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Leaf Peeping in Harbor Springs

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

When the leaves start changing, I start thinking about a leaf-peeping trip somewhere among Michigan’s amazing fall foliage destinations. You don’t have to drive very far to see the glowing red and gold, but I wanted to see what one of my favorite summer spots looked like in this special season.

Harbor Springs — population 1,000 — was our destination. It’s a more than 100-year-old waterfront village on the north shore of the Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan.

As a bonus, I discovered that one of the “not to be missed” leaf-driving tours is the Tunnel of Trees, traveling from Harbor Springs to Cross Village.

The contrast between the blue of Lake Michigan and the multi-hued leaves of the northern hardwoods really does make you feel like you are traveling through a tunnel. We were a little ahead of peak color this trip, but I could imagine this drive at a time when every leaf had turned.

We like to rent a waterfront cottage when we visit, but this time we stayed one town over at another favorite bed and breakfast, Stafford’s Bay View Inn, in Petoskey. The 31-room inn was built in 1886, but a recent update has freshened the entire property.

The Stafford family has owned and operated the Victorian-themed property for more than 50 years. The fall season did require a sweater to sit in one of the many wicker rocking chairs on the porch, but the view was still terrific.

Harbor Springs is just down the road, and strolling around the downtown means stopping at several of the local art galleries. I love to collect unique, hand-blown Christmas ornaments, and, as a consequence, a visit to Boyer Glassworks was a required stop. Every October, wonderful and whimsical glass pumpkins sprout up in the Great Lakes Glass Pumpkin Patch hosted by Boyer Glassworks and Three Pines Gallery.

A visit to Harbor Springs wouldn’t be complete without dinner at the New York Restaurant overlooking the waterfront. I’ve always wondered about the name, but a little research turned up the fact that the first owner, Thomas Leahy, was a transplanted New Yorker who opened Leahy’s New York Hotel in 1907. Food and fun has been served on this corner ever since.

My husband really likes their whitefish — baked with a pecan crust — and their extensive wine list. I chose the wagyu chopped steak, a fancy name for a high-end hamburger, custom-ground at Fairway Packing in Detroit. I also wanted to try the accompanying truffle salt duck fat fries. Need I say more?

We also like to eat at the Paper Station, which had been known as Mary Ellen’s Place, a longtime local landmark and once known for wonderful milkshakes. The Paper Station now claims to have the best burger in Northern Michigan, but I wanted something different when we visited, so I ordered the Cubano torta with pulled pork, smoked ham, apple slaw, pickle and Gruyere cheese. The Station had an energetic bistro atmosphere.

Tunnel Vision Brewery is located at another great place to visit, called Pond Farm. They’ve got a winery, café and brewery — a veritable one-stop shop. This fall they offer activities for the whole family including u-pick pumpkins, hayrides, pig races, pumpkin bowling and even pumpkin smashing.

Whatever your interests, there’s no better place in the fall to spend some quality time — leaf peeping or simply enjoying the ambiance of a very special Michigan destination.

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