If ever you’ve fancied an Autumn journey under and through deciduous greenery turned candied apple, crimson, and pumpkin orange soft and hard Maple leaves; chartreuse Birch and Poplar foliage; and burnt sienna spiced, white, red, and pin Oak frosted wilt. Northern Michigan is THE place. Among the very best routes is a somewhat uncommon expedition between the sugar sand beaches of the sleepy little town of Manistee and the premier alcove that is West Bay, Traverse City.
You’ll find no traffic gawking travelers at 37mph in 50mph zones; No arms stretched from windows with rigor mortis indexed fingers; No out of place Audis or poser convertibles, no. Instead, this little well known bypass route is riddled only with clean air, open shoulders, relaxed medians, and the ghosts of weeks past from custom JKs, genuine dually vans, and jacked 4x4s draped in pragmatic buckstop bumpers. If you want authentic, scenic, peaceful and contemplative look no further.
Our adventure begins on a chilly October morning at the Traverse Area recreational trail head just south of Clinch Park. I’ll say this much, the 4.6 stars that Clinch is getting these days is undervalued in terms of early morning, family bathroom emergencies. Clinch is clutch in a pinch… 5 stars ;).
As the mist rolls off West Bay we make our way southwest along Front street until it turns into North Long Lake rd. A few things to know about N. Long Lake (aka Route 610): firstly, North Long Lake road is where an enormous amount of new development is happening. Single family home builds, duplexes, studio apartments, condos, retirement yurts, you name it. If it’s an accommodating domicile, it’s being built here. Secondly, N. Long Lake is where T.C. proper (the city limits) become Garfield township, and then where Garfield becomes Long Lake township. Lastly, and this is why the buildup is important here, Long Lake township is home of Fresh Coast Market (stop and get yourself some smoked duck, you won’t regret it)…and Moomers Homemade Ice Cream (world famous, nuff said).
Continuing westbound on into Long Lake township is where the magic really begins to happen. Route 610 clips the northernmost corners of Lake Long Lake, with +/-2,700 acres of fresh water, three (3) public boat launches, and five (5) islands; and then immediately plunges south into the Manistee National Forest. Wood and Water, and Field and Streams, for as far as the eye can see. As if sweets to begin the journey weren’t already enough, you’re in for a real treat with what is about to come next.
Route 610 south through the Manistee National becomes Route 137, and Route 137 is the only corridor that takes you directly past the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Although the list of Famous/High-Performing Alumni is beyond the scope of this particular article, it is worth experiencing their inspirational surroundings via a Fall car ride.
Route 137 to Route 700 where red pine power poles take the appearance of aged barnwood and the only property line markers are the remnants of cedar fence posts. Then on to Routes 602 and 597 in Benzie County. From Benzie to Amish Country on Route 604, then to Route 669 in Thompsonville and a stone's throw from the always delish Iron Fish Distillery.
If you’re belly is full and thirst quenched it’s time to continue south through the Bear Lake watershed. On past Grossnickle’s farm and farmstand, and on past the Kaleva bottle house, you’ll pass Brethren along Highbridge road and drive on by the former high school of the one and only voice of Darth Vader, James Earl Jones.
At the intersection of M55 you’ll be faced with one final choice. You can ether head east to Bosschem Rd south and on towards Dublin General store to score some world renown Dublin jerky; or you can finish the journey early and head west on into Manistee and across one of two draw bridges that traverse the Big Manistee river that splits the town in two halves. North Manistee you find Man-made lake and the 5th avenue cat-walked pier. South Manistee is home to miles of Boardwalk, stupendous swimming, and charter boat guide services aplenty.
The State of Michigan ranks 10th in terms of population, but with an annual tourism office budget of 35 million the state comes in 6th in terms of promotional spending. A good portion of this over the past decade has been focused on what the state calls ‘Pure Michigan’ campaigns. And, we know full well what those Ad dollars are primarily referencing when Tim Allan's narration waxes, poetically describing the experiences of Pure Michigan…they’re talking about that little section of heavenly pie of the state North of Manistee and Cadillac, and West of Cadillac and Petoskey ;).
Cheers to Bitch'in Byways,
Mike (Ever Exploring) Hiller