M 43 7 Can't-Miss Colorful Scenic Drives in West Michigan This Fall
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7 Can’t-Miss Colorful Scenic Drives in West Michigan This Fall

As the weather cools, the tree leaves begin to turn vibrant reds, golds, and oranges. West Michigan is a wonderful place to tour the changing colors. One of the best ways to do that is to take a scenic drive. With such a large area to explore, we’ve narrowed down a handful of fall scenic drives in West Michigan that offer stunning views of the colorful foliage and interesting places to stop along the way.

M 43 7 Can't-Miss Colorful Scenic Drives in West Michigan This Fall
photo via @northtoalaska94

West Michigan Pike From Buchanan to Mears

The West Michigan Pike is certainly one of the most well-known fall drives in West Michigan. In fact, this roadway was the first in the state to be paved for tourism specifically, so it’s a historic route.

Although the original 500-mile highway has changed since the early 20th century, it encompasses some of the most charming scenery. It follows U.S. Hwy 31, passing through several cities between Buchanan and Mears as it winds along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

While you could certainly drive straight through, there are many places to explore. We’ll tell you about our preferred attractions along this nearly 150-mile stretch.

Buchanan & St. Joseph

When you start in Buchanan, you have a chance to visit some award-winning wineries and breweries before you get to St. Joseph. Free Run Cellars and Lazy Acre Vineyard are two of our favorites and aren’t far from the pike route.

Upon reaching St. Joseph, you might want to take a detour off the West Michigan Pike toward the coastline to visit Silver Beach and the Silver Beach Carousel, a historic, restored merry-go-round.

The town is also home to The Heritage Museum & Cultural Center, which features exhibits about lighthouses, fashion, shipbuilding, and sports.

South Haven, Saugatuck, & Holland

Returning to Hwy 31, you’ll pass 12 Corners Vineyards and through the unincorporated community of Lake Michigan Beach.

Then, you’ll reach South Haven, which has Van Buren State Park, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, Michigan Maritime Museum, South Haven Light, and walkable downtown with unique shops.

Following the pike north, you’ll reach Saugatuck, which is known for its boutiques and galleries, as well as Mount Baldhead, Oval Beach, and Saugatuck Dunes State Park.

Farther north is Holland, a college town famous for its unique Dutch setting — such as Windmill Island Gardens, The Cappon House, and Nelis’ Dutch Village — and Holland Harbor Lighthouse (otherwise known as Big Red).

Grand Haven & Muskegon

Soon after, you’ll be in Grand Haven, the perfect beach town and a popular vacation destination for peace and quiet. Consider visiting the Rosy Mound Natural Area, walk the boardwalk into the harbor, observe the Grand Haven Musical Fountain (the largest of its kind), and get photos of the Grand Haven lighthouses.

Not far from Grand Haven is Muskegon, which has several interesting and recreational attractions. A few of these are P.J. Hoffmaster State Park with sand dunes, USS LST 393 Veterans Museum, Pere Marquette Park with a sandy beach, and USS Silversides Submarine Museum.

Whitehall & Mears

After that, you’ll pass through Whitehall, which is home to the White River Light Station and Museum. Finally, you’ll reach Mears, the last stop on the scenic West Michigan Pike route.

Here, you can see Little Sable Point Lighthouse on the Lake Michigan shoreline and enjoy everything that Silver Lake State Park has to offer, particularly the Silver Lake Sand Dunes.

West Michigan Pike 7 Can't-Miss Colorful Scenic Drives in West Michigan This Fall
photo via @shawnmweidner

Old U.S. Highway 27 From Coldwater to Lansing

Another one of the most colorful fall drives in West Michigan is Old U.S. Hwy 27. About 100 years ago, this road was one of the great north-south driving routes. It follows a historic Native American trail, extending from Cheboygan, Michigan, to Miami, Florida.

For our about 75-mile scenic drive, though, we’re going to focus on the section of the route from Coldwater to Lansing, which passes through farmland, over gentle hills, and gives you plenty of chances to see the fall colors.

Coldwater

Although you can start this route from the Indiana-Michigan border, we recommend beginning in Coldwater. The rural, scenic roads are awesome for viewing the colorful leaves.

You could also take a train ride on an authentic steam engine with Little River Railroad, one of the best fall train rides in Michigan.

Picturesque tours and Halloween-themed rides are available during the autumn season.

Old U.S. Highway 27 7 Can't-Miss Colorful Scenic Drives in West Michigan This Fall
photo via @mathert

Marshall

Following Hwy 27 north, you’ll come to Marshall. With about 850 historic buildings within its city limits, it has the largest historic district in Michigan.

You could even plan a stay at the National House Inn, which has been a stagecoach inn, railroad hotel, and possible stop on the Underground Railroad during its lifetime. The now bed and breakfast retains its rich heritage and offers luxurious amenities.

Lansing

Passing through Charlotte and snaking through farmland toward central Michigan, Hwy 27 takes you to Lansing.

This might be the most exciting time to end a road trip in Lansing because autumn is football season. If you have the chance, watch a Spartan game at Michigan State University.

On the other hand, you could learn about the area’s history at the Michigan History Museum. From prehistoric times to the eras of lumber, mining, and automobiles, the diverse displays have something to interest everyone.

