Fall in Munising: 3 drives to remember and a historic restaurant is open again

A warm and wet end to the summer threatened to abbreviate the 2023 fall color season, but a run of cool nights has set the stage for a banner explosion of red, orange and yellow in the hardwood forests and along Lake Superior’s shoreline.

The fall leaf forecast indicates that peak color will occur in Munising between Oct. 1 and Oct. 18, providing a two-week window for people to take advantage of what nature gifts this year, though the lead up to those dates and the immediate aftermath will still offer vibrant beauty.

Here are three drives to experience and remember, while using Munising as your launch pad and ending destination:

Munising to Manistique: Visit Michigan’s amazing Kitch-iti-Kipi, the state’s largest natural freshwater spring, spanning 200 feet across and a crystal clear 40-foot view to the bottom. Google and Apple maps apps will tell you to take the roughly 50-minute one-way drive via M-94, but those in the know say there’s a beautiful and lesser-traveled route along Highway 13. That path will add about 10 minutes each way, but it cuts through a larger portion of the Hiawatha National Forest before emerging out at U.S. 2 next to Lake Michigan. Kitchi-iti-Kipi is a natural wonder with water temperature hovering at a constant 45 degrees. Nearly 10,000 gallons of water per minute pushes through limestone rocks at the spring’s floor.

Westward bound 2-hour trip: Head out of Munising along M-28 to experience amazing views along the Lake Superior shoreline on the north and portions of the Hiawatha National Forest to the south and roughly 40 minutes later you’ll land in the community of Harvey. A turn onto M-553 takes drivers and their passengers toward Gwinn, where they can hop on M-94 and begin the return to Munising. Dense forests and rolling hills are an interesting and scenic spin, and Cearley notes the final 20 miles from Chatham to Munising are amazing.

Now go east for two hours: You’ve already seen Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by water and by trail, so why not get a third view by driving through it on the way to Grand Marais, a roughly one-hour trip that cuts through the park on H-58. Visitors can then take M-77 south to Seney (a big hit on the groomed snowmobile trails during the winter) and rejoin M-28 to head west through the Seney National Wildlife Refuge and back to the heart of Munising.

After a hunger-inducing drive, Munising visitors have many options to grab a delicious bite to eat, and the recent reopening of the Brownstone Inn in AuTrain can now be added to the list.

When Tom Dolaskie and Darrin Hubbard bought, renovated and reopened the historic Brownstone Inn, the Munising natives focused on goals that were bigger than extending an 18-year business success story in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

It was a passion project that centered on the community vibrancy in and around AuTrain. It was about continuing a legacy dining location for locals and visitors, all of whom fondly recall the landmark gathering spot with incredible four-season views of Lake Superior. And it was about giving generations of clientele and employees the ability to carry-on traditions.

“It’s all about the overall experience of being in the U.P.,” said Dolaskie, who with Hubbard owns and operates seven restaurants in Alger County. “We are all about giving people a great product, partnering with our local farmers and letting the people who have loved working here for years continue to have jobs they enjoy.

“The Brownstone has always been a destination by vehicle and the (off-road vehicles) and snowmobiles on the trail, a place that you can’t wait to visit. We’re really looking forward to being part a great fall color season and having people find joy in the U.P.”

The Brownstone was built along M-28 just west of AuTrain in 1946 using locally harvested materials that include masonry stones from around the county, logs cut and hauled from Chatham and beams and metal windows from a shuttered Ford Motors plant, as legend and lore from the past 70+ years have recollected. The rustic vibe and unique design complement the vintage log furniture that was built years ago in Cheboygan and remains in the dining room today.

Dolaskie relays that the bar is new, and the commercial-grade kitchen is equipped like never before for unparalleled food and service. He also brought in excavators to clear and smooth a one-mile off-road path that allows all-terrain vehicles – and come winter a groomed trail for snowmobiles – to easily access the restaurant.

“This is a one-of-a-kind place, and we wanted to stay true to that,” he said. “We freshened it up, but most of the investment is behind the scenes in the infrastructure and the people.”

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