A Fall Road Trip Guide to Campuses across Michigan

Some Michiganders love Fall for the camaraderie and excitement of traveling to campus for football games and tailgating. Others enjoy roaming the state as tranquil weather and natural beauty descend throughout the season. Guest blogger Joel Heckaman from The Awesome Mitten asks, why not enjoy both? Find out what his colleagues loved most about their alma mater campuses below.

Miners Lake_Fall_Cover

It starts with cooler air at night, comfortable weather during the day, and a noticeable decrease of mosquitoes. Gradually, we work our way through the excitement of a new school year, long drives to see the leaves changing on the trees, and crisp weekends with hay rides, cider mills, and pumpkin patches.

If there’s one thing about Fall that gets the most attention year-round, it’s the start of college football season. Students, alumni, and fans young and old look forward to Saturdays in the stadium or at a tailgate. But what about the other 40ish hours of a 48-hour weekend?

Road trips are one of my favorite Michigan pastimes, and that got me thinking about how to make the most of a football weekend, whether it’s to the old stomping grounds or an away game across the state. So I reached out to my fellow Awesome Mitten colleagues and alumni, looking for what makes their alma mater special. Here are their takes on what should be on your to-do list when you hit the road this Fall.

Grand Valley State University

Nestled between Grand Rapids and Lake Michigan, Grand Valley State University (Allendale) combines the activity of a big city suburb with the relaxed nature of a beach town on a spacious campus. Three-time GVSU alumna and member of the Awesome Mitten Board of Directors Adrienne Wallace says, “Our hidden gem on campus is the Arboretum.” She explained how it was originally established in 1990 with 33 trees, and a dedication ceremony naming the site after university leader Ronald VanSteeland in 2001 described the expansion to include 7 acres, 735 trees, and 125 shrub species.

Grand Valley State University in Allendale is picturesque as any university

The campus of GVSU is breathtaking in the fall

Don’t be fooled by GVSU’s calm nature, though. Wallace is a fan of the raucous football as well, claiming, “every visitor should experience a Laker Football night game.” As the winningest Division II program, the Lakers are a formidable opponent, and Lubbers Stadium is an intimidating place for visiting teams. “One of the top Division II facilities in the nation,” Wallace adds. “The sell-out crowd, Laker marching band, fall colors surrounding you as you are out of the grip of the city plus football under the Allendale night sky… it’s practically magical.”

Northern Michigan University

On the edge of the dense woods and rolling hills of the Upper Peninsula, Northern Michigan University (Marquette) sits on the southern shores of Lake Superior. I don’t know how much I could say about the beauty of the U.P. that hasn’t been said many times over, but it would likely pale in comparison to the awe inspired by those open skies and gorgeous views.

Northern Michigan University is the perfect campus to get out and explore the U.P.

Photo Courtesy of Instagrammer @gonda040

Chaz Parks, NMU multimedia journalism alumnus and former contributing writer for The Awesome Mitten, specifically recommends a visit to Blackrocks, a 15-foot cliff on the lakeshore. “It’s every freshman’s rite of passage to jump into mother Superior off these righteous rocks,” he claims. Parks also reminds us that all of the U.P.’s natural beauty does come at a price, though – an early  winter. NMU students have adapted, and you’ve likely heard the folklore surrounding the underground (or under-snow) tunnels between buildings, which Parks confirms: “You can walk from the library to multiple classes without freezing, even during the dead of winter.

Wayne State University

You may not have noticed Wayne State University (Detroit) and its relatively small main campus in Midtown before, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen one of their more than 100 historic buildings connected across Detroit. As the state’s third-largest university, there’s also a good chance you know someone who studied there. Jonathon Arntson, who is a WSU alumnus, former Awesome Mitten contributor, and current MittenTrip sidekick, points out specifically to look for the Yamasaki buildings. Their unique architecture stands out immediately without being garish, and Arntson adds that they are “intriguing to view and look great on Instagram.”

Wayne State University is a beautiful campus in the heart of Detroit

Photo Courtesy of Wayne State University, @WayneState on Instagram

WSU is in the Cultural Center district of Midtown, so you’ll barely have to leave campus to explore the Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan Science Center, Detroit Public Library, and Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The campus also hosts a weekly farmers’ market on Wednesdays through the end of October, which Arntson says “is a lovely spread, repped by some of Detroit’s more prominent urban farmers.”

