Maybe it’s a bit cliché, but I love the fall. Or the autumn if you’re fancy like that. It combines great weather, beautiful foliage, some of my favorite holidays, and a lot of great events, so it’s easy to see why so many people enjoy this season. It’s also the perfect time to explore Michigan. Read on to find out all about the best fall activities in Michigan.
As the home of two very proud Big Ten universities, college football is naturally a big deal. Plus, Detroiters have suffered through the Lions’ failures for so many decades that college football is really the only way that many Michiganians (Michigander is used more commonly, but it just reminds me of male geese) have been able to experience actual success on the gridiron.
As a Wolverine, I’m partial to the games at the University of Michigan. The Big House aka Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor is an experience in and of itself. The stadium doesn’t look particularly large as you approach from street level, but as you emerge into the bowl and realize the massive expanse in front of you, it’s incredible. The Michigan State Spartans also have a stadium in East Lansing where they play football, but it’s just not the same and feels a bit quaint after the enormous Big House. If you want the full experience, show up on the Saturday of the annual Michigan-Michigan State game and watch families be torn apart based on rooting interest and friendly wagers. Check these links for schedules for Michigan and Michigan State.
Cider mills in Michigan
I didn’t realize how much of a Michigan thing visiting cider mills in the fall was until I lived elsewhere for a while. When I was living in Florida, I couldn’t even find real cider, which was pretty distressing in the fall when I most want it. Locals will queue up in long lines for single cups of cider or gallons to take back home with them. (The cider mill references here are specifically related to the non-alcoholic version of cider, though some of the local ones are starting to brew their own alcoholic versions as well.) It never really feels like fall until I’ve had a cider mill donut (traditionally covered in cinnamon sugar) and washed it down with an icy cold glass of locally brewed cider. It’s incredible, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even really enjoy apple juice. The cider can be served cold or hot, and I recently sampled a cider slushie as well. The best cider mills have other autumn-y activities to do while snacking, like pumpkin patches, wagon rides, or trails to enjoy the fall colors.
My two favorite cider mills are both located in southeastern Michigan, a little bit north of Detroit. Yates, in Rochester Hills, is the most iconic, with its red barn and wooded trails. The lines are long on fall weekends, and it creates its own local traffic jam on the busiest days as visitors hunt for parking spaces. Blake’s, located in Armada has a huge variety of different seasonal activities like berry picking. It’s also home to perhaps my favorite cider mill donuts. It’s a bit further from the city, but well worth the trip.
Michigan Renaissance Festival
The Michigan Renaissance Festival, held in Holly, actually kicks off in August, but it’s always felt like more of a fall thing to me. It begins in late August and runs through the end of September. Even if you’re not into dressing up in period costume (if you are, you can rent them there), it’s a lot of fun to wander around and enjoy the atmosphere. There are medieval games that you can play like axe throwing (I STILL can’t figure out how to get the axe to stick in anything, let alone the target) and target archery. There’s also a spot where you can pay to lob tomatoes at some hecklers in stocks. The periodic jousting shows draw big crowds, and you can watch knights perform different skill tests on horseback. Find all of the info you need about Renfest here.
Oktoberfest at Frankenmuth
Frankenmuth is a small town located between Flint and Saginaw that is designed to look like a little Bavarian village. It’s known for its amazing chicken dinners, the mind-blowingly large Bronner’s Christmas store, and lots of kids’ activities. During September, Frankenmuth throws a traditional Oktoberfest party – the only one that’s officially sanctioned by the original Oktoberfest in Munich.
For one weekend in September (corresponding to the actual Oktoberfest in Munich), Frankenmuth comes alive with traditional entertainment, food, and – of course – beer. If a plane ticket to Germany isn’t in your budget, don’t miss a chance to wander among the Bavarian style buildings and soak up the closest thing to the real festival. More info can be found at this link.
Zoo Boo at the Detroit Zoo
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, which plays heavily into my love of the fall. The Zoo Boo event at the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak is a family friendly event held after hours. Kids and adults can dress up in costumes and trick or treat along a route through the zoo. Most of the animals aren’t visible in the dark, though the reptile house usually remains open for exploration.
The walkway is lined with a seemingly impossible number of carved pumpkins. Entertainment varies, but the last time I attended, there was a lot of pumpkin smashing in the name of science as well. Plus, did I mention that you get to leave with a load of candy? Find out more about the Zoo Boo here.
Hallowe’en at Greenfield Village
Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn throws another awesome Halloween event on select nights in October. The village, a collection of historic buildings that were relocated to the site, takes you back in time to Halloweens of old. More than 1000 carved pumpkins line the path through the park, and performers in period costume wander through the crowd. Special shows and live music provide additional entertainment, and if you keep your eyes open, you might just spot the legendary Headless Horseman. Find out more about the event here.
The fall colors in Michigan
Hiking is nice any time of year, but it’s at its best in the fall when the leaves start turning. Taking drives to view the foliage is a big deal out on the East Coast, but you can have the same experience without driving cross-country right here in Michigan. Because the state spans such a great distance from north-south, you have a bigger window to hit peak colors. The leaves in the UP (that’s the Upper Peninsula for you non-locals) turn first, and then the colors creep southward until they brighten up the whole state.
America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Forget Macy’s in New York. The America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade right here in Detroit is my favorite annual parade. Every Thanksgiving Day, people line the streets to watch a seemingly endless array of floats, high school bands, and gigantic balloons. Though my favorite part of the parade – the Briefcase Drill Team – had its last performance a few years ago, the parade is still a fantastic event. Every year, kids get to submit designs for a new float and balloon and the top choices are built in real life. The parade wraps up with the mayor presenting Santa Claus himself the key to the city. If you’re more into running than stuffing your face at dinner (or both), don’t miss the Turkey Trot, a series of races before the parade with distances of 1 mile, 5k, and 10k. Get more info on the parade and Turkey Trot here.
Not planning to visit Michigan in the fall? Maybe one of these other seasons will suit your tastes better:
- Six Reasons to Visit Michigan This Spring
- Nine Reasons to Visit Michigan This Summer
- Ten Reasons to Visit Michigan in Winter
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