A Road Trip On US-12 Heritage Trail To Celebrate The End Of Summer

A Road Trip On US-12 Heritage Trail To Celebrate The End Of Summer

The calendar has finally flipped to September. The days in The Mitten are getting shorter and cooler as the Indian summer has taken over, and the time of year makes me think to myself, we need to take advantage of the warm and sunny weather while we still can. What better way than an end of summer Michigan road trip?

In looking for a summer themed adventure with a little bit of everything, the historic US-12 Heritage Trail and Southwest Michigan came to mind. Between New Buffalo and Coldwater, travelers will go from Lake Michigan and a beach town setting to countryside and small town charm. Lots of greenery, open road and warm weather fun, all with a little history mixed in