Fall colors seem a bit slow arriving this year, but the recent cooldown should bring them back to a more normal pattern.
It should be prime viewing in the central Lower Peninsula over the next couple of weeks. Shoreline counties tend to peak more toward end of the month.
One of my favorite “go-to places” for color viewing isn’t an unknown spot. In fact on nice weekends this time of year it can be pretty busy, which is why I visit mid-week. Highbanks Rollway overlooks the Manistee River and valley offering stunning fall color views of up to 20 miles across a broad valley.
Looking down the forest canopy is a crescendo of colorful hues, crimsons, oranges and gold stretching out in front of you as far as the eye can see. The Manistee River forms a classic horseshoe bend below you before flowing away along the base of the bluff. This is arguably one of the best fall overlooks in northern Michigan. It is the highest point along this stretch of the Manistee.
It had been a popular spot with locals for decades, kind of our own secret fall color stash. That all changed when the DNR put up a platform overlook at the site to help protect the fragile river bank from visitor overuse and gave it the official name Highbanks Rollway. Prior to that it had been known by several names; the Rollaway, Horseshoe Bend, Highbanks Overlook and Lookout Point, were among the more popular. They used to hold weddings at the spot and gathered sometimes for sunrise Easter services if the dirt road leading back was passable that time of year. You have a breathtaking view of the sun rising in the east over the valley.
Located south of Kingsley on a dead-end dirt road it wasn’t easy to find until it became a designated site. Now with maps and signs it would be hard to get lost.
The view came about during the lumbering era that took place early in the last century. Lumberman loved the high bluffs that formed long ago along the Manistee River. This particular location sits a little over 200 feet above the river valley. They would cut the surrounding forest on the land above the river during the winter and stack the logs along the bluffs in prime locations. In the spring they would send thousands of logs tumbling down the banks into the river to float downstream to waiting lumber mills. This would scour the bank of vegetation and trees, which even today have sparsely grown back.
The viewing spot, by whatever name it was known, had become popular enough by the late 1900s that the bank was deteriorating even worse because of people climbing on it. The North Country Trail, which covers 4,600 miles between Vermont and North Dakota, also became a reality passing right by the overlook bringing more people into the picture. The DNR stepped in putting up a platform overlook along the bluff, a designated parking area and roped off access to going down the bluff. It has helped to stabilize the area and make it more appealing.
Once you’ve spent time drinking in that fabulous vista you can spend some time hiking along the North Country Trail to the east or the west along the bluff for more jaw-dropping panoramas. It also gets you away from the crowds, which you most likely will encounter on a nice fall day. Most will walk to the overlook; take a picture and maybe a moment to enjoy it before heading back to the vehicle.