Drive just about any back road in Northern Michigan and you will find a “Tunnel of Trees”. No matter the season Northern Michigan has many scenic drives. These areas are beautiful in every season. In the winter when the snow is glistening off their naked limbs. Or, the spring and the Trillium are out. Summer when the sun dances through a canopy of trees. Fall, that is when Mother Nature take center stage. The trees throughout Northern Michigan explode with a kaleidoscope of color.
One of the most well know scenic drives in Northern Michigan is the Tunnel of Trees that winds along M-119 between Harbor Springs and Cross Village to the north. The route begins on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan at the north city limits of Harbor Springs. The four townships of the corridor include West Traverse Township, Friendship Township, Readmond Township and Cross Village Township. The route ends at CR77/State Rd in Cross Village. Other major roads that enter M-119 include Lake Street, Middle, Stutsmanville and Robinson.
Scenic Heritage Route
In 2003 it was officially designated a Scenic Heritage Route by the State of Michigan. It is easy to see why it is ranked as one of the most scenic roads in the United States.The 20-mile stretch along Lake Michigan is filled with dense forest of hardwoods and pines. With breaks that give way to rushing rivers and spectacular lake views. Did you know that it even has a Facebook page with over 20,000 followers and a website for the purpose of the management and preservation of the natural, scenic and historic features of the Heritage Route.
There are times you will feel like you are in another place and time as you come upon small towns with vintage charm. Along the route you will see signs telling you a little about the history of the area. One of the signs reads “Centuries before European contact, Odawa Chief Sagima and his war party drove the Muscodesh from this area. The murder of an Odawa woman along with great insults toward the Chief resulted in war at Seven Mile Point and the eventual settling of the region from Cross Village to Harbor Springs by Odawa Tribe.” This section of M-119 was originally the primary north/south trail for Native Americans. Trappers, traders, settlers and loggers used the trail after the Europeans discovered the beauty and the bountiful resources of the area.
There is an old church at Middle Village that dates from the late 1800s. You will see a sign directing you to turn left on Lamkin Road under the Middle Village sign. 1 mile down the road you will find the church. Behind the church a short trail leads to an observation deck overlooking Lake Michigan.
Do not forget to stop in Good Hart and visit the Good Hart General Store. One of only 3 businesses in this tiny hamlet, it is one of the most iconic stops along the Tunnel of Trees. Dating back to the 1930s, the store is a central gather spot. The store is the town’s grocery, bakery, deli, real estate office and post office.
Sharing the Road
The Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route section of M-119 is the only state highway without a centerline. The road is narrow and winding with sharp twists at Devil’s Elbow and Horseshoe Curve. Most of the route has soft shoulders or is without shoulders. The curving and rolling nature of the roadway creates visual barriers. The narrow width requires motorists to share the road with bicyclists and pedestrians. Sharing the road will lead to a safer and more pleasant experience for everyone along the corridor. For more information the M-119 Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route Committee released a share the road brochure.
Trails and Nature Preserves
There are many nature preserves along the M-119 corridor that are managed by the Little Traverse Conservancy. Many have access to Lake Michigan or are easy hikes that provide a leg stretching opportunity. The Raunecker/Leslie Nature Preserve is just a few blocks west of downtown Harbor Springs. The Thorne Swift Nature Preserve about 4 miles north of Harbor Springs has 1-½ miles of trail, and a dune and a pond observation platforms and Lake Michigan shoreline. An easy 1.5 mile hike a through a forest dominated by colorful hardwoods is the Hoogland Family Nature Preserve. Closer to Cross Village is the Woollam Family Nature Preserve, a short ½ mile trail takes you through the hilly woods to the beach. You can find out about other nature areas by visiting the Little Traverse Conservancy.
Whether you are visiting for a day, a weekend or more there are plenty of great places to dine in the area.
If you are ending your drive in Cross Village, Legs Inn is a great place to rest and enjoy house made Polish cuisine or they offer a variety of American dishes as well. Decide you would like to stay the night and do more exploring? They can accommodate you in one of their private lakeside cottages.
If you end your drive in Harbor Springs you will have plenty of fine and casual dining options. Stafford’s Pier Restaurant offers the only waterfront dining in Harbor Springs and dates back to before prohibition. They are open for lunch or dinner and offer menu items to please any palate.
The New York is another great place to dine. I opened in 1904 on the ground floor of what used to be the Leahy’s New York Hotel. Over the years the hotel closed, the restaurant returned and the second floor became residential condominiums. The menu offers an eclectic cuisine using fresh local ingredients and homegrown herbs. Make sure to save room for one of their homemade sinfully delicious desserts!
If you are looking for something a little more casual we would suggest you try The Paper Station American Bistro, Teddy Griffin’s Roadhouse, Pierson’s Grill & Spirits or if you are looking for some authentic Mexican dishes we recommend Rodrigo’s Authentic Mexican Cuisine.
Watch for more facts and adventures in Northern Michigan!