Fall Adventures in Western Michigan

Last Updated on August 27, 2019 by Janet Frost

Certainly Western Michigan is a gorgeous summer destination. As those lazy summer days shorten, and farm stands fill up, Western Michigan really shines. The region bursts with heavy-laden orchards and brilliantly blazing foliage and loads of adventure.

Let’s Go Learn Things about Adventures in Western Michigan….

Great Lakes

For Midwesterners the Great Lakes are familiar landmarks. The Great Lakes is a huge region with extensive diversity.  Even Midwesterners struggle to know such a vast geographical range. Five lakes; Superior, Michigan, Huron, Ontario and Erie total 94,250 square miles and 11,000 miles of shoreline. Eight states border the various Great Lakes. These lakes serve as Midwest inland seas with their rolling waves, sustained winds, strong currents, great depths, and distant horizons.

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake that is entirely in the U.S. The remaining lakes are shared between the U.S. and Canada. Lake Michigan is bordered by Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. Of these four states, Wisconsin and Michigan have the greatest number of shoreline miles. As a matter of fact, Michigan has more freshwater shoreline than any other state in the lower 48 states. 

Third Coast
Kenosha beach and lighthouse on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan

What Makes Western Michigan so Special?

As a child growing up in the western Chicago suburbs, we occasionally drove around the base of Lake Michigan to pick blueberries in southeast Michigan. Decades later with our own young family in southeast Wisconsin, we made a few road trips north to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But, in all the years of living in  Wisconsin and sharing beautiful Lake Michigan, I never really explored Western Michigan.

East Coast or West Coast?

Wisconsin and Michigan share the same glacial history and therefore share many of the same geological landforms. However, weather patterns across the eons have created very different circumstances on the two coasts.

Weather Patterns

Because the prevailing winds blow from west to east, the warmer water of Lake Michigan is pushed to the Michigan side. The cold deeper water moves up onto the Wisconsin shores. So by late summer and early fall, Michigan’s water is warmer for swimming and playing. 
The wind doesn’t just blow in Michigan’s favor during the late summer months. Thanks to the winds of winter the Michigan side gets more snow and warmer temperatures, while Wisconsin tends to get less snowy but more bitter cold weather.

Coastline Topography

Because of the weather patterns the erosion process has created very different types of coastlines in Wisconsin and Michigan. On our Wisconsin side much of the shoreline is steep bluffs and drop-offs. As a matter of fact, along the north shore of Milwaukee people are in danger of losing their homes down the cliffs into the lake.

On the opposite shores in Michigan I found those Milwaukee resident’s backyards. They are now sand dunes taking over the streets and sidewalks of the little beach towns. The upside of this erosion process is lovely stretches of white sand beaches and massive dunes all along Western Michigan’s coastline. 

The third coast
The sand dunes are creeping up the sidewalks and streets of Frankfort, MI

One last topographic element I found on the Western Michigan coast was a large collection of beautiful lakes just a few yards inland from Lake Michigan. These were first formed during the glacial age (10,000 to 75,000 years ago) as arms of Lake Michigan that later closed off. Many of these lakes now have outlets into Lake Michigan, either as natural streams or man-made channels. All of these lakes, streams, beaches and Lake Michigan shoreline make Western Michigan a recreational paradise.

5 Fall Favorite Adventures in Western Michigan

The Midwest is chock full of great destinations for Fall itineraries. I usually try to stay close to home this time of year. September and October are my favorite months in Wisconsin.  But I think I have a new favorite spot for Fall road trips. I visited Western Michigan in late summer and found countless reasons to return in October.


1. Family Adventures in Western Michigan with a touch of luxury

The premier setting of Crystal Mountain Resort is a paradise for every member of the family all year long. Crystal Mountain is at its core a ski resort. However, Crystal Mountain Resort, in adorable Benzie County, is deep in the Pere Marquette State Forest.  You can just imagine the beauty of this place in the Fall. Crystal Mountain is also a golf resort with two 18-hole courses. Again, I am not a golfer but I know golfers love the Fall. So, I don’t ski and I don’t golf, what was I doing at Crystal Mountain?

I was loving it!

Crystal Mountain Resort was one of the most pristine, relaxing, invigorating, inspiring, comfortable, exciting, delicious and all around indulgent destinations I have ever visited. Every Fall, Crystal Mountain delights their visitors with colorful adventures in Western Michigan.

Learn More: More Crystal Mountain

2. National and State Parks

The National Park Service maintains  2,000 federal recreation sites. These include much more than just the 58 well known National Parks such as Yellowstone N.P. or Glacier N.P. There are national wildlife refuges, national forests as well as national grasslands, and Northwest Michigan boasts a national lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and excellent examples of northern hardwood and conifer forests, meadows, wetlands, lakes, streams, and bogs.  But the namesakes of the park are the immense sand dunes “perched” atop the towering headlands.  The dune overlooks at the Sleeping Bear, Empire and Pyramid Point bluffs are about 400 feet above Lake Michigan.