Old U.S. Highway 27 1 7 Can't-Miss Colorful Scenic Drives in West Michigan This Fall
photo via @justinlopshire

M-43 From South Haven to Grand Ledge

Another one of the shorter fall color drives in West Michigan that we love is M-43 from South Haven to Grand Ledge. Since we’ve already covered attractions to visit in South Haven, we’ll start in Kalamazoo to the east.

Kalamazoo & Richland

After passing through Bangor and Glendale, M-43 East comes to Kalamazoo, the home of the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum, which has interactive exhibits and an amazing collection of aircraft.

As you follow the highway north from the museum, you can stop at Gull Meadow Farms in Richland to pick pumpkins and apples, sample doughnuts and apple cider, and experience more than 30 other family activities — a corn maze, wagon rides, and a petting farm, for instance.

Hickory Corners

When you get to Hickory Corners, check out the popular Gilmore Car Museum, which is all about automobiles. There are nearly 400 automobiles from all eras on display and a total combined collection of more than 500 vehicles.

The oldest car was made in 1899, and you can even see film-famous and other vintage cars. The colorful trees on the property are a delightful backdrop.

M 43 1 7 Can't-Miss Colorful Scenic Drives in West Michigan This Fall
photo via @westerfieldjulie

Hastings

Continuing north on M-43 East, you can see the Barry County Courthouse in Hastings, which has beautiful architecture.

A short detour east off the highway is Historic Charlton Park, a recreated 19th-century town. The historic village is open between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

It’s a colorful place to enjoy autumn, especially on the shore of Thornapple Lake where you can do some fun recreational activities.

Grand Ledge

Finally, M-43 East leads you to Grand Ledge, which got its name from the 60-foot high sandstone ledges along the Grand River.

You can get out and stretch at Fitzgerald Park, which was once called “Big Rocks” by migrant Native Americans and later became a summer campground for the Grand Ledge Spiritualist Camp Association.

However, the land has been a public park since 1919 and was named after a governor in 1939. The Riverwalk there is a great hike along the river and ledges, and lots of recreational activities are available.

Cannonsburg Road From Grand Rapids to Rockford & Beyond

The shortest of our fall drives in West Michigan is a stretch of Cannonsburg Rd in Grand Rapids. The road leads to the southeast side of Rockford where you’ll find Townsend Park.

The park is easy to get to and offers scenic views of the colorful fall leaves. It features a historic open shelter and a hiking trail through a big pine plantation.

However, you don’t have to end this fall drive here. Returning west on Cannonsburg Rd, you can turn north toward Rockford and follow a loop around the greater area and back to Grand Rapids.

Here’s a quick list of the directions and towns for the 75-mile Grand Rapids loop:

  1. Start in Grand Rapids
  2. North to Rockford
  3. North to Cedar Springs
  4. West to Ravenna
  5. South to Coopersville
  6. East to end in Grand Rapids
Cannonsburg Road 7 Can't-Miss Colorful Scenic Drives in West Michigan This Fall
photo via @nvenechukphoto

More Colorful Fall Scenic Drives in West Michigan to Consider

We have three more fall scenic drives in West Michigan that we think offer spectacular views of the changing fall colors in Michigan. All of them are quite lengthy loops, avoid main highways, and give you plenty of opportunities to see new sites.

Like the loop listed above, we’ve noted the basic directions and each town to stop in along the way:

116-mile Fremont Loop

  1. Start in Fremont
  2. North to Hesperia
  3. Northeast to Bitely
  4. North to Baldwin
  5. South through Bitely to White Cloud
  6. Southeast to Croton
  7. West to Newaygo
  8. South to Grant
  9. West to Bridgeton
  10. North to end in Fremont

128-mile Big Rapids Loop

  1. Start in Big Rapids
  2. North to Richmond Township
  3. East to Evart
  4. South to Barryton
  5. East to Weidman
  6. Southeast to Mount Pleasant
  7. Southwest to Winn
  8. West to Blanchard
  9. North to Remus
  10. West to Stanwood
  11. North to end in Big Rapids

165-mile New Buffalo Loop

  1. Start in New Buffalo
  2. North to Benton Harbor 
  3. Northeast to Watervliet
  4. East to Paw Paw
  5. South to Marcellus
  6. Southeast to Three Rivers
  7. West to Cassopolis
  8. Northwest to Dowagiac
  9. Southwest to Niles
  10. West to end in New Buffalo

Do you have any favorite fall scenic drives in West Michigan? Tell us about it below!

Frequently Asked Questions About Fall Scenic Drives in West Michigan

Is Highway 31 in Michigan scenic?

Absolutely! It might be one of the most scenic when it comes to fall colors. Most of the route is rural and features orchards, vineyards, and quaint vacation destinations.

Where can I take fall pictures in Michigan?

Anywhere in West Michigan is a splendid place to take fall pictures. Along with Michigan orchards and vineyards, there are several state parks with plenty of wooded land and changing leaves.

What is the best time to see fall colors in Michigan?

The color change in the fall depends heavily on the weather. In general, though, the change starts in the Upper Peninsula first around late September. Throughout the month of October, the colors emerge in the Lower Peninsula. In West Michigan, you can expect to see fall colors around mid-October.

How long do fall colors last in Michigan?

Depending on how quickly the weather cools, autumn colors can last for two to three weeks.

Where are the best fall colors in Michigan right now?

Since the color change depends on the weather so much, the best way to plan a fall drive in West Michigan is to track the peak colors. This fall foliage tracking map shows predictions across all of the Mitten and other 47 contiguous states.

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