Central Michigan University

Not far from the exact center of the Lower Peninsula, Central Michigan University (Mt. Pleasant) has elements of both the north and south parts of the state. While CMU is one of the largest public universities in Michigan, surrounding areas include quiet woods and farms, the Chippewa River, and the Isabella Indian Reservation. Elementary education alumna and Awesome Mitten writer Margaret Clegg says that, despite the vast geography and large population, “the beauty was that it was small and easily traversable.” As I have heard from many alumni, she explains, “there are many spots on campus to visit, but the most iconic is the CMU seal. Situated outside of ivy-covered Warriner Hall on the north end of campus, it’s a definite photo op.”

Warriner Hall at Central Michigan University is iconic as any

Photo Courtesy of HerCampus.com

Clegg admits, “campus has grown dramatically since I first stepped foot on campus, but it’s the older section that always holds that Chippewa charm.” She suggests finding a parking spot and exploring the green, open campus on foot. If you need a rest, she says, “sit at the nearby benches and feed the squirrels that have grown overly accustomed to humans.” If you find yourself getting hungry after all of that, Clegg says to finish with “a quick jaunt off campus to The Malt Shop, which has been serving up its iconic square pizza for the past 30 years.”

University of Michigan

The first university in our state – even before it was a state – the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) is well known for its history of athletic and academic success. But Erin Bernhard, UM English alumna and former Awesome Mitten managing editor, says that there is so much more than that. “One of the best things about campus is how integrated it is into the town of Ann Arbor,” she says. The two blend almost seamlessly, with shops and studios interspersed with university buildings, and events (which happen frequently) are often targeted toward both communities.

Visit Ann Arbor for a beautiful scene of fall colors on Michigan's campus

The University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus is breathtaking in the fall

What really makes Bernhard want to return, though, is the scenery. “Ivy covered buildings, exposed brick, and historic architecture makes everything – even simply walking to class – a little more perfect in the fall,” she reminisces. The variety of places to explore is a big factor too, she says: “You can’t beat studying or relaxing in the Law Library courtyard with the trees losing their leaves all around you. For sports enthusiasts, taking in a football game at the Big House is – or should be – on everyone’s bucket list. For those who want a quiet place, Nichols Arboretum is the perfect place for a quick, relaxing hike along the Huron River. All in all, autumn in Ann Arbor is what dreams are made of.”

Michigan State University

Obviously I wasn’t going to leave Michigan State University (East Lansing) off this list, so I’ve recruited Jennifer Orlando, journalism alumna and Awesome Mitten writer, to give her own take on what makes MSU’s campus great. She says that early Fall is “the best time to take advantage of all the scenic spots while visiting.” So where to go first? She says, “The Spartan Statue is a must-see spot. The statue is so majestic, but it looks particularly beautiful when all the surrounding trees and bushes turn colors.”

Fall colors in East Lansing are truly breathtaking

Stunning fall color on the banks of the Red Cedar

That’s not all. Orlando continues with a laundry list of other outdoor sightseeing activities: she names Beaumont Tower, the bridges over the Red Cedar River, Beal Botanical Garden, and Broad Art Museum just off the top of her head, each described with phrases like “breathtaking” and “beautiful reverence.” She adds that the best way to enjoy all of them is by stopping at the MSU Dairy Store for delicious and unique ice cream flavors (including one for every Big Ten Conference school) and then “taking a walk along the Red Cedar. It’s so pretty and you’ll get a good feel of just how expansive MSU’s campus is.”

 

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What activities or sights would you suggest for visitors to your alma mater? Let us know in the comments!

Joel Heckaman is a longtime Michigan resident who loves the culture, scenery, beer and music of the mitten state. He is a Michigan State University alumnus and founder of the Middle of the Mitten local music festival.He is also a social media professional with experience working with MSU, UM, TEDxDetroit, the Big Three and other proud Michigan brands. You can find him talking about many of these things, as well as cheering on the Spartans and Red Wings, on Twitter and LinkedIn.  