Western Michigan also has over 800 miles of National Forest in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. The Forest is packed with fishing, camping, boating, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and hunting opportunities. The North Country Trail  passes through the Manistee National Forest.

Fall adventures along Western Michigan Third Coast scenic drives
Scenic Drives through Western Michigan

Michigan State Forests,  specifically the Pere Marquette State Forest, is perfect for Fall scenic driving, bike riding, motorcycle cruising or nature hiking. Pere Marquette S.F. covers 14 picturesque counties in Western Michigan.

Scenic Road M-22  carries you along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Arcadia to the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. This route takes you through quaint towns like Frankfort, Empire, Leland and Northport. It passes through Arcadia Dunes Nature Reserve, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Leelanau State Park. Discover breweries, wineries, crystal clear lakes, vast beaches and a variety of lighthouses. Visit Leelanau Co.

3.  Lighthousing

A total of 22 lighthouses  guard the Western Michigan shores. Some are traditional lighthouses, some are pierhead lights and a couple require a ferry ride. All of them stand majestically on the sandy coastline. Lake Michigan Lighthouse Circle Tour.

4.  Agritourism

Autumn in the Midwest is harvest time. Midwesterners flock to farms offering fresh produce and down home entertainment. The added income of agritourism is embraced by farmers across the heartland, especially in the fall months. Michigan is known for its orchards and fruit farms. 

Late summer fruits such as blueberries, cherries, peaches, plums, pears and finally apples are the treasures you will find on orchards and farms along your Fall road trip in Western Michigan. A couple suggestions traveling from south to north are: Dutch Farm Market in South Haven, Jollay Orchards in Coloma,  Grossnickle Farms in Kaleva (10 miles south of Crystal Mountain) Friske’s Orchard Farm in Ellsworth (10 miles south of Charlevoix).

Another, more adult farm visit is the Iron Fish Distillery. Striving to keep everything local and direct from the farm fields is the fledgling Iron Fish Farm Distillery in Thompsonville. They are growing the grains, milling them and watching the still, all in house. This is a fun visit to the “farm”. More details to follow in another post.

Muskegon Farmers Market is renowned throughout Western Michigan. Large enough to warrant its own permanent building this is the perfect agritourism destination. Upcoming Fall events include their regular schedule of Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday 8:00-2:00 until November and special events such as their Fall Harvest Festival

Learn More: Muskegon

5.  Hiking, Biking and Kayaking

Fall is my favorite time for all things outdoors. So all the hiking, biking and kayaking trails in Western Michigan present an autumn playground. The Michigan Legacy Art Park was a wonderful discovery . A three mile trail with Michigan-themed sculptures nestled into the deep woods. This trail is adjacent to the Crystal Mountain Resort.

Learn More: Michigan Legacy Art Park

As I mentioned before, rivers and streams flowing into Lake Michigan dot the Western Michigan coastline.Kayaking opportunities abound. I rented a kayak at Riverside Canoes and meandered down the Platte River through Sleeping Bear Dunes. Betsie River, Pere Marquette River, White River, Manistee River and Muskegon River are many other options for floating adventures in Western Michigan.

There are rugged trails, paved trails and dune trails across the region. Hiking and/or biking these miles should keep you busy for many Falls to come. If you are looking for “thru-hiking”, the Western Michigan segments of The North Country Trail cover over 1000 miles.

Find your “End of the Road” in Western Michigan

Fall adventures in Western Michigan watch Muskegon
White River outlet and White Lake a perfect spot for kayaking

All along my road trip through Western Michigan I ran into these signs. It was often enough that I knew there was a deeper message in these “end of the road” signs. They seemed to say, “stop and take a load off, smell the fresh breeze and feel the sand in your toes.”  Plan your Harvest time Adventures in Western Michigan!

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Fall adventures in Western Michigan
Fall advnetures in Western Michigan

*Disclosure: I was hosted by Western Michigan Tourist Association and Crystal Mountain Resort. All opinions are completely my own.

9 thoughts on “Fall Adventures in Western Michigan”

  1. Sam’s club volleyball team in high school was called “3rd Coast Elite”. We are planning to do the Apple Cider this fall for the first time since the kids started High school. It always feel on the same weekend as Homecoming.

    1. Thank you very much. It really was a breathtaking region. It is hard to beat the beauty of Wisconsin, but western Michigan has it beat.

  2. The colour of the water is amazing!! So nice! (PS. I love the new ‘up coming posts’ feature! That’s cute!)

    1. Be sure to connect with Western Michigan Tourism Association. They will help you put something together.

  3. I seriously had Michigan on my list of places I wanted to go to this summer. Unfortunately, summer just got away on me. I think I have to get over there. Maybe hitch up Beatrice and camp!! Great post Janet!

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