Autumn offers a chance to peep colorful foliage and explore outdoors before winter beckons us all inside.
Take advantage of crisp sweater weather and the long fall holiday weekends. Whisk your little pumpkins to one of these family-friendly destinations to harvest some good times amongst the falling leaves.
Silver Lake Sand Dunes, Michigan
Refresh your senses in Silver Lake Sand Dunes where your squad can take a family-friendly natural rollercoaster ride through vast acres of sand dunes lining Lake Michigan with Mac Wood’s Dune Rides macwoodsdunerides.com. The guides are hysterical and the exuberant experience is sure to leave you all smiling. There’s also a pedestrian area of the dunes that is beautiful for pictures. After your adventure, treat your crew to a huge sundae served on a frisbee at Whippy Dip.
Oh my gourd, you’re going to love Lewis Adventure Farm & Zoo. This sprawling, fifth-generation family farm, market and petting zoo features animal encounters and more than 46 activities (including tractor pulls, bouncing pillows, slides and games). Stay at the Dunes Waterfront Resort duneswaterfrontresort.com where you can enjoy spectacular sunsets over Silver Lake and walk to numerous family-friendly attractions. There are also several campgrounds and cabin rentals nearby.
Capture more wows at Craig’s Cruisers Family Fun Center with go-karts, mini golf, bumper boats, a whirly coaster and zipline. Silver Lake Chicken Shack is the place to go for juicy chicken wings and live music.
Micro-farm B&B in Union Pier, Michigan
Make dreams of waking up to farm-fresh breakfasts come true at Goldberry Woods goldberrywoods.com, a micro-farm bed and breakfast in Union Pier. Rent a family suite at the inn (which feature gorgeous tree branch bed frames) or a full cottage, and be amongst chickens, ducks, gardens and greenery galore. Kids will love the large, heated pool and bubbling hot tub. Hike or kayak alongside vibrant fall colors, buy veggies and artisan gifts from the camper-turned-market-stand and snuggle around the firepit before bedtime.
Explore beautiful Harbor Country at a relaxing pace. If you’re saying “autumn leaves and pumpkins please” Dinges Fall Harvest is sure to be your jam with a pumpkin patch, corn maze, hayrides and games. Apple picking, breweries and wineries, colorful sunsets at the beach, farmers markets and music in the parks will provide all the fall feels. Enjoy the relaxing ambiance of Brewster’s Italian Café while dining on wood-fired pizza, inventive drinks and salads like the Italian Sweet Corn.
Outdoor fun in South Bend, Indiana
“The Bend” is home to the University of Notre Dame, which is super fun when fall football season is in full swing. Due to the pandemic, many of the typical game day traditions are on pause this year; however, there are still numerous reasons to visit.
Howard Park features an expansive, imaginative, newly-renovated children’s playground with climbing structures, huge slides, swings and so many cool features my 10-year-old daughter was running with excitement. Grab a meal and even food for your pup at Howard Park Public House, located right in the park. See multi-color River Lights illuminating the St. Joseph River at night or ice skate in the park in winter.
Dine al fresco in the exquisite gardens of Carriage House where they serve wood-fired pizzas, burgers, salads and fresh seasonal drinks. Rum Village Aerial Adventure Park is the place for climbers ages 7 and up to get their adventure on with up to five obstacle courses in the trees.
Animal lovers will fall for Potawatomi Zoo. Chocolate cherishers won’t be able to resist South Bend Chocolates’ creamy seasonal treats. Pick pears and plums in September and apples in October at Lehman’s Orchard, just over the Michigan border. Visit Thistleberry Farm for pictures of your pumpkins in the patch, a cow train ride and more.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Mishawaka, which is about 15 minutes from downtown South Bend, near the Mishawaka Riverwalk and Strikes & Spares bowling, go karts and ninja course. The hotel is clean, modern and has a pool.
Door County, Wisconsin
In northeast Wisconsin, Door County is gorgeous dressed in autumnal oranges and fiery reds and offers a plethora of outdoor activities and family-friendly attractions. Five state parks with vertical sandstone bluffs and numerous historic lighthouses beckon exploration. Savor the bounty of the harvest with Wisconsin cheeses, cherry jams and pies, and other treats in addition to fall favorites.
Enjoy autumn festivals like the Egg Harbor Pumpkin Patch or a Cider Press Party. Bottle feed baby goats and watch chicks hatch at The Farm. Take a hike at Peninsula State Park, where the new observation tower offers stunning views across the bay and is accessible for strollers and wheelchairs.
