“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald
One of my favorite parts of living in Southwest Michigan is getting to experience all four seasons and the changes that come along with each. While summers along the lakeshore are hard to beat, there is really something so special about harvest time in the fall. As the air begins to get cooler, the days grow shorter and the leaves change to a kaleidoscope of reds, yellows, and oranges, it's time to plan your fall weekend getaway to Michigan's Great Southwest. Sip on a glass of cider and pick apples at a local orchard, hit the Makers trail as the smell of grapes begins to waft through the air, or hike over towering sand dunes surrounded by colorful trees on either side. Discover my favorite fall activities and start creating your own bucket list!
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Southwest Michigan Tourist Council. The itinerary was created by me based on personal research and all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Hike Grand Mere State Park
Fall colors in Southwest Michigan typically start to make an appearance in late September and peak around the second or third week in October. The best way to get up close and personal with nature’s beauty is with the crunch of leaves beneath your feet on one of the area’s many hiking trails - each with their own unique landscape. One of my favorite hikes is Grand Mere State Park. Located in Stevensville, this 985-acre park offers a series of trails that pass through tunnels of trees in the forest and across magnificent sand dunes that eventually end at one mile of shoreline and a magnificent backdrop of trees set ablaze. Bring your furry friend along for the fun as dogs on leashes are allowed on the trails and it also offers one of the best dog-friendly beaches in the area. Keep in mind this is a relatively challenging hike with moderate elevation changes but at the end you’ll be rewarded with a secluded stretch of Lake Michigan sand. Click here for a complete list of my favorite fall trails.
Enjoy Dinner Among the Vineyards
Imagine sitting on a patio sipping a glass of your favorite wine while overlooking the vineyards and enjoying the sweet smell of grapes in the air during harvest time. In addition to wine tastings, many of the stops along the Southwest Michigan Wine Trail offer delicious culinary pairings which incorporate the freshest ingredients of the fall season.
Tabor Hill Winery and Restaurant offers a delectable lunch and dinner menu paired with a full list of award-winning wines to accompany your meal. Choose from a glass, a flight, or a experience a full tasting with six different varieties. Tabor Hill is also home to my favorite wine of all-time - Cherry Moscato which blends the sweetness of moscato with Balaton cherries in an easy-to-drink, rosé-colored wine. The patio and grounds are dog-friendly and the staff are always so kind and accommodating to our little Wrigs. If it's too chilly for the patio you can warm up inside by one of the fireplaces in the main dining room. On our most recent trip I tried the raspberry pecan chicken and loved every bite - the sauce is seriously amazing! They also have nightly specials and we've dined at Tabor Hill for their surf and turf on Thursday nights and lake perch on Friday nights.
Explore the Makers Trail
Taste the craftsmanship and sip on award-winning beverages from Makers Trail artisans at some of Southwest Michigan’s best craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries. With over 40 stops to taste and discover, you’ll have a hard time deciding where to begin your tour. Pick up a Makers Trail Flight Crew Passport to start planning your adventures and receive stamps along the way to earn rewards. Many stops also offer locally-sourced food, cheeses, and snacks to enjoy while you sip.
During our fall weekend we were able to check off two passport stops both within walking distance while exploring downtown St. Joseph. Lazy Ballerina Winery's tasting room is located along State Street and features an array of small batch wines inspired by homemade family wine recipes. This women-owned winery offers a fun atmosphere with tutu cafe-style seats, customized ballerina tasting boards, and wines named after the art of ballet including Pink Tutu and On Pointe. Be sure to check out their event calendar when planning your weekend as they offer a number of special events throughout the year including chocolate and cheese pairings and craft nights.
Next up, head across the street for a delicious lunch on the patio of Silver Harbor Brewing Company. Trust me, their food menu can't be missed! Start your meal with their famous (in my opinion) jalapeño bacon eggs rolls or baked Tuscan cheese dip. They also feature a full handcrafted beer menu including the signature Kumbaya Brown Ale which is covered with a glass chamber and injected with hickory smoke to create a smoked beer experience.
Visit an Apple Orchard
Nothing says fall quite like this beloved family tradition. Known as the fruit belt, Southwest Michigan offers ideal growing conditions for apples, cherries, peaches, and more. Many fruit farms offer u-pick options throughout the spring and summer, but in the fall the apple trees are on full display and ready for their delicious fruits to be plucked from the branches.
In addition to apple picking, Jollay Orchards features a Harvest Festival every weekend in September and October with fun activities for all ages. Wander through a corn maze, hop on hay ride, visit the fishing pond or stroll through the pumpkin patch. The farm market offers a variety of salsas, dips and jams as well as their signature cider donuts and apple pies. Be sure to stop by Grandpa's Cider Mill to taste up to 13 different flavors of apple cider and take home a pint or gallon of your favorite.
Stroll through the Farmer's Market
The farmer's market has become a Saturday morning tradition happening May through mid-October along the bluff in downtown St. Joseph. Produce continues to change along with the seasons and fall is one of the best times to visit for apples, pumpkins, squash and more. The market also offers a variety of other local vendors including cheese, artisan breads, cut flowers, and fresh pastries. There is no entry fee to attend and you never know what kind of treats you'll head home with.
Attend a Local Festival
Everyone loves to celebrate fall and there are so many great festivals that happen throughout the season all across Southwest Michigan. During our fall weekend adventures we were able to attend the annual Fall Festival in downtown St. Joseph featuring a critter barn, face painting, sidewalk sales, and more! This festival is located along the bluff so you can check the Farmer's Market off your bucket list at the same time. Vineyard 2121 was also hosting their annual Pappy's Harvest Festival which is always one of my favorite events. Guests enjoy live music, hayrides, food specials, a pie eating contest and other outdoor games. Of course you also won't want to miss out on the chance to grab a flight and try a few varieties of their wines.
Many of the local annual fall events were canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, there are still a few to look forward to such as:
Take a Color Tour on the Water
Who says you can only hit the water in the summer months?! Discover a unique way to see the best of Southwest Michigan's fall colors while paddling a kayak or stand up paddle board along tree-lined waterways. During the fall months the waters tend to be less crowded and you'll enjoy a peaceful trip down the river. Accessing the water is easier than ever. Third Coast Surf Shop offers kayak and SUP rentals from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily along the banks of the Paw Paw River in Benton Harbor allowing you to launch and return to the same location.
Peruse the Arts District
A trip to the Benton Harbor Arts District is sure to bring out your inner artist. Water Street Glassworks offers a variety of classes in the glass and metal arts. Learn how to turn molten glass into a beautiful work of art, create one of a kind jewelry out of beach glass, or let the sparks fly while crafting a metal garden sculpture. During the fall season stop into the gallery to pick from their glass pumpkin patch which features unique, handblown glass pumpkins in all colors and styles or sign up for a class and learn how to make your own. Water Street Glassworks is also hosting their annual Fall Art Hop event on October 19. Join them for refreshments, glass demos in the hot shop and to shop the seasonal items in the gallery.
While you're in the area, head over to Plank's Tavern, located within the Inn at Harbor Shores just down the road from the gallery, to enjoy their delicious brunch menu on the patio overlooking the water. On Sundays they also have a breakfast buffet that is a serious crowd pleaser featuring an omelette station and a donut making bar.
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I love creating detailed travel guides to ensure you get the most out of your time. On this blog I'll be sharing some of my past trips in hopes that it helps you plan your next adventure. Pack your suitcase you never know where I'll be heading next!
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