Unique Michigan Destinations for Budget-Savvy Travelers

Michigan is filled with top-rated destinations and attractions, both indoors and out. From museums and zoos to historical sites and national parks; from city markets and fantastic eateries to Rail Trails and beaches. Michigan is well-known for it’s scenic beauty, small towns, and fun cities. And the best part is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy what Michigan has to offer. All it costs you is time, and spending time at these Michigan treasures is time well spent.

Read more on some low-cost things to do in the Great Lakes state, courtesy of The Awesome Mitten’s Jackie Mitchell.

Visit a National or State Park

Michigan is home to one national park (Isle Royale), two national lakeshores (Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pictured Rocks), and over 100 state parks. In fact, you are never more than half an hour from a state park, forest campground, or trail system for hiking or biking in Michigan. You can access most of the national lakeshores for free. Climb a dune, explore trails, hike to a waterfall or lighthouse, or spend the day on a beach. The annual $11 Recreation Passport for your vehicle will gain you entrance into the entire state park system where even more trails, dunes, waterfalls, and beaches await. Camping is a nominal nightly fee in any of the national or state parks. Many parks also offer free interpretive talks, children’s activities, and a variety of programs.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a must-see for residents and visitors alike

Photo Courtesy of Alex Beaton and The Awesome Mitten

Go to a Drive-In Movie

There are 10 drive-in movie theaters in Michigan, scattered all around the lower peninsula. In the heyday of the 1950s, there were over 100 drive-in theaters in Michigan. While only a few remain, they are again growing in popularity. With arcades, putt-putt golf, playgrounds, and a picnic-like atmosphere, what better way to spend a Friday or Saturday night with family or friends than taking in a couple movies the old fashioned way? Ticket prices are similar to regular movie prices, but the double-feature makes a drive-in a deal for movie-goers. Danny Boy’s Drive In, Michigan’s newest theater that opened in 2012, offers a $20 carload special, for up to 6 people, and a $5 food ticket that allows you to bring in your own food and drink.

Take a step back in time and enjoy a drive-in movie

Photo Courtesy of Danny Boy’s Drive-In

Heidelberg Project

Started in 1986 as a response to blight affecting his neighborhood, Detroit-native artist Tyree Guyton began turning his childhood home on Heidelberg Street into a work of found-object art. Now stretching over the entire city block, Guyton, community residents, and other artists have turned abandoned houses, vacant lots, and even the streets themselves into a provocative community art project that hosts over 270,000 visitors a year. Facing skepticism and legal issues with the city from the beginning, the Heidelberg Project has evolved into a landmark of Detroit, winning numerous awards and revitalizing the local economy. Despite its grassroots popularity, the Heidelberg Project as it currently exists will be dismantled over the next few years. If you haven’t yet experienced the Heidelberg Project, now is the time. Organized tours have a fee, but just visiting the area is free.

Be a Lighthouse Keeper

Michigan’s lighthouses are iconic. If you’ve ever been to the shore of one of our Great Lakes, chances are you have a picture of a lighthouse, standing guard against the storms of Michigan’s inland seas. You might have even imagined you were the keeper of the light, living romantically at the edge of sand and surf. What you may not know is that it’s possible at one of the twenty lighthouses available with accommodations in Michigan. Four lighthouses are bed and breakfasts, five are vacation rentals, five offer couples or families the chance to be keeper for a fee (only a few hundred for a week or two), and six are available through a volunteer application. A listing of operational lighthouses and information can be found at the US Lighthouse Society website.

The Round Island Light House is as picturesque as any spot in Michigan

Photo Courtesy of Alex Beaton and The Awesome Mitten

Visit a Ghost Town

Dozens of abandoned towns dot Michigan’s landscape. Many are in the Upper Peninsula, where the copper and logging industries once boomed, causing towns to rise up around mills and mines. When they resources ran out, the towns were left to ruin. Today, only a few foundations or headstones might mark the place where a town once stood. Sometimes the structures are preserved. The largest abandoned town is Fayette, which is now preserved along the shores of Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula at Fayette Historic State Park . Entrance to the park is free with a Recreation Passport.

Are you brave enough to visit a Michigan ghost town?

