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.  

Hit the Water in Michigan with These Extreme Sports

Summertime in Michigan means many things, but typically the most popular and memorable activities happen on the water. Between swimming, boating and fishing, there are countless ways to relax while taking in the Great Lakes state.

If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, however, check out these five thrilling sports that can serve as the highlight of the season.

1. Shipwreck Diving

Since Michigan is surrounded by large bodies of water, it is one of the best places to explore shipwrecks. Experience history firsthand by visiting one of the many sites where you can visit ships now resting on the lake floor. Even if you aren’t a diver, there are options for charter tours with glass bottoms perfect for making memories while staying dry.

Explore shipwrecks resting at the bottom of the Great Lakes

Suggested locations: Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (Alpena), Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve (Traverse City) and the Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve (Port Sanilac).

 2. Kiteboarding

Want to try something new and exhilarating? Look no further than kiteboarding. Kiteboarding is a surface water sport combining aspects of wakeboarding, snowboarding, windsurfing and paragliding, among others, into one extreme sport. This sport is made possible through a large controllable power kite to be propelled across the water on a kiteboard similar to a wakeboard or a small surfboard.

Kiteboarding lets you harness the water and the air in one great sport

Photo Courtesy of Instagrammer @thawanderer88

Suggested locations: St. Clair Shores, Traverse City and East Tawas.

 3. Sea (Lake) Kayaking

A “silent sport,” kayaking speaks to our souls. Explore sea caves, channels and coves or travel pristine rivers, enjoying the serenity of a peaceful paddle or the thrill of riding heart-stopping rapids. Kayaking is also your best chance to experience the spectacular seasonal scenery and abundant wildlife of the water’s edge. Sea kayaking is more rigorous than regular kayaking, so expect a healthy arm workout when heading out onto one of the Great Lakes.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the U.P. is an ideal sea kayaking adventure

Photo Courtesy of Courtney Kotewa

Suggested locations: Port Austin and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Munising).

4. Parasailing

This high-flying experience is the thrill of a lifetime. Take in the sights of your surroundings as a giant parachute sends you soaring hundreds of feet above the water. Through parasailing, you’re able to see many unique Michigan destinations from an aerial perspective while being refreshed by the splashing freshwater below.

See the Mackinac Bridge from above through a parasailing adventure

Photo Courtesy of Mackinaw Parasailing

Suggested locations: Mackinaw City and Harbor Springs.

5. Great Lakes surfing

Surf’s up! Though it is believed that Great Lakes breakers were first surfed nearly a century ago, and possibly much earlier by native peoples, the first significant wave of participants arrived in the 1960s. The west coast surf craze was leaking into Middle America, and small surfing communities sprouted across the Great Lakes. Michigan was at the forefront and today, surfing on the ‘Third Coast’ is more popular than ever. The waves are typically small in the summer, which makes it the perfect time to learn to surf. The big waves and prime surfing time is during the fall, winter and spring.

St. Joseph offers great surfing for both beginners and veterans depending on the season

Photo Courtesy of Josh Nowicki

Suggested locations: New Buffalo and St. Joseph.

Which of these extreme water sports have you tried? Share with us by commenting below!

Here’s Where to Go and What to Do in Cheboygan

Summertime in Michigan is unlike anything else. Between the waves, beaches and trails, you’re sure to make memories that will last a lifetime. There are many areas in particular that make for incredible summer fun, and Cheboygan is near the top of the list. Read more on a few areas, and things to do, when visiting Northeast Michigan this summer and let us know what else you love to do when visiting the area!

Welcome to Cheboygan

At the confluence of the Cheboygan River and Lake Huron sits a community far and away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Located on the picturesque Straits of Mackinac, Cheboygan is the gateway to the famous “Inland Waterway” – a navigable series of waterways encompassing three rivers, three lakes and 40+ miles of inland boating pleasure. A cruise from the mouth of the Cheboygan River into Lake Huron can take you to Bois Blanc or Mackinac Islands, both a leisurely boat ride away.

