Fall Leaves At Warren Woods State Park
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Explore With Us: 3 Beautiful Fall Trails in Southwest Michigan

Crisp fall air to breathe, crunchy leaves to walk on, and beautiful colors all around — does fall in Michigan get any better than this?

To experience a stunning fall color hike of your own, our team is sharing three of our favorite fall trails in Southwest Michigan.

Saugatuck Dunes State Park Fall Colors
Saugatuck Dunes State Park | photo via Leah Tennant

Warren Woods State Park

Trail photos and description contributed by Amanda Shaffer from @exploremichiganmore.

Location: Elm Valley Rd, Three Oaks, MI 49128
Entry Fee: Michigan Recreation Passport required

Warren Woods State Park is, hands-down, one of my favorite places to immerse myself in the beautiful Michigan fall colors. It’s located just 2.5 miles from the small town of Three Oaks.

Fall Leaves At Warren Woods State Park
Warren Woods State Park | photo via Amanda Shaffer

Accessing the Park

I have often ridden my bike from the heart of downtown Three Oaks in the early autumn morning to Warren Woods State Park while enjoying the picturesque colors that line Elm Valley Road. Once arriving, I travel a small gravel road to the foot trail’s entrance for visitors.

This parking lot is closed in the winter months because of maintenance, but I have often parked along Warren Woods Road and entered at the trailhead there. Elm Valley Road and Warren Woods Road are worth a slow afternoon drive in the fall before or after your hike.

Picturesque Park Features

Warren Woods is a 311-acre nature preserve, and you will be surrounded by a breathtaking beech-maple forest on the 1.6-mile trail through the woods. I love this hike in the fall because it is perfect for my younger kids.

And while I enjoyed my youth crossing the Galien River, balancing across fallen trees, visitors can now enjoy an incredible footbridge that crosses the river. Orange and gold leaves frame the bridge for a stunning view to take in all of the season’s colors.

It is a less than 10-mile drive from Warren Woods State Park to the lakefront Warren Dunes State Park. So, you can easily make a wonderful fall afternoon out of visiting both parks this autumn.

Fall Leaves At Warren Woods State Park
Warren Woods State Park | photo via Amanda Shaffer

Saugatuck Dunes State Park

Trail photos and description contributed by Leah Tennant.

Location: 6575 138th Ave, Holland, MI 49423
Entry Fee: Michigan Recreation Passport required

Saugatuck Dunes State Park is one of my favorite parks for exploring fall trails. There’s nothing like taking a beautiful hike through the woods to see the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Saugatuck Dunes State Park Fall Colors
Saugatuck Dunes State Park | photo via Leah Tennant

The Hiking Trails

At Saugatuck Dunes, you’ll find several hiking trails. Each one has the option to go to the lake, so you can’t go wrong with any trail choice.

With our kids, we usually take the Beach Trail — about 1.5 miles round trip — since it is the shortest and most direct path to the beach. When it’s just us adults, we enjoy the North Trail or the Livingston Trail — about 2.5 miles round trip — for variety.

Since we are hiking dunes here, the trails are sandy and can get a bit steep in places. For me, stopping to catch my breath at the top of a hill is the perfect time to take in a panoramic view, especially with the forest ablaze in autumn colors.

Saugatuck Dunes State Park Fall Colors
Saugatuck Dunes State Park | photo via Leah Tennant

Neighboring Shore Acres Township Park

From the Saugatuck Dunes trails, you can connect to the neighboring Shore Acres Township Park. This county park has a disc golf course, mountain biking trails, and athletic fields. That’s plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in the fall or any time of year!

Asylum Lake Preserve | photo via Kerrie Hinkle

Asylum Lake Preserve

Trail photos and description contributed by Kerrie Hinkle.

Location: 3836 S Drake Rd, Kalamazoo, MI 49008
Entry fee: None

Explore the trails of the purely spectacular and not-too-spooky Asylum Lake Preserve this fall. You’ll see vibrantly colored leaves gently descend to the forest floor and call it free therapy.

The preserve seems to be quite busy with two parking lots (West and South) and three pedestrian entrances. My kids and I actually visited two days in a row. Yes, we had that much fun!

We arrived on beautiful weather days and in prime afternoon hours, but we were fortunate to find a parking space in each lot on both occasions.

Why is it Called Aslyum Lake?

In 1887, the Michigan Asylum for the Insane purchased the land that makes up the current nature preserve. The lake on the property became known as Asylum Lake. While the Asylum for the Insane was renamed Kalamazoo State Hospital (far less creepy), the name Asylum Lake remained.

The Asylum built a number of cottages on the property to house patients who would receive therapy via farm labor. This method of treatment provided sizeable living conditions, a sense of purpose, as well as a fruitful harvest — a natural approach to therapy, considering the times.

Ownership of the 217 acres of land was transferred from the state of Michigan to Western Michigan University in 1975. The recreational area doubles as a research area for WMU’s professors.

Asylum Lake Preserve | photo via Kerrie Hinkle

Plenty of Unexpected Paths

I was a bit disappointed there were no historical landmarks on the trails at Asylum Lake Preserve. All of the buildings and most of the above-ground architecture were demolished. Understandably, entrances to tunnels were also destroyed.

However, my boys and I enjoyed plenty of unexpected paths off the main trail map. I can’t be sure, but I believe these were created by the masses exploring the land.

The results are in — The best ways to make these trails spooky is to hike them with children (my boys can make most anything dangerous!), visit after sunset (preserve hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily), and take a pop quiz following the visit.

Warren Woods State Park Fall Leaves
Warren Woods State Park | photo via Amanda Shaffer

Enjoy the Beauty of Fall Trails in Southwest Michigan

While these Southwest Michigan hiking trails are beautiful any time of year. Exploring the woods during the splendor of fall is particularly magical.

For even more fall color fun in Michigan, check out 35 Must-Visit Places for Amazing Michigan Fall Colors and the Ultimate Guide to the Best Fall Things to Do in Michigan.

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