Autumn splendor: Good fall color viewing in Iron, Dickinson counties


For The Daily News

CRYSTAL FALLS – When relatives or friends come to visit, everyone wants to show them the natural beauty of our area.

As evidenced by all the out of state licensed recreational vehicles we have seen on the local highways at fall color time; many people will travel long distances to tour our area during fall color season.

We all appreciate the fall colors but it is easy to get caught up the daily grind and not take the time to enjoy all the beautiful fall sights readily available with a drive, paddle, or hike around area hotspots.

Without much effort one can access the better local vistas and the diversity of hardwood autumn colors. Colors vary from year to year but the peak color reports are available on line from the AAA Auto Club.

Obviously, local people can just look out their car window on their daily trips. Typically, peak color occurs the last week of September and first week of October.

As Roger Bofinger, retired from the U.S. Forest Service at Iron River, points out, our area is blessed with ample natural beauty and outstanding fall colors.

Bofinger, who is originally from Vermont grew up with mountains, which provide numerous natural vistas to view fall colors.

Although we don’t have mountains we do have some very hilly areas and with a little strategic selection of peak color routes one can access other forms of vistas we do have available.

In addition to roads through hilly areas he states, “other good areas to see longer distances providing a more panoramic view of autumn brilliance is at our abundant lakes, river valleys, and less abundant farm fields within hardwood areas.”

Bofinger is an expert on maple trees for a couple reasons; he spent his career working in Forestry and has produced maple syrup (currently on U.S. 2 west of Iron River) throughout his life time.

Even as fall weather varies, the dominant color of certain deciduous (broad leaf) tree species most have a fairly predictable color range.

He points out a few of the hardwood tree species to watch for in your color tour.

“A few local examples are sugar maple typically yellow or orange, red maple red or orange, oak crimson or brownish orange, aspen/birch etc yellow and sumac (shrub common on road side banks) – brilliant red,” Bofinger said.

The best fall color tours are through areas where hardwood trees are prevalent.

In general the Ottawa National Forest, state land (Dickinson County), many Iron County lands and some corporate forest lands have more stands of hardwood.

We can thank early Iron County Highway Engineer Herb Larson for acquisition of considerable virgin hardwood stands that are readily visible to highway travelers.

Some examples of his acquisitions are Bewabic State Park (former County Park), Pentoga Park, and Larson Park (first highway roadside rest stop park in the nation) on U.S. 2.

A good example of larger maple and hardwood stands on corporate forest lands are the old American Can lands (lands have changed hands many times in recent years) along Ned Lake Grade that runs north east from Triangle Spur north of Amasa.

One of my family’s favorite color viewing trips is to float the Paint River with a canoe or kayak from the Bates-Amasa Road (County 643) down to Erickson’s Landing on Sheltrow Road.

This is an easy 7.3 mile float with many high banks with numerous stands of maple and other hardwoods and has beautiful back drops for a day on the river.

Another easy and picturesque “fall color viewing float trip is the Menominee River from Sturgeon Falls Dam down (6.5 miles) to Faithhorn,” said Randy Gustafson of Northwoods Wilderness Outfitters in Iron Mountain.

Other good choices for flat water boat/kayak trip outings are on area lakes with hardwoods and hills surrounding them.

A few examples are Lake Antoine, Fortune Lake Chain, Swan, Ottawa, Brule and Golden Lakes. A number of anglers have been timing a walleye or muskie fishing trip on our area waters during peak fall color time for a great combination experience.

One of my wife’s greatest reasons for grouse hunting is that it gets us out at a beautiful time of year and we enjoy the fall color as we walk through the grouse cover or travel between hunting spots.

If you are not into hunting or fishing in the fall then a walk on the U.S. Forest Service Ge-Che Ski Trail (between Ottawa and Hagerman Lakes) or Fumee Lake Natural Area through numerous hardwood stands is well worth your time and will get you out for some exercise.

There are a number of good roads in Iron County to take in great views of peak color.

A good color tour would include U.S. 2 between Crystal Falls and Iron River with the hardwood covered hills and Chicagon Slough providing excellent color vistas.

Continuing west on U.S. 2 to Gibb City Road (County Road 657), then north up that road gives good panoramic views of hardwood color in the farm field areas near the old fire tower south off Gibb City.

At Gibb City continue west on Gibbs West Road (still County Road 657) to Forest Highway 16.

At Highway 16 turn north and drive through the Ottawa National Forest past Paint and Silk Lakes to Kenton.

At Kenton turn east (right) on M-28 and travel to Sidnaw.

At Sidnaw turn south (right) on Sidnaw Road that heads south to Perch Lake.

This takes you past Lake St. Kathryn and more good hardwood areas.

At the Sidnaw Road intersection with the Perch Lake Campground and Access Road (well marked) travel 2.5 miles south to Ponozzo Road (sometimes not well marked).

At Ponozzo Road turn south (left) and travel back to Gibb City where it runs into the Gibb City Road (County Road 657). This trip will take you through many hardwood areas and past some scenic lakes and streams.

Dickinson County also has its share of good roads to include in a fall color drive.

Otto Jacob, retired forester from the Michigan DNR recommends including the following roads in your driving tour: Waucedah Road (County 569); Fordville Road though hardwood lined farm fields north of Hardwood; Lantz Road just south of Dickinson County’s Norway Lake and the Upper Pine Creek Roads with vistas across farm fields to the trees and rock outcrops in the distance.

Additional good fall color roads would include: Norway Truck Trail; Skunk Creek Truck Trail; and all the roads on the large hill at Metropolitan (west of Felch).

By driving around on the roads at the Metropolitan Hill one can see good views in almost all directions, and much of it over hardwood areas.

Fall is a great time to spend time in the area woods, roads, and waterways.

If you have questions or want to obtain maps, a good first stop is the Iron County Chamber of Commerce in Iron River. The phone number is 906-265-3822.

In Dickinson County, contact the Michigan DOT Welcome Center at 774-4201.