The Cheboygan area is a boaters paradise

Photo Courtesy of Missy Koszegi

Cheboygan offers opportunities for fishing, hiking, cross country skiing, kayaking, hunting, and numerous other outdoor activities. For those that prefer to stay indoors, our local merchants will warmly welcome you to a variety of novelty shops, retail outlets, entertainment facilities, casual and fine dining, and much more. You will find that our way of life here is warm, genteel, and inviting.  Locals will be glad to show you around, give you recommendations, and make your experience memorable.  Base your “up north” vacation here and be in the center of all that the area has to offer.

Explore Indian River

Indian River is at the center of all that makes Northern Michigan a treasured vacation destination and place to call home. Indian River, named after the river which flows through it, is nestled between Burt Lake and Mullett Lake along the 40 mile long Inland Waterway. Conveniently located off I-75, 25 miles south of the Mackinaw Bridge, Indian River is a place that visitors of all ages find many pleasures to enjoy during any season of the year. Truly Nature’s Mecca, Indian River is the ideal location to boat, fish, hunt, camp, bike, golf, kayak, canoe, raft, tube, stand up paddle board, sail, snowmobile, Off-Road Vehicles (ORV), motorcycle, ski, bird watch, mushroom hunt, hike, skate, dine, and shop. By water or by land, quiet sport or motor, fun with nature is certain with so many activities available to you.

Indian River's waterways are perfect for summertime fun

Photo Courtesy of Indian River Chamber of Commerce

Discover Mackinaw City

Historic Mackinaw City is one of Michigan’s leading vacation destinations. From world-famous fudge to the impressive beauty of the Straits of Mackinac and Mackinaw City, this “Up North” region offers plenty for visitors. Mackinaw City offers incomparable natural beauty, historical museums, state and local parks and forests, two marinas, boutique shopping, free music concerts, laser light shows, fine dining, and of course, that famous fudge. The Mackinaw City area is the place to come if you appreciate the beauty of nature, adventure and old-fashioned hospitality. Mackinaw City is renowned for its summer beauty, but all four seasons provide countless breathtaking views and numerous activities for all ages. There are beautiful sunrises over Lake Huron, gorgeous sunsets over Lake Michigan, and acres of unspoiled woods filled with numerous wildflowers in the summer and brilliant colors of the fall palette. Marked trails are perfect for hiking, biking, and geocaching.

Mackinaw City is a perfect destination to catch sight of the Mackinac Bridge

Photo Courtesy of Straits Area Printing

Experience the world-famous inland waterway

Northern Michigan’s Inland Waterway offers you a boating trip unlike any in the world. The approximately 42 mile trip takes you through three rivers and three lakes and surrounds you with some of the most beautiful scenery and captivating communities in Michigan. A voyage on the Inland Waterway can begin at the north end in Cheboygan, the middle in Indian River or the south end in Conway. Boat launches are conveniently located at many places along the route. The trip can be made in a day or over a weekend, with the communities of Cheboygan, Topinabee, Aloha, Indian River, Alanson, Oden and Conway all located on the water. Dining, lodging, supplies, and banking facilities can be found in most of these communities. Numerous marinas also dot the Inland Waterway where marine fuel, boat rentals, and ships stores are situated for your convenience. Whether you choose to make the Inland Waterway journey in a day or make it a weekend, you will see a side of Northern Michigan that cannot be seen along a highway or freeway. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a boating excursion unlike any other!

The cool water in Indian River provides a great time for boating, swimming and watersports

Photo Courtesy of Indian River Chamber of Commerce

Ride along the area’s incredible trail system

The Cheboygan area is blessed with one of the finest multi-purpose trail systems in the United States.  Michigan has a larger rails-to-trails system than any other state in the nation, and Cheboygan County has more of those trails than any other county in Michigan. The highly acclaimed North Central State Trail and the newly finished North Eastern State Trail (Mackinaw City to Alpena) are more and more the destinations of choice when it comes to groomed trails for cyclists and hikers alike. And the trails intersect right in Cheboygan. The Black Mountain Recreation Area offers a vast network of marked trails for hiking, ATV excursions, horseback riding, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. With over 30 miles available for hiking, 60 miles for off road vehicles, and 80 groomed miles for snowmobiling, the area is ideal for any type of outdoor adventure. Parking and trail access at Black Mountain are conveniently located.

Don't miss exploring the winding trails in the Cheboygan area

Photo Courtesy of Top of Michigan Trails Council

What is your favorite thing to do in the Cheboygan area? Share with us by commenting below!