Photo Courtesy of Fayette Historic Park

What Michigan treasures do you enjoy without spending a lot of money?

Jackie Mitchell writes for Awesome Mitten and works at Michigan State University. She enjoys hiking, kayaking, and camping with her family in any Michigan State Park.

Michigan’s Seven Best Paddling Trips

Guest blogger Jennifer Hamilton of the Awesome Mitten shares seven of the best destinations for paddling in Michigan. Read from her below and find more places to visit on michigan.org.

Summer may be rapidly coming to a close, but there is still plenty of time for a kayak trip in one of Michigan’s famous bodies of water. Whether you are seeking lakes or rivers, I have had the pleasure of polling fellow Awesome Mitten writers and compiling a list of Michigan’s favorite waterways.

1) Onekama to Arcadia via Lake Michigan – This is probably one of the most peaceful waterway treks in our Great Lakes State. Travelers have the opportunity to view Arcadia Bluffs from the water as they paddle by and scope out potential golfing opportunities. Since this area is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, there are great dune adventures to have at almost every point along the way if you want to stop and picnic.

2) The Backwaters at Tippy Dam – The Backwaters at Tippy Dam are for the adventurous hoping to catch a glimpse of wildlife. Great fishing is available here if you are seeking walleye or small-mouthed bass. Experienced fishermen say that the panfish are abundant as well. Due to the wooded surroundings, there is a good chance that visitors will spot at least one eagle during their adventure. The peacefulness of these Backwaters is great for an escape from civilization and to truly get a Northern Michigan experience.

3) Canals of Detroit – While Detroit may not be the first place you think of to enjoy a water-filled experience; one particular Awesome Mitten-er offers a unique perspective on its waterways. Ms. Joanna Dueweke swears by touring Detroit’s canals via kayak or stand-up paddleboard. It’s a great way to enjoy the historical buildings and homes from a completely different point of view than the general public. Some of the best and most convenient places to launch are at Alter Road, St. Jean, or Belle Isle.

Turnip Rock, photographed by Lars Jensen

4) Turnip Rock Port Austin – If you have not had the pleasure of experiencing Turnip Rock via Lake Huron, I insist that you head there immediately. This enormous rock received its turnip connotation from thousands of years of erosion from storm waves. Now, it is an island with a few trees and little other vegetation. The land nearby is all privately owned, so the only way to view it is by waterway or trekking across a frozen Lake Huron in the winter. It is quite the comedic, awe-inspiring landmark, located at the tip of Michigan’s thumb.

5) The Platte River – The Platte River is a personal favorite and though it may not be a secret, it is worth a mention to remind you to traverse its calm, strangely warm waters. The Platte is a great place to take families as it is easy to navigate and always warm enough to tube if kayaks are not readily available. As part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, it is no surprise that the Platte River is absolutely stunning. Its ending pours out into Lake Michigan with a mini peninsula jutting out between the two, dividing the playful river and the wild waves.

6) Huron River near Ann Arbor – This is the only state-designated Country Scenic Natural River in Southeast Michigan. It is a huge river that covers five counties, with each portion being strikingly worthwhile. During various portions of the river, floaters can expect to come across an abundance of dams; there are 96 total, to be exact. Many of these dams were built for mill or hydroelectric power, making them fairly large. Due to the size of these dams, many new lakes have formed along the Huron River, making for exciting sites to see almost every portion of the way.

7) Two Hearted River, Eastern Upper Peninsula – Any river that has a beer named after it clearly needs to be traversed. It is a fairly short river that empties into Lake Superior, and it does a great job of capturing the Upper Peninsula’s natural beauty. At the mouth of the river, travelers can see a Michigan Historic Marker; formally known as the Two-Hearted Life Saving Station, which then became part of the United States Coast Guard in 1915. The Two-Hearted River is exceptionally famous for a great place to leisurely fish, probably while enjoying a nice Two-Hearted Ale from Bell’s Brewery.

Jennifer Hamilton is a feature writer for The Awesome Mitten. Jennifer lives in Traverse City where she works for Addiction Treatment Services and is earning her Master of Social Work and Master of Arts in Alcohol and Drug Addiction.

Do you have a favorite Michigan paddling trip that’s not on the list? Share with us below!