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.  

7 Things to Experience at the Ann Arbor Art Fair

Spanning four exhilarating days, from Thursday, July 21 to Sunday, July 24, The Ann Arbor Art Fair is an art lover’s destination filled with original works of art, street performances, culinary treats and a variety of shops featuring sidewalk sales. Art enthusiasts by the hundreds of thousands will turn out to enhance or start their own collection — discovering a vibrant downtown full of world-class restaurants and eclectic shops.

Here are 7 things for you to experience while visiting the area during The Ann Arbor Art Fair:

1. The Art. Pure and Simple.

The Ann Arbor Art Fair features more than 1,000 competitively juried artists from all over the world, exhibiting incredible creative talents for others to appreciate and purchase. Throughout 30 city blocks, you’ll discover countless styles and materials including: painting, drawing, glass, sculpture, mixed media, jewelry, fiber and furniture.

There are many beautiful things to be discovered at the Ann Arbor Art Fair

Photo Courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

2. The Food. Ann Arbor is a Food Town.

There are many reasons why Ann Arbor is known as one of the best food towns in the United States. Around the downtown and close to campus you will find more than 300 unique restaurants to choose from while exploring 30 blocks of the fair.

Zingerman's is as iconic as any restaurant in Ann Arbor

Photo Courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

3. The Art Fair, After Hours.

New this year is that The Ann Arbor Art Fair will run through Sunday, so the fun continues after fair hours on Saturday. VisitAnnArbor.org invites you to stay after the fair closes on Saturday, July 23 and discover your Ann Arbor. Several local businesses will have drink and meal specials and there will be lots of music and entertainment to choose from. 

4. The Beer & Cocktails.

The Ann Arbor area is not only known for its exceptional foodie offerings, it’s a haven for wine lovers, craft beer aficionados and those who appreciate handcrafted spirits. Stick around after fair hours to appreciate the artistry of our local mixologists and brewers.

Ann Arbor has established itself as a food and beer mecca in Michigan

Photo Courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

5. The Outdoors. 

Ann Arbor is also known as “Tree Town” for its numerous parks and verdant landscapes. In addition to enjoying the open-air Ann Arbor Art Fair, explore the urban oasis that surrounds it with a kayaking or canoe trip along the Huron River, a stroll through Nichols Arboretum, or star counting in the Big 400.

6. The Shops.

The Ann Arbor Art Fair is one of Michigan’s finest summer traditions, with infinite treasures at artist booths. You’ll also uncover great finds in Ann Arbor’s shops. From trendy boutiques to specialty bookstores — take home something from an artist and a local shop owner.

There's so much shopping to discover when visiting Ann Arbor

Photo Courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

7. The City Itself.

Don’t just take our word for it! Ann Arbor took the #1 spot on the “Best College Cities and Towns in America” list; Esquire recently named Ann Arbor as a “U.S. Town Most Worthy of a Day Trip;” and Livability ranks Ann Arbor #8 on its “Top 100 Best Places to Live” list. Come check it out for yourself!

For more information, visit TheAnnArborArtFair.com or on Twitter @AnnArborArtFair. Start planning your trip today at VisitAnnArbor.org.

Schedule Your Tee Time at These 5 Ann Arbor Courses

Forbes recently identified Ann Arbor as a destination with “great golf and great food.” Such high praise has golf enthusiasts looking at the area with renewed interest for their own game. As the Ann Arbor area prepares to host the Volvik LPGA Championship from May 23-29, VisitAnnArbor.org shares information about some of the local greens.

Photo Courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

One of the more scenic courses in the Ann Arbor area is Eagle Crest Golf Club, designed by golf architect Karl Litten. Nestled along Ford Lake, the stunning waterfront par 72 course is a delight to experience and the 16th hole has been named one of the toughest in Michigan. With a four-star rating from Golf Digest, golfers vying for one of two qualifying positions will tee off at Eagle Crest for the 2016 LPGA Volvik Local Qualifier. Nearby dining recommendations: Check out the great dining in downtown Ypsilanti including Red Rock Downtown Barbecue, Sidetrack, and Haab’s.

Photo Courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

Another nationally ranked course is The University of Michigan Golf Course. Designed by world renowned golf architect Alister MacKenzie, it is recognized as one of the most fun courses in America. Built in 1931, this course just recently opened to public play and attracts golfers from across the globe to experience this classic course widely considered one of the best of all college layouts (not to mention the amazing view of the Big House!). Nearby dining recommendations: Stick with the university theme and dine downtown at The Pretzel Bell on Main Street or Pizza House on Church Street.

Photo Courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor


Stonebridge Golf Club is a great destination for golfers looking for a more affordable championship course and driving range. Designed in 1991 by Arthur Hills, a renowned golf course architect and University of Michigan alum, the meticulous course is surrounded by natural beauty. Stonebridge also offers a practice putting green, driving range with bent grass tees, and a large chipping bunker. Nearby dining recommendations: Head into Saline for great food and craft beer at Salt Springs Brewery or the fresh catch at Mac’s Acadian Seafood Shack.

Leslie Park, Photo Courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

If you’re looking for a more casual golf outing, there are a number of options that will suit your needs including Huron Hills and Leslie Park Golf Courses. These two municipal courses are all located very close to downtown Ann Arbor, perfect for a weekend of golf and dining! Nearby dining recommendations: Zingerman’s Deli is always a hole-in-one. For a lighter dining option, consider tapas and sangria to share at Aventura.

To start planning your trip, go to VisitAnnArbor.org for a full listing of Ann Arbor area golf courses and more information about nearby attractions, restaurants, and events.