (and sleep!). In Alpena, healthy, flavorful sandwiches entice at Fresh Palate, and rich Italian-sausage pasta tempts at The Cellar Restaurant, a new gem located in the basement of a riverfront building. The Garland Lodge and Resort offers an upscale retreat in Lewiston, from $146.
For more information: Pure Michigan Travel (888) 784-7328; michigan.org/partners/sunrise-coast