As the operator of a boating adventure tour company, people often ask me when is the best (or my favorite) time to go on a boat ride. And for decades, my response has never changed. "When you are BREATHING!" 

This year marks my twentieth official one in a lifelong adventure of taking guests through the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge and some of my other favorite places on earth. It's part of my livelihood, my business - Johnny Panther Quests Adventure Trips. More than that, it's part of who I am.

When I was a young boy, my stepdad bought a set of hand-drawn, color-coded maps, and, with these, we spent five years exploring every river, creek, ditch, and bayou of the Refuge. We came to know the waterways so well that I could navigate their twists and bends by heart, even at 2am with no moon and no light to guide me. When folks ask how I do it, I reply, "By braille!"

Wil Hufton of Johnny Panther Quest Adventure Tours 

I admit being partial to the spring, but fall on the waterways of the Great Lakes Bay has a magic all its own. The air is sweet, the foliage is ripe, and the migrations are cranking up into full swing. As the frost gets thicker and the days get shorter, the infinite shades of green transform into a kaleidoscope of color. It becomes easier to pick out the wildlife through the trees and the water gets clearer, sometimes so full of leaves it looks like land.

Fall Colors In The Great Lakes Bay 

The Saginaw River Valley is rich with wildlife in a way you couldn't imagine until you've seen it. Sometimes so many birds fill the sky, you'll wish you had a raincoat on, and you never... (I repeat, never)... look up with your mouth open! Jokes aside, this is the "Everglades of Michigan" at its finest. And it's all here when you set out for a fall color tour in Pure Michigan's Great Lakes Bay Region.

Going on a fall color tour doesn't have to mean cramming into a car and hitting the tarmac, mile marker after mile marker, as you watch the beautiful fall colors fly past you through the glass. In the Great Lakes Bay, we like to make our fall color tours a little more... vibrant. That's why, on Johnny Panther Quest Adventure Trips (and other Great Lakes Bay fall color tour experiences like those aboard Bay City's Appledore Tallships), you can experience the beauty of the season as it was intended. Naturally, freely, and however you please.

 Setting Out On A Johnny Panther Quest

That's because you can customize your fall color tour to be exactly what you want, and nothing you don't. If you're looking for a romantic, relaxing tour, early fall is perfect. From Mid-September through late October the foliage changes dramatically. At this time in the season, sunsets become more dramatic, and couples snuggle closer together sharing warmth as the world comes alive around them. Sharing the romance of nature with others is what I live for, and if theirs is reignited in some way, then I've been successful!

To make the most of an early fall color tour:

See nature at its peak. Here, the fall colors peak around Mid-October, so it's the perfect time to witness the waterways in all their autumn glory.
Dress warm! You can never bring too many layers, and can always remove a few!
Bring coolers. Fill them with your favorite bevereages (warm or cold!), pack a picnic basket (with wine, cheese, and chocolate perhaps?) and don't forget to stash a camera.
Pack your binoculars. As the season progresses, the migrations increase along with other animal activity. We will start seeing more raptors and sometimes multiple eagles in the trees.

Brilliant Fall Colors 

Rather opt for a little more of a trailblazing adventure? You're not alone. Each year, I have more and more people who are willing to put on a snowmobile suit and brave the cold to go for a boat ride later in the season (late fall and even well into winter). Why? Because the deeper in the season we are, the more stuff we see. Good stuff. Like the eagle, hawk, heron, and owl. In the later months, their nests stick out like sore thumbs. The air is full of birds, and some of the buck's racks are nothing short of awesome. The solitude and tranquility of thirty-two square miles of rivers, marshes, and bayous beckons.

Fall Adventure Tour 

To make the most of a late fall (or early winter) color tour (November):

Don't underestimate the late fall or early winter chill. Dress warm and in layers. Bring spare clothes. A snowmobile suit or similar can be your best friend.
Keep things toasty. Switch from cold beverages to something warm that won't freeze!
Stick with the staples. As always, stock your picnic baskets, bring cameras (and binoculars are always highly recommended).

By branching out on a late fall or early winter adventure, the colorful leaves will be gone and a totally different landscape awaits. Spotting wildlife will be far easier, and the chorus of ducks, geese, and swans will at full amplitude. The air will be brisk and sometimes biting, we don't call them adventure trips for nothing!

Deer Spotting on a Fall Color Tour 

For it all, you'll will be rewarded with "tranquilitude." A life changing, battery-recharging experience far removed from the hustle and bustle of civilization. If you truly want to eliminate stress, get out of the mainstream, and go on a "quest!" And your quest for the perfect fall color tour begins right here in the Great Lakes Bay.