The sights, sounds and smells are sensory overload at times – but I love it. Maybe it’s the vibrant hues of red, orange and gold on the trees or the sounds of leaves dancing in the streets. Perhaps it’s the harvest menu filled with pumpkins, squash, soups and stews to help take off the chill in the air. It’s also the layering of clothing – the boots and jeans, with flannel shirts, vests and scarves, that draw me into this short but colorful season.
There’s no surefire way to view the fall colors in Michigan – especially given there are more than 18.6 million acres of forest and nearly 150 different species of trees to add to the kaleidoscope. Whether driving the backroads, pedaling a paved (or unpaved) trail, paddling on a river or stream, saddling up on horseback, taking to the skies in a plane or balloon or enjoying a leisurely-paced train ride, there’s plenty of ways to soak up the autumn season.
There are countless self-guided routes mapped out around Michigan to ease you into your color touring. The West Michigan Tourist Association has more than two dozen spread out around its 41-county region – including routes on Beaver Island and Mackinac Island – posted on its website. Travel Michigan also boasts “road trips” on its award-winning website, Michigan.org. Here, you can also choose route themes – such as maritime, automotive, history and foodie – to help enhance your tour.
Other events focus in on routes or themes – including Kent Harvest Trails, Arts & Eats and Blue Coast Artists Fall Studio Tour. All three offer individuals, groups and families the opportunity to visit multiple destinations – all with a common theme.
KENT HARVEST TRAILS
Twenty farms in the Greater Grand Rapids area are participating in this year’s Kent Harvest Trails, providing families the opportunity to enjoy loads of country fun. Activities and tours begin mid September and run through the end of October (although farms may actually open sooner and extend their season into early November, weather permitting).
Families can take tractor- or horse-drawn wagon rides through the orchards or to the pumpkin patch, visit with animals in the petting zoo, wander the corn maze and make a scarecrow to take home. Enjoy a fresh baked donut and watch as apples are pressed into sweet cider. Visit the farm markets for local produce or head out to pick your own fruit. Then, shop for baked goods, fall plants, home decorations and seasonal gifts. Admission for many farms is free, although there may be charges for certain activities.
Participating farms this year include At the Barn, Blok Orchards, Bos Greenhouse and Farm, Ed Dunneback & Girls Farm, Frozen Creek Floral & Farm, Fruit Ridge Hayrides, H & W Farms, Harder & Warner Nursery, Heffron Farms, Heidi’s Farm Stand, Honey Creek Farm, Klackle Orchards, Koetsier’s Greenhouse, Orchard Hill Farm, Paulson’s Pumpkin Patch, Post Family Farm, Robinette’s Apple Haus & Winery, Schwallier’s Country Basket, Sietsema Orchards & Cider Mill and Steffens Orchards & Market.
An updated map of participating farms, including directions and dates/hours of operation, are online at KentHarvestTrails.org. Printed brochures are now available for free at more than 30 area Family Fare Supermarkets and D&W Fresh Markets.
ARTS & EATS
The 3rd Annual Arts & Eats – a Southwest Michigan back roads art, food and farm tour, runs October 19-20. This free, self-guided driving tour collectively features more than 55 artist studios, eateries serving locally-grown food and farms that feature the best in Michigan specialty farm products. These venues, some of which are not normally open to the public, welcome visitors from 10am to 5pm each day.
As a kick-off to the tour weekend, New Holland Brewing Company co-owner and Beervangelist Fred Bueltmann will share insights about the culture of beer, food and entertaining from his new book, Beervangelist’s Guide to the Galaxy. The free program will take place on Thursday, October 18 from 7-8pm at the Old Mill Place, 717 E. Bridge Street in Plainwell (above the Old Mill Brewpub on the east end of town).
“Arts and Eats is becoming the go-to getaway mid-October weekend event for travelers and locals alike,” says event co-founder Ginger Hentz and District 13 Coordinator – Michigan State University (MSU) Extension. “People travel with their friends, families take their kids to the farms to pet the animals and everyone has a good time learning about the area’s rich agricultural and arts communities, which are economic drivers to our local economy. Plus it is hard to beat a drive down a quiet, rural road when the trees are decked out in their full autumn regalia.”
