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.”



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.  

Fall Foliage, Football and Fun in Michigan’s Capital City

Whether you’re cheering the Spartans on to victory or paddling down the Grand River, the best way to view the beauty of autumn is to be a part of it. Lori Lanspeary from the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau shares her favorite ways to experience fall in Michigan’s capital region.

The only colors necessary for a Greater Lansing Fall Getaway are Green…and White. Whether you’re a die-hard Spartan fan who BLEEDS GREEN or a fan of some other color combination that when mixed together actually MAKES GREEN, a weekend in Michigan’s capital region should be on your bucket list before that WHITE stuff starts to fall.

It’s always a beautiful day for football when Michigan State University takes the field at Spartan Stadium. Tailgating is an East Lansing tradition as is exploring the expansive campus with the leaves crunching underfoot, visiting MSU attractions and cheering the Spartans on to victory.

Photo courtesty of the Greater Lansing CVB

Photo courtesty of the Greater Lansing CVB

We’ve got great fall leaf peeping here in mid-Michigan and you can actually get out of your car and take part in the experience. Visit our great u-pick farms such as, Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. Johns or The Country Mill in Charlotte. Go ahead and find the best pumpkins in the patch or pick a peck of your favorite apples. And don’t forget to stop in to buy a gallon or three of the freshest apple cider, a dozen or so pumpkin donuts and a few delicious pies.

Photo courtesty of the Greater Lansing CVB

Photo courtesty of the Greater Lansing CVB

Still ready to see more color? Greater Lansing has so many different ways for you to enjoy the season. How about a River Town Adventure kayak or canoe ride along the Grand River or a beautiful trail ride at Sundance Riding Stables? It’s like seeing mid-Michigan’s majesty in a whole new way. Then hop aboard the Michigan Princess for a paddleboat ride complete with a delicious lunch, a sweet cruise on the Grand River and some pretty fall scenery. Sounds delightful, am I right? Another option may be to explore the Greater Lansing Makers & Shakers Trail and take a tasting tour of some of the small-batch, locally-sourced craft beers, spirits and wine.

Photo courtesty of the Greater Lansing CVB

Photo courtesty of the Greater Lansing CVB

Make it a Greater Lansing Fall Getaway and see your color tour in a whole new way. We promise you can return to your regular way of viewing fall color from your car seat on the way to and from Michigan’s Capital City.Lori

About the author: Lori Lanspeary is the leisure marketing manager at the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau. For over 15 years now she has been a #lovelansing advocate both personally and professionally. You can follow her weekly blogs.

Five Ways to Fall in Love with Autumn in Michigan

Welcome to the first day of fall in Pure Michigan.  The autumn season brings many great experiences to enjoy – hiking or biking through brilliant tree tunnels, strolling on still warm beaches and crunching into that perfect orchard apple. If you aren’t quite sold on the harvest season, here are five things to love about fall in Michigan.  Share with us your favorite fall activity or memory by commenting below.

Finding the perfect pumpkin

As Halloween approaches, so does the search for that quintessential pumpkin that will make the perfect jack-o’-lantern or a steaming bowl of pumpkin soup.

Pumpkins are typically harvested in Michigan from September through October.  With many pumpkin patches and farms offering activities like corn mazes, wagon rides and fresh foods from farmers markets, you can make an afternoon out of it.

Photo courtesy of Visit Ypsi.

Photo courtesy of Visit Ypsi.

Jumping in a pile of leaves

Each fall, kids look forward to making the biggest pile of leaves that they can for the sole purpose of making the big jump.  You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy jumping in a pile of leaves or the crunching sound of them beneath your feet.

Trails become covered in freshly fallen leaves during the fall and you can enjoy the sounds of the crunching foliage on one of Michigan’s many hiking or biking trails.

Photo courtesy of Beth Price Photography.

Photo courtesy of Beth Price Photography.

Apple picking season

Michigan is known for its fresh apples during the autumn harvest season.  There are more than 9.2 million apple trees and 850 family-run farms in the state.  There is something special about biting into a juicy Michigan apple that you plucked from a tree branch yourself from a U-Pick farm, or trying out some new recipes with the various varieties of Michigan-grown apples.

Learn more about U-Pick farm, apple tour or cooking inspiration here.

Robinette's Apple Haus  Winery.

Photo courtesy of Robinette’s Apple Haus Winery.

Taking a scenic road trip

Pack up your car for a day or even a long weekend.  The open road is a perfect way to get an up close and personal tour of Michigan’s fall foliage.

Michigan’s well-known fall color routes include M22, Brockway Mountain Drive and Tunnel of Trees, but there are so many scenic routes around the state just waiting to be discovered.   For more information on color tours, visit http://www.michigan.org/fall-color-tours/

Photo courtesy of Instagram user @luc719

Photo courtesy of Instagram user @luc719

Football season

The fall season ushers in the kickoff of football at colleges and universities all around Michigan.  A crisp Saturday afternoon on campus brings students, alumni and fans together to cheer on their team. Consider taking a trip to Ann Arbor to catch a game at iconic Michigan Stadium, better known as The Big House, or the ever-loud and exciting Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. No matter your affiliation, fall football in Michigan is hard to beat.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Gennara Photography.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Gennara Photography.

For more ideas on how to enjoy the fall season in Michigan, visit www.michigan.org/fall, where you can download the Pure Michigan Fall Travel Guide.