Northern Michigan’s Tunnel of Trees on M-119 is one of the state’s most iconic attractions. The scenic road winds from Harbor Springs, north of Petoskey, to Cross Village. (Click here to see all Northern Michigan Waterfront Lifestyle Homes for Sale)
Ranked among the most scenic roads in the nation, the Tunnel of Trees is especially breathtaking in spring when trilliums carpet the forest floor bordering the road and in autumn when the hardwoods are aflame in brilliant colors. (Click here to see Northern Michigan's finest collection of vacation rentals)
M-119 begins at the north end of Petoskey, but it doesn’t officially become The Tunnel of Trees until north of Harbor Springs. From there, the state highway becomes very narrow, running 20 miles along a spectacular bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Watch for especially sharp twists at Devil’s Elbow (said to be haunted by an evil spirit after dark) and Horseshoe Curve. Along the way, you’ll find fun shops, must-try local restaurants, spectacular scenery, and fascinating historical pit spots.
Sit back and enjoy the drive.
The Tunnel of Trees is named for the hardwoods and evergreens that knit into a ceiling over motorists and bicyclists. The route offers forest views, and openings in the trees surprise travelers with incredible vistas. I have traveled this route for years, hundreds of times, in every season. With each trip, something new catches my interest—maybe a spectacular view of the lake, or snow cloaking the dark green hemlocks in winter. In spring, the number of trilliums on the forest floor is beyond estimate. In autumn, sunlight filters through the trees, electrifying the fall leaf colors.
If you can, make the trip on a weekday when you have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery—and the patience to be courteous to cyclists and slower drivers. Consider the area’s history—the original Native Americans and their traditions, as well as the early European settlers. The old church at Middle Village, on the shoreline below Good Hart, dates from the 1880s and is near a Jesuit mission from the 1700s. What did the forests look like then, before logging? Where did the Civil War veterans who got land grants to farm this area come from, and what did they find when they arrived? Tourism is the main industry now, but that has changed, too. Generations ago, summer people from Chicago or St. Louis would arrive to spend the entire summer. Modern travelers zoom north on a freeway for a short weekend getaway.
And freeway is precisely what the Tunnel of Trees is an antidote for. The feel is slow, soft, curvy and intimate, a two-lane keepsake, a byway from a long-gone era, a road that is itself a destination.
Drive the Tunnel of Trees
Before the Tunnel: Petoskey
About two miles north of downtown Petoskey, on US-31, turn left onto M-119 toward Harbor Springs. After a mile, there is a small mall on the right. The first store is Crooked Tree Breadworks where you must purchase a few pepper Parmesan rolls and some granola to share. Toski Sands Market and Wine Shop are justifiably famous for its smoked whitefish spread as well as homemade beef and turkey jerky.
Before the Tunnel: Harbor Springs
Fabulous to-go sandwiches and other goodies are found at the southern end of the Tunnel of Trees in downtown Harbor Springs. Stop at Gurney’s Harbor Bottle Shop, where the Train Wreck sandwich is highly recommended, or Turkey’s Cafe and Pizzeria. After getting back on M-119 and continuing north from Harbor Springs, watch about four miles ahead on the right for Pond Hill Farm. This family-owned operation has a market with fresh produce and homemade preserves like hot garlic pepper jelly. While there, also visit Harbor Springs Vineyards & Winery and Tunnel Vision Brewery. Pond Hill’s Garden Cafe makes a wonderful lunch stop, too.
About six miles beyond Pond Hill Farm is Trillium Woods Vintage Boutique, on the right, known for its eclectic collection. A mile or so to the east, on Townline Road, is Good Hart Glassworks.
Note: Heading north on M-119, the road narrows with trees growing up to both sides of the thoroughfare. Remember, this narrower-than-normal two-lane road lacks, for the most part, shoulders or a centerline.
The first town worth exploring along the Tunnel of Trees is Cross Village. It has a Heritage Museum in its old town hall and features a giant white cross on a bluff overlooking the lake. The story of the cross has its roots back in the seventeenth century when Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette supposedly planted a white cross on the bluff before he died. M-119 continues north for seven miles before ending at Cross Village and county road C-77, also known as State Road. Take State about a block to the corner of Levering Road to find Three Pines Studio. This art gallery features the work of more than 40 Northern Michigan artists and offers classes and workshops. Outside is a beautiful sculpture garden.
Back on the main street is the iconic Legs Inn where you’ll find authentic Polish food. The historic restaurant sits on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan—catch a sunset and visit the garden. The first thing you'll notice when you arrive at the Legs Inn is the incredible, rustic stone architecture... and things only get cooler from there. The inside is just as kitschy and lodge-like, and they serve up a wild menu of very authentic Polish cuisine (think pierogis, smoked whitefish, and stuffed cabbage.) Enjoy it all with a Polish beer or some Polish vodka, and, if you're there on the right evening, some live music. They also have cottages for rent if you want to make a whole night of it.
Another spot to pull off and stretch your legs is Three Pines Studio and Gallery. Hosting a huge variety of local crafts and art, you can admire the wares and purchase anything that strikes your fancy. You'll find anything from fiber art pieces and jewelry to woodwork art, blown glass, and paintings here.
North of Cross Village
If you have time, continue on the same road about three miles north and, when it ends, turn left toward Lake Michigan. This takes you into parks along Sturgeon Bay. The pristine beach is great for walking and wading. Parking is available and beach access is free. The main entrance to Wilderness State Park is about 16 miles away (903 Wilderness Park Dr., Carp Lake). The park covers nearly 10,500 acres, has 26 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and includes hiking trails, campsites, and nine rental cabins. You’ll need a recreation passport.
Heading Back to Harbor Springs
After the beach, retrace your route south to Cross Village. You can drive back to Harbor Springs through the Tunnel of Trees, maybe switching drivers so the previous one can rubberneck this time. Or you can take State Road (C-77), which is a shorter and faster route preferred by locals. About 1.5 miles south of Cross Village on the right is a roadhouse-style family restaurant called the Crow’s Nest, where pan-fried perch is a favorite.
Also along the route, you might want to take a quick dip in the lake at Middle Village Park's beach. The trail behind the Middle Village church features an observation deck and easy access to the quiet little public swim spot. Harbor Springs has been a resort destination for decades, so it's a great place to visit on your journey. Located on Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay, Harbor Springs offers scenic beauty, stargazing, quaint historic sites, and, of course, one end of the Tunnel of Trees.
Pond Hill Farm is one of the main attractions along the M-119, and it's not hard to see why: There's something for everyone here. Kids will love exploring the working farm, petting the animals, and enjoying a sundae from the ice cream parlor, and adults will want to unwind with a wine tasting or nice sit-down meal at the Garden Cafe before picking up some farm-fresh fruits and veggies, locally made goods, and more.
Thorne Swift Nature preserve is tiny, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth exploring. Take the short Balsam and Cedar Trails, and explore the dunes, swamplands, and ponds in addition to the stretch of beach and lake just off the Tunnel of Trees.
Stay the Night: Dinner and Lodging in Harbor Springs
Head back about 12 miles on State Road to Harbor Springs, where dinner choices include Stafford’s Pier; in good weather, you can dine outside overlooking the marina and pick out your dream boat. Other dining choices include Piersons, New York and Turkey's mentioned above’s. Accommodations are available with Northern Michigan Escapes the areas leading property management and vacation rental agency.