Participants on the tour are encouraged to request an “Arts and Eats Passport” from any of the sites they visit. By collecting just six stamps, tour-goers can be entered to win one of dozens of great prizes donated by the artists, farmers and eateries. The more passports filled, the more chances to win.
ARTS: Visit galleries, studios and central venues to watch local painters, potters, photographers, sculptors and other artisans in action. Some farms – those that raise fiber-producing animals like alpacas and sheep – provide additional touring opportunities. Works are available for sale as well.
EATS: Explore farms where produce is grown, livestock is raised and artisanal foods are made. Then, stop by area farm/field-to-table restaurants to savor the bounty of the season. Participating restaurants feature special menu items using local products, with chefs using their creative culinary talents to pull together some fabulous menu items for the event.
In addition to the individual tour stops, four “Central Venues” are set up to house additional artist and serve as information stations for visitors. These locations include Gilmore Car Museum, Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, Hasting Fourth Annual Downtown Sculpture Exhibit and Bay Pointe Inn (Arts and Eats Headquarters).
The Interactive Public Art is a returning special event during the tour weekend. Aspiring artists and tour travelers can leave their mark on this year’s event by helping fill up two large canvases through a joint artistic expression. Stop by to paint in Plainwell at the Fannie Pell Park on Saturday, October 19 or the Gilmore car Museum on Sunday, October 20 (10 am to 3 pm each day). Both completed works of art will be given to the tour, so everyone may enjoy them for years to come.
New this year is “A Taste of Arts and Eats Wine & Cheese Bus Tour” presented by the Thornapple Arts Council. Here, visitors can board a bus and tour select stops along the tour route, while enjoying wine from Glass Creek Winery and cheese from local producers. The bus leaves downtown Hastings on Saturday at noon, returning at 6pm. The cost is $25 per person; space is limited and reservations are required. For more information on this tour option, or to reserve a seat, call (269) 945-2002.
Planning partners: Allegan County Tourist Council, Barry County Tourism Council, Gilmore Car Museum, Hastings Public Library, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, Promote Michigan, Thornapple Arts Council and Wayland Downtown.
2013 Sponsors: Barry Community Foundation, Downtown Hastings, Gun Lake Casino, Hastings Mutual Insurance Company, J-Ad Graphics, Michigan Rural Council, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, Potawatomi Resource Conservation & Development Council, West Michigan Tourist Association and Wind Walker Ranch.
BLUE COAST ARTISTS
For almost a quarter of a century the Blue Coast Artists have been delighting and educating the public with their annual Fall Tour of Studios. Viewers are invited once again to experience the creative process in action on Saturday & Sunday, October 5-6. This annual West Michigan autumn event runs from 10am-6pm both days and is free of charge. This year’s official map also highlights area Lakeshore Harvest Country farms.
Over the past 24 years the tour has continued to be an educational and interesting experience for all, by offering a behind-the-scenes look into the studios of working artists. The 2013 tour includes 12 working artists’ studios located between South Haven and Saugatuck. Each site features demonstrations, original artwork, refreshments and more. Hands-on art making projects, unique art abodes, and fall color makes this creative experience fun for the whole family. Lunch will be available for purchase in route.
See a piece of pottery form, view jewelry being formed through lost wax casting or silversmithing, watch trees come alive through brushstrokes or see a piece of pottery become engulfed in flames during a Raku firing. These are just a few of the demonstrations that art lovers of all ages are sure to enjoy during the 24th Annual Blue Coast Artists Fall Tour of Studios.
The tour can be completed in one day and a tour map is available at each site or on the web at: www.bluecoastartists.com
For more fall fun facts and links, click here.
What are YOUR favorite Michigan color tour routes and activities? Share your stories and photos on the Promote Michigan Facebook Page!