By Viki Gudas
Harbor Country has long been known as a summer playground for Midwesterners looking for an escape from the Big City.
Harbor Country is also a great place to explore in autumn. Whether it’s a quick day trip or a weekend getaway, you’ll find plenty to do as the days get shorter and the nights are longer.
Start your trip in downtown New Buffalo, where everything is new! A multi-million-dollar streetscape project was completed this year and includes features such as sidewalk cafes, gathering areas and bike racks. Stroll the new Whittaker Street and visit with the shopkeepers who have stories to tell and time to tell them. Grab a bench at the harbor and watch the boats go bye-bye as they are moved to winter storage.
As you leave New Buffalo, pop into the Galien River County Park for a spectacular selfie on the 60’ overlook tower above the grassy marshes and gentle river below. The Park features a 300’ canopy walkway that leads to a river viewing and fishing platform. Both are accessible via hard-surfaced, barrier free hiking trails.
For more leaf peeping, visit Warren Woods State Park – home to the last climax beech-maple forest in Michigan. Because of the size and age of the trees, and the rarity of the ecosystem, the area was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1967. An interpretive station can be found near the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Galien River. Note: don’t be alarmed if you see people popping up from the forest floor. Warren Woods is a mushroom hunter’s paradise.
Head north on Red Arrow Highway to the towns of Union Pier, Lakeside, and Harbert. You’ll find plenty of antique shops, art galleries and designer studios offering everything from original art to architectural remnants and one-of-a-kind finds. You will also find some of Harbor Country’s most popular restaurants, bakeries and specialty food stores along this stretch of highway.
Need a place to stay? Union Pier and Lakeside offer an extensive choice of accommodations –from historic inns and romantic Bed & Breakfasts, to family-friendly resorts and home rentals. Many lodging establishments offer special mid-week or week-end Fall packages.
If you’d rather pitch a tent, head up to Warren Dunes State Park in the booming little town of Sawyer. Modern and rustic campsites can be reserved at the 1,952-acre park, which is open year-round. There’s also a three-mile dog beach for your four-legged friend.
Loop back south and east to the historic town of Three Oaks. Harbor Country’s inland town is the quintessential small town. Its Main Street was featured in the movie Prancer and the Village hosts the largest Flag Day celebration in the nation. Michigan’s largest bicycle event, the annual “Apple Cider Century” is also held in Three Oaks and brings more than 5,000 cyclists to the area.
No fall trip to Harbor Country is complete without a visit to one (or all) of the award-winning wineries on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. With a climate similar to Napa Valley in California, the wineries produce a variety of quality, small batch wines. You’ll find a variety of reds, whites, sparkling and non-alcoholic fruit wines. If you haven’t tasted a Michigan wine lately, you haven’t tasted Michigan wine!
During the fall harvest, the smell of grapes is in the air at the vineyards. Visitors are encouraged to join in the celebration with grape stomping contests and festivals. Be sure to take home a bottle of spiced or mulled wine, available only in the Fall.
For beer lovers, the growing craft brewery scene features seasonal brews and limited-edition IPAs, ales, stouts and hard ciders. Taproom menus continue to expand offering charcuterie, smoked meats, wood-fired pizzas and more. You’ll also find local beers on tap at most dining spots in and around Harbor Country.
All that eating and drinking requires some exercise! Ride your bike, or rent one, and take one of 20 self-guided tours on the Backroads Bikeway trails. The trails are on paved area roads with lengths from 5 to 60 miles and take you through picturesque rolling hills and patchwork farmland on roads less traveled. There is also a new mountain bike trail in the Chikaming Park & Preserve for those that like a bit more adventure.
Harbor Country is home to some of the best golf courses in the Midwest. Fall is the perfect time to hit the links and enjoy 9 or 18 holes against Mother Nature’s colorful backdrop. There is also a disc golf course at nearby Madeline Bertrand County Park in Niles.
If you’d rather gaze at nature’s splendor on the water, kayak rentals are available for paddling the slow and gentle Galien River. The River empties into Lake Michigan and is a rich habitat for wildlife including beavers, swallowtails and blue heron. It is also a great fishing spot for trout, bass and pike.
Don’t forget to bring the kids! Fall in Harbor Country is filled with family fun. Kids of all ages can find the perfect pumpkin, hop aboard a hay ride and run through a corn maze. Check our Calendar of Events for spooky Halloween fun!
Harbor Country isn’t just for summer any more. Experience the Undiscovered Season with sample tours, maps and more.