Kayak the glassy, clear waters of Cave Point County Park. Peninsula Kayak Company will guide you to caves and other geological wonders. Get a lay of the land and hear some local lore on a family-friendly Door County Trolley Tour. Pick a peck of apples and sip wine and cider at Lautenbach’s Orchard. Walk through the water or ride a hay wagon to visit Cana Island Lighthouse. Climb 97 steps up a spiral staircase for a bird’s eye view across the peninsula. peninsulakayakcompany.com
Take in the tradition of a Door County fish boil at White Gull Inn. Watch whitefish and potatoes cook over an open flame, then seal the meal with a slice of tart cherry pie and ice cream. Swedish pancakes with lingonberries and Swedish meatballs are sure to be savored at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik. The kids will get a kick out of the goats grazing on the roof.
Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor has been a hit since 1906 with its soda fountain, juke box and burgers.
We stayed at Bailey’s Harbor Yacht Club. On the shore of Lake Michigan and only a mile from restaurants and attractions, this secluded condo resort features pools, games and bike rentals.
Traverse City, Michigan
Leaf peepers unite! TripAdvisor has named gorgeous Traverse City, Michigan one of the best fall foliage destinations. Take in the fiery reds, blazing oranges and sunny yellows on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, then go for a hike in the outdoor playground that is Sleeping Bear Dunes. Climb the towering sand dunes and soak in the rewarding, blue views of Lake Michigan 450 feet below.
Gallagher’s Farm Market and Bakery is a family-run farm with a pumpkin patch, corn maze, steamy cider and pumpkin donuts. Pahl’s Pumpkin Patch and Country Store in nearby Buckley is also a great place to harvest your fall family memories. This working farm features U-pick pumpkins, wagon rides, barrel train rides and ponies. You can purchase treats as well as Pahl’s fresh meats from their country store.
Great Lakes Children’s Museum is a fantastic place for kids ages 8 and under to have some indoor fun. Scoop up some smiles no matter the weather at Moomers Homemade Ice Cream. Craft brews and regional wines abound in Traverse City for parents who wish to partake.
Cedar Point and Lake Erie Shores & Islands, Ohio
Fall is the perfect time to go to the “Rollercoaster Capital of the World” because it’s typically not too hot or crowded. Cedar Point, located in Sandusky, Ohio and open through the end of October. There you’ll find all the thrills your family could possibly ask for, with 70 spellbinding rides, including 18 world-class roller coasters.
My 8-year-old daughter and I rode Millennium Force, voted the best steel coaster in the world. It goes crazy high (up 300 feet) immediately upon take off, reaches speeds up to 93 mph and is insane fun. We couldn’t stop grinning. More tame options include Gemini, the racing coaster, and Cedar Downs, the derby carousel. Their HalloWeekends offers up haunted attractions to get you in the Halloween spirit.
Stay at beachfront Hotel Breakers, next to Cedar Point, and enjoy discount tickets to the park as well as early park entry. Surrounding Lake Erie Shores and Islands is a fun area to explore, especially Put-in-Bay, which you can visit via Miller Ferry. There, rent a golf cart or see the sites on a train tour. Families enjoy classic entertainment like mini golf, a butterfly house, cave tour and merry-go-round. Most Put-in-Bay attractions are open weekends through mid-October.
Galena is a close by getaway (at about a 1.5-hour drive) that offers picturesque, panoramic views of three states (Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin). It’s a small town with a rich history (Ulysses S. Grant’s Home is there) and rolling hills that are fun to hike and candy for the eyes on crisp, clear days. Glide down the Alpine Slide weekends through early October. Go horseback riding or spook yourselves on a ghost tour. Oktoberfest is fun for families with wiener dog races, polka dancing, bounce houses and pumpkin decorating.
Curious about goat yoga? Give it at try at Original Goat Yoga, Galena. Families are welcome, and it’s just as much about having fun, relaxing with animals as it is about stretching your body with yoga. The goats are likely to jump on your back, lay on your mat and give you some snuggles. You can also take a hike with goats and bottle feed kids (baby goats) by a bonfire with Hoof It Goat Treks.
Kayaking, fishing and riding electric bikes are other adventurous ways to explore Galena. Nuts Outdoors offers guided tours on electric bikes that make the hill climbs easy, can take you to some favorite fishing holes, or show you the best kayaking and wildlife viewing spots.
South Haven, Michigan
About a three-hour drive from Chicago, quaint South Haven, Michigan provides an idyllic fall escape. The Covert / South Haven KOA is a family favorite because they have cabins as well as tent and RV sites and tons of activities, such as a jumping pillow, trampoline basketball, crafts, movie nights and more. South Haven has a cute downtown with antiques and ice cream shops, a beach with lighthouse and sand dunes. St. Joseph, Saugatuck and Holland are also close by.
Farmers’ markets, microbreweries and the Kal Haven Trail are perfect to enjoy in the fall. Bike or hike the 33.5-mile trail from South Haven to Kalamazoo, across bridges and through adorable small towns, where you’ll feel the friendliness and warmth of the season. You can also visit Harvest Moon Acres in Gobles, which has corn mazes and farm animals.
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