Autumn in Northwest Michigan is vibrant, especially along the 45th Parallel as it spans the Grand Traverse Bay region. The climate, high elevation and surrounding water bodies make this a prime growing region. Lake Michigan and its many bays take on a rich hue when the brightly colored trees reflect in their waters.
Before you begin your 100–mile adventure, be sure to stop at the Traverse City Visitors Center (101 West Grand View Parkway/US–31 and North Union Street) to pick up literature about the area’s top agricultural attractions. www.visittraversecity.com
From there, your journey begins.
Follow US–31 north as it skirts along Grand Traverse Bay along the coastline to your first stop, just eight 8 north of Acme and 2 miles shy of Elk Rapids. Farmer White’s (11373 US–31 South, Williamsburg) begins harvesting apples in late August, and offers 30 varieties including Gingergold, Northern Spy and Honeycrisp. (231–632–1500)
Close by is Altonen Orchards (11882 S. US-31, Williamsburg), which has a nearly 100–year tradition in the area. The Altonen family has three farms totaling about 600 acres and two farm stands. They grow 22 apple varieties, ripening throughout the season, beginning with Jersey Mac in late August and ending with McIntosh — the king of Michigan apples. Some older apple varieties are specifically blended into cider as well. The Altonen family legacy lives on through two children, four grandchildren, eight great–grandchildren and generations of families who have made the annual visit part of their fall traditions. (231–264–8052) www.michiganfruit.com
Follow US–31 just 2 miles north to King Orchards (986 US Hwy 31 South, Kewadin). Gingergold apples start the fall harvest season the last week of August at this first–generation farm. Honeycrisp is the cornerstone variety, and the markets here are bursting at the seams as many different apple varieties become ripe. You have the option of selecting from the farm stand or picking your own…we opt for the latter. A second King Orchards is located at 4620 N. M–88, Central Lake. (877–937–5464) www.kingorchards.com
Make your way about 22 miles up US–31 to Friske Orchard & Farm Market (10743 N. US–31, Atwood/Ellsworth). You can’t miss this year–round farm market…just keep your eyes peeled for the huge red barns that stretch along the west side of the road near Atwood. Here you’ll find award–winning cider, Orchard Playland and special events including the Fall Harvest Festival (Sept. 27, 2014) and Apple Festival (Oct. 4–11, 2014). Friske’s also operates an old–fashioned General Store, Old World Bakery, Orchard Café, Country Haus and, of course, its Fruit Stand. (231–599–2604) www.friske.com
Backtracking for a brief 5 miles south on US–31, you’ll look for M–88 to the east. You’ll now follow M–88 south to Bellaire with your destination being the "Gourmet Apple Orchard" Clam Lake Orchards (6662 Clam Lake Road, Bellaire) about 16 miles away. After 1.7 miles on M–88, turn left onto N. East Torch Lake Drive (CR–593) for 10.3 miles and then follow the county road as it turns right onto SE Torch Lake Drive for 2.2 miles. Your final turn is left on Clam Lake Road, with the orchard 1.8 miles down the road. The apples here are mostly from easy–to–pick dwarf trees, with 25–30 varieties. Pre–picked apples are also available.
Your final leg of this tour takes you back toward Traverse City, via M–72 through Williamsburg. Return to SE Torch Lake Drive (CR–593) and follow the back–country road for some 13.6 miles until you come to Hill Road NW, when you’ll turn right and drive for 1 mile before turning right onto M–72.
Hoxsie’s Farm Market (6620 M–72 East, Williamsburg) is just 7.4 miles down the road. This u–pick apple farm features wagon rides and also offers baked goods such as pie, doughnuts, cider, jams and preserves. (231–267–9087)
M–72 back toward Grand Traverse Bay will intersect with US–31, where you’ll follow the route back along the shoreline toward downtown Traverse City.
If time permits, and you’ll want to make sure you find the time, take a turn north at M–37 in Traverse City (also simply known as TC) to travel the scenic route of Old Mission Peninsula in search of the handful of farm stands that dot the landscape. This route is approximately 30 miles, round-trip.
