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.  

No better time than Autumn in Northern Michigan’s Benzie County

Fall signals its arrival with the slow turning of leaves. Michigan’s 19 million acres of woods crescendo into vibrant crimsons, oranges and golds, finally exploding in their annual blaze of color inviting residents and travelers alike to take the open road.

If you’re looking to plan a Michigan roadtrip to view the colors, (and possibly check out a few events!) read why Benzie County in Northern Michigan is an ideal choice.

Autumn, when crowds retreat, the air is crisp and the landscape is ablaze with color, this is Benzie County, Northern Michigan Preserved®. Our pristine location offers time to reflect and experience the beauty of fall color.  Take the scenic M22 drive, which was named the “Most Scenic Autumn Drive” in the county by readers of USA Today in 2015. The beautiful drive takes you through three northern Michigan counties, Manistee, Benzie and Leelanau and offers multiple opportunities for scenic views of Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is breathtaking in the fall

Photo Courtesy of the Benzie County Chamber of Commerce

There are many fantastic fall events taking place during October throughout the area. Make your way to Fall Fest in Beulah/Benzonia on October 1 or Fall Fest in Frankfort and the Peak to Peak Mountain biking event on October 8.  Frankfort Beer week runs October 3-8, where you can enjoy delicious craft and seasonal brews and the Frankfort Film Festival (perfect for cinema lovers!) runs from October 20-23.  For ORV-enthusiasts, there are specific Saturday events that allow you to rev up your  ATV’s and 4×4  season long. The local-favorite Pumpkin Run takes place on October 22 and the Haunted Trail Ride (with ghosts, goblins, and more!) will take place  on October 29 at Twisted Trails Off Road Park off of M-115.

Benzie County is an ideal biking destination in the fall

Photo Courtesy of the Benzie County Chamber of Commerce

How about getting a bird’s eye view of the colors?  Every Saturday in October enjoy panoramic views of three counties at Crystal Mountain where you can ride the Crystal Clipper Quad Chairlift to the top of the mountain to enjoy the music.  Or take a tour of the most photographed lighthouse in Michigan, The Point Betsie, who’ll have lighthouse tours October 1-3 and 7-9.

The Point Betsie Light looks beautiful no matter the season

The Point Betsie Light looks beautiful no matter the season

If artisan crafts and foods peak your interest, then there’s no better place than Benzie County. Wineries, Breweries, Distilled Spirits, Artist Galleries and Farms will certainly round out your visit to our area.  So what are you waiting for? Start planning your autumn visit to see us.  Need more of an incentive?  Check out our Benzie Treasure Trove promotion that offers hundreds of dollars in freebies, discounts and gifts from area businesses, just for staying two or more consecutive nights at one of our participating lodging properties.  All the details on events, lodgings, dining, shopping and the Benzie Treasure Trove promotion can be found on our website, www.visitbenzie.com or call us at 800-882-5801.

What is your favorite memory from Benzie County? Share with us by commenting below!

The Search for the Best Burger in Michigan

John “Gonzo” Gonzalez of MLive searched far and wide across the state for Michigan’s best burger. After six days of traveling 1,700 miles and visiting 33 restaurants, he found one thing for sure – Michigan is home to a number of great burgers! Read about John’s experience below and be sure to check out the list of Michigan’s best burgers for more.

I looked down at the end of the bar at Miller’s in Dearborn, where I saw a young man eating his second burger. “Man, you must love this place to eat TWO burgers!” I said. Still chewing, he held up his hand, flashing three fingers. “No,” I said. “I only saw TWO burgers in front of you.” He gulped down his bite and said, “I order two that I eat immediately, and then I order a third one,” he said. “Oh, I see, you order a third one to go?” “Oh no,” he said. “I’ll eat it here. I just don’t want it to get cold, that’s why I wait to order the third one.”

That’s the passion I discovered at every stop on our search for Michigan’s Best Burger 2013. Whether it was patrons, chefs, owners, managers or employees, there is a Michigan passion for a good, old fashioned burger with cheese and your favorite toppings.

We have done these searches before:

Michigan’s Best Coney Dog (American Coney in Detroit),
Best BBQ (West Texas BBQ in Jackson),
Best Ice Cream Parlor (MOO-ville Creamery in Nashville),
Best Haunted House (Erebus in Pontiac), and
Best Breakfast (Anna’s House in Grand Rapids).

But our search for Michigan’s Best Burger was by far our most extensive one. After a nomination process that involves our readers, we put up polls in all of our markets to determine the readers’ favorites. Once we have that list, I hit the road.

This time we traveled 1,700 miles, visited 33 restaurants and did it over a period of six days. We visited burger joints from Sault Ste. Marie to Detroit, Bay City to Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor to Muskegon. On some days we visited 7 restaurants in one day.

If any of you have followed our other searches, I often take along an expert or companion who helps me out. It’s not easy eating all this food. On our search for Michigan’s Best Coney Dog, I was joined by Joe Grimm (co-author of “Coney Detroit”). On BBQ, it was the president of the Great Lakes Barbecue Association, Mike Terry of Flushing. And for our breakfast search it was Mike Jensen, a retired prison cook from Saranac.

For burgers, we were joined by David Kutzko, a Western Michigan University professor of Classics (Greek and Latin) who has a huge appetite and spends a lot of time checking out Michigan restaurants. Also, we were joined by Fritz Klug, a statewide reporter for MLive and David’s former student whose intention was to tag along on our trip to the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan. But we couldn’t shake him.

What we discovered: Michigan residents love their burgers!

Most of the burgers on our Top 10 list were cooked on flattop grills and used a blend of 80 percent lean meat, and 20 percent fat. Many used a hand press. All of them are flipped only once.

Each place had a little different method; some used a secret seasoning, others used salt and pepper, and some used no seasoning at all.

The secret was in the meat, and the preparation method. We also took into account creativity, buns and those intangibles that make you want to order a second – or third – burger before you leave!

Here is our Top 10 List:

  1. Michigan burger map. Credit: Ed Riojas/Mlive.com

    Laura’s Little Burger Joint, 47141 M-51, Decatur

  2. West Pier Drive-In, 601 W. Portage Ave., Sault Ste. Marie
  3. Miller’s Bar, 23700 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
  4. Talley’s Log Cabin Bar, 2981 County Road 612, Lewiston
  5. Stella’s Lounge, 53 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
  6. Brown Bear, 147 N. Michigan Ave., Shelby
  7. Schlenker’s Sandwich Shop, 1104 E. Ganson St., Jackson
  8. Torch Bar & Grill, 522 Buckham Alley, Flint
  9. Schuberg’s Bar & Grill, 109 N. Michigan Ave., Big Rapids
  10. Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger, 304 S. Ashley St, Ann Arbor

Take a look at our complete list of 33 finalists; you won’t go wrong at any one of them.

Where’s your favorite place to get a burger in Pure Michigan? Share with us in the comments section below!

As the Statewide Entertainment writer for MLive Media Group, which represents eight newspapers throughout the state, as well as MLive.com and AnnArbor.com, John Gonzalez oversees the “Michigan’s Best” series. He has led statewide searches for Michigan’s Best BBQ, Ice Cream Parlor, Breakfast, Coney Dogs and most recently, Burgers. John is based in Grand Rapids, but has worked in Detroit, Lansing, Mt. Pleasant, Flint, Holland and Bay City.  He is originally from Capac, Michigan. You can follow him on Twitter at @MichiganGonzo.