When the air cools at night, lush green leaves change to brilliant jewel colors…turning forests to gold and fields of blueberry bushes to crimson. This Southwestern Michigan tour features cider mills, u-pick farms, roadside markets, wineries and quiet hiking trails as you travel.
Best Enjoyed: Mid to Late October
Approximate Length: 170 miles
Follow I-94 north out of New Buffalo to St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. This route will take you through the heart of Harbor Country, an area of quaint towns, rolling countryside and miles of Lake Michigan beaches.
In Union Pier, visit the Round Barn Winery Tasting Room where hand-crafted wines, fruit brandies, and microbrews are the specialty. Continuing north, take time to explore Warren Dunes State Park near Sawyer. The park provides 1,950 acres of recreational opportunities along the beautiful shore of Lake Michigan. The rugged dune formation rises 240 feet above the lake and offers spectacular views and excellent hang gliding. The park has more than two miles of shoreline and six miles of hiking trails.
Continue on I-94 to St. Joseph. If you are ready for lunch or dinner, Schu’s Grill & Bar offers a great view plus great food featuring soup, salads, pasta, seafood and much more. Cross the river to Benton Harbor and take Red Arrow Highway to Coloma.
In Coloma, drop by Karma Vista Vineyards and Winery, located on a beautiful hillside above Coloma. Also visit Jollay Orchards for pumpkins, apples, jams or one of their fantastic apple pies. Continue east on Red Arrow Highway through Hartford to Lawrence.
Looking for great antiques? Then stop by Brush Creek Antiques and experience the charm of their turn-of-the-century store, complete with all the character-plank flooring, wainscoting and fieldstone walls.
Continue east to Paw Paw, the heart of “grape country”. Paw Paw offers another opportunity to visit one of Michigan’s wineries. Warner Vineyards is nestled along the banks of the Paw Paw river and features a tasting room, restaurant and tours.
From Paw Paw, head south on M-40 through Lawton to Marcellus. At Marcellus follow M-216 east to US-131. Then head south to Three Rivers. While in Three Rivers, take a walk along the rolling and wooded trails of Meyer Broadway Park, enjoying the wildlife and scenic views.
Take M-60 west to Cassopolis. Follow M-62 north to Dowagiac. If it’s early enough in the season, check out Wicks Apple House, a century-old cider mill with a fruit and vegetable market, restaurant, bakery and corn maze.
From Dowagiac take M-51 south to Niles. In Niles, enjoy a unique country garden in a scenic, natural setting at the Fernwood Botanical Gardens & Nature Preserve. Highlights include eight acres of informal gardens, a nature center, fern conservation, arboretum woodland preserve, restored prairie, two miles of trails and much more. Return to New Buffalo via US-12 west.
Catch the last act of Michigan’s fall color show in the central Lower Peninsula near the state’s border with Indiana and Ohio. Best enjoyed from mid-to-late October, the 155-mile loop travels through countryside known for agriculture, antiques and Amish communities.
Best Enjoyed: Mid to Late October
Approximate Length: 155 miles
Soybeans, corn, wheat as well as beef cattle, dairy cows and other livestock occupy the land that woolly mammoth roamed, Native Americans lived off, fur trappers traversed, and, beginning in the late 1820’s, was settled by white men. The ancient Sauk Trail (US-12) slashes across the center of this fall color route, populated by hundreds of inland lakes and spring fed rivers and streams.
The soil is rich and the terrain features hills and dales-which gave name to Hillsdale County and the city in the center of it. Begin your color tour with a drive along tree-lined streets past fine examples of Victorian homes and businesses of Hillsdale, established in 1839. Next, enjoy the native plantings and trees of Slayton Arboretum on the campus of Hillsdale College, which dates to 1844 (at its present location since 1853). Stroll the nature trail and admire the water features and 1,100 species of plants at the 40-acre Slayton Arboretum. Drive by the cobblestone Poor House made famous in an 1872 verse by local poet Will Carleton.
Depart Hillsdale and travel south on M-99 to Montgomery Rd. (You could detour south on M-49 and wind your way to the very southwest corner of Hillsdale County, where a marker announces the approximate location where three states-Michigan, Indian and Ohio meet.) Travel Montgomery west to Wildwood Rd., then go north to Null Rd./Copeland Rd. Watch for slow moving Amish buggies in the area called California Corners, near the intersection of Copeland and Ray-Quincy Roads. Stop for a pop at Safford’s General Store on S. Ray-Quincy Rd. Continue on Copeland Rd. west past the undeveloped Coldwater State Park.
Head westward past I-69 and Silver Lake, and continue on Southern Rd. If you want to see buffalo roam detour north to on Snow Prairie Rd. about 5 miles to Hatmaker Rd. and A.J.’s Bison, where you can purchase buffalo meat and jerky.
Back on Southern Rd. traveling west, prepare for a series of turns and short stretches of scenic country roads: Turn south on George Rd. to Trayer Rd., west to Dauber Rd., north to Round Lake Rd., jog to Silvercrest Rd., to Watt Rd., north on Watt to Fawn River Rd., west to M- 66 and north to the city of Sturgis.
Travel north from Sturgis on M-66 to M-86 and head west to Nottawa Fruit Farm for weekend Fall Family Fun that includes a hayride, pumpkin picking and a petting farm (through October). Purchase a picnic basket lunch and fresh breads and pies from the bakery. Then head out to explore Amish Country, where you’ll find an abundance of hand-crafted furniture, quilts and homebaked goods.
Continue your fall color tour north on M-66 to 66/60. Jog west to Mendon for shopping and refreshment at this old stagecoach stop, the halfway point between Detroit and Chicago. Continue eastward on M-66/60 toward Union City, founded in 1833 and named for the union of the Coldwater and St. Joseph Rivers. Don’t miss a drive by the renowned Victorian Villa Inn, a romantic B&B that also houses the 19th Century Lighting Co., specializing in fine, authentic lamps and fixtures of the era. The Greek revival style Hammond House Museum was built as a residence more than 150 years ago.
Travel east on M-60 to Homer, with a historic downtown, pleasant Grist Mill Park and the Linear Park along the Kalamazoo River. Ready for refreshments? A detour east of Homer to Sweet Seasons Orchard on Alman Rd. near Concord will yield a bounty of fresh fruit, baked goods and cider, as well as and pumpkins, squash and Indian corn. Get back on M-99 south through Litchfield to Jonesville, at the intersection of the Old Sauk Trail (M-12). Jonesville is home to The Munro House Bed & Breakfast, which dates to 1834 and was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Grosvenor House Museum, home of a Lt. Governor of Michigan, was designed by the architect responsible for the state capitol building. The 32-room Victorian Italianate mansion, built in 1872-74, is open only weekends through September; with special tours by appointment.
If you feel like browsing old treasures, travel west 5 miles on US-12 to the junction of M-49, and hit hundreds of dealers in Allen, the Antiques Capital of Michigan. Then return to M-99 and head south toward Hillsdale. Complete your fall circle tour with a visit to Glei’s Orchards & Greenhouses, just northwest of Hillsdale on Milnes Rd., east of M-99. Since the first orchards were planted in 1918 the Glei family has been a growing local tradition, offering perennials, bedding plants and garden supplies in spring-summer, Christmas trees and Poinsettias in season, and a variety of apples and cider each autumn.
Here’s a Capital idea: a fall color excursion that starts in the State Capital and takes in scenic farm and woodlands, rivers, and a unique geological formation that is about 300-million years old. The 150-mile loop is best enjoyed from mid to late October.
Best Enjoyed: Mid to Late October
Approximate Length: 150 miles
Surprisingly, this tour begins in the city, at Lansing’s Fenner Arboretum. The nature park on E. Mount Hope Road offers miles of walking trails and wooded and landscaped areas featuring native Michigan plants and trees. Enjoy another urban oasis by taking the Old Lansing Road/I-69 southwesterly out of Lansing to Woldumar Nature Center, a 150-acre preserve on the Grand River. Hike more than five miles of trails, and enjoy exhibits and interpretive programs.
Head north to M-43 and travel west to Grand Ledge, which takes its name for the 60-foot high sandstone rock ledges that line the Grand River through town. You don’t have to be a rock climber to enjoy the 300-million-year-old outcroppings; the riverside trail in Fitzgerald Park is a nice, scenic hike along the natural wall. Note the town’s restored Opera House and shop for crafts by local artists at Ledge Craft Lane.
Follow M-43 west to where M-37 drops south to Hastings, on the Thornapple River. The handsome Barry County Courthouse has been serving the community since 1893. Historic Charlton Park, a recreated 19th century town, is open only seasonally, but you can enjoy the autumn color that lines the shore of Thornapple Lake.
Depart Hastings on 179 west to M-43 south to Gull Lake and Turners Corner, then jog east and south on East Gull Lake Road to the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. Trumpeter Swans, Canada Geese, and ducks are at home at the 180-acre Sanctuary and Wintergreen Lake. Also of interest are the birds of prey enclosures, gamebird display, and nature gift shop.
For an interesting detour, continue south along Gull Lake to M-89, to 42nd Street south to Augusta and the Fort Custer Recreation Area. The Kalamazoo River runs through the 3,033-acre retreat, which features 25 miles of trails for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riding (bring your own horse) across a mixed terrain of farmland, second growth forests, old prairie, and three lakes. Forestry enthusiasts or anyone up for a hike or picnic in the woods may want to detour to the W.K. Kellogg Experimental Forest, also in Augusta.
Back on the color tour, enjoy the country roads north of the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary by taking B or C Avenue east to 40th Street north, jog slightly to Kellogg School Road and continue north through Hickory Corners to Gilkey Lake Road and Cobb Road, on to Pifer Road east to M-37. Follow M-37 south to M-89, and proceed southeasterly to Battle Creek.
Best known as “Cereal City” and the home of Kellogg’s, Battle Creek was a stop on the Underground Railroad. It is the site of the Sojourner Truth Monument in tribute to the one-time slave who became an abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Learn more about the area on the city’s self-guided Heritage Mile Walking Tour. Also in Battle Creek, you can pick up a portion or enjoy all 17-plus miles of the Linear Park Pathway that takes bicycle and foot traffic along rivers and through a variety of scenery. Stroll the gardens and rolling landscape of the 72-acre Leila Arboretum and Children’s Garden.
From Battle Creek take Verona Road east to 9 Mile Road north. Turn east on N Drive North. Browse the dried herbs, herb products and gifts at the Southern Exposure Herb Farm shop, housed in a restored 1840’s barn. Continue east on N Drive North to 15 Mile Road, and follow that north to Junction. Head east to Baker Sanctuary, one of the first sanctuaries for the world’s oldest living bird species, the Great Sandhill Crane. Michigan’s largest bird stands four to five feet high with a wingspan that can reach six or seven feet. Walk the two-mile Meadow and Marshland Trail and watch for 200 other species of birds and other wildlife that has been spotted at the refuge. Cross over I-69 and step down S Drive North, 17-1/2 Mile and Q Drive North to Old 27. Follow Old 27 south to Marshall. Hungry? Stop by Cornwell’s Turkeyville USA for a snack or a meal from the all-turkey menu.
Take a self-guided stroll through picturesque Marshall, and its designated National Historic Landmark District. The unusual architecture of the 1860 Honolulu House Museum, built by the first U.S. consul to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) blends Italianate, Gothic and Polynesian styles. Refresh at Schuler’s Restaurant and Pub, a fourth-generation family business that has been welcoming guests since 1909.
Follow BR I-94 east out of Marshall to Michigan, and continue east to the charming college town of Albion, the home of Mother’s Day. Get out of the car to enjoy the Whitehouse Nature Center’s six walking trails, a forested 25 acres, ponds, tall-grass prairie, arboretum of Michigan trees and Interpretive Building. Head east on State Route 99 and follow it as it travels north through the rolling countryside through Springport, first settled in 1835. Proceed to picturesque Eaton Rapids, located at the confluence of the Grand River and Spring Brook. Enjoy the riverside Island Park or stroll the historic downtown district.
Plan an extra night at the end of this trip for an overnight at the former auto baron’s residence overlooking the Grand River, The English Inn. This 1927 Tudor mansion was designed at built for former Oldsmobile Corporation General Manager and President Irving Jacob Reuter. Before leaving Eaton Rapids and heading back to Lansing via M-99 north, visit Granny’s Cider Mill or Theisens Bittersweet Orchard for seasonal refreshments, and bring home a taste of fall in the form of a gallon jug of fresh-pressed cider.