If it’s more touring and farming you desire, consider a trek northwest into the famed Leelanau Peninsula. Follow M–22 north, with West Grand Traverse Bay out your passenger side window. Nearly a dozen farms and farm stands can be found here, offering multiple apple varieties. This route is approximately 114 miles, round–trip.
- Fox Valley Gardens Farm Market
- (3.5 miles north of TC on Center Road). The farm stand is open daily, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., for self–serve through October. (231–946–6109)
- Edmondson Orchards
- (8.5 miles north of TC on Center Road). The yellow fruit stand on the right side of the road, just north of Chateau Grand Traverse at 12239 Center Road, offers heritage apples. (231–223–7130)
- Shangir–La Too
- (Center Road just past Island View Road). U–pick apples available 9 a.m. to dark. (231–499–0106)
- Old Mission Fruit Co.
- (Across from Old Mission Tavern, which is located at 17015 Center Road). Featuring apples at a self–serve stand, open daily. (231–223–4805)
- Sue & Glenn’s Fruitstand
- (5300 NW Bay Shore Drive/M–22, Omena). Follow M–22 up the shoreline through Suttons Bay and north of Omena. Offering a variety of apples including Pristine, Paula Red, Dayton, Golden Supreme, Goldrush and William’s Pride, as well as caramel apples and cider. (231–386–5855)
- Kilcherman’s Christmas Cove Farms
- (11573 N. Kilcherman Road, Northport). Historic antique apples, old–fashioned apple cider and gift boxes can be found at this farm market. In fact, you’re likely to find more than 240 varieties of apples. Follow M–22 north to Northport, then M–201 to CR–640 to Kilcherman Road. Look for the windmill at the first farm you come to. (231–386–5637)
- Lakeview Farms
- (5714 N. Novotny Road, Northport). Follow M–22 from Suttons Bay, turning left on Setterbo Road. Turn left on Kolarik Road (look for the church) for a quarter mile and then turn on Novotny Road for 1 mile (look for the big rock on the right–hand side of the road). Featuring Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Jonared, Mutsu, Northern Spy and many more. (231–386–5223)
- Jelink Orchards
- (5282 N. Jelink Road, Northport). Many apple varieties can be found here. A second farm stand is found at 608 St. Joseph St./M–22 in Suttons Bay, the last house on the right before M–204. (231–271–3986)
- Popp Farm
- (10620 E. Omena Road, Northport). This farm stand, 2.25 miles west of Omena, features McIntosh, Gingergold, Yellow and Red Delicious, Rome, Jonagold and Ida Red apples. (231–271–3209)
- Bakker’s Acres
- (2677 Setterbo Road, Suttons Bay). Just 2 miles north of Suttons Bay on Setterbo Road is a large green pole barn where you’ll find 20 varieties of apples, including Honeycrisp and Chestnut apples. (231–271–3673)
- Hahnenberg Farm Market & Cider Mill
- (555 S. Lake Leelanau Dr., Lake Leelanau). Featuring a variety of apples and pasteurized apple cider. (231–994–2224)
- VerSnyder’s Fruit
- (1524 S. Lake Shore Dr., Lake Leelanau). Follow M–204 west to Lake Leelanau, then south on S. Lake Shore Drive, about 1.5 miles to this self–serve stand. (231–256–9258)
- Williams Orchards
- (3055 E. Sullivan, Cedar). A wide variety of apples, including Honeycrisp, can be found at these Cedar farm stands. One is located in downtown Cedar next to the ice cream shop at the intersection of CR–651 and CR–616; the other is 4 miles north of Cedar (follow CR–651 north then east on Bodus Road, near Sugarfoot Saloon). (231–228–6992)
- The Ugly Tomato
- (485 E. Harbor Hwy./M–22 at Little Traverse Lake, Cedar) Honeycrisp and other apples are found at this farm stand located next to Michigan Traders. (231–342–5669)
- Sleeping Bear Orchards
- (11225 S. Leelanau Hwy./M–22, 1 mile north of Empire). A self–serve, staffed farm stand offering a variety of apples. (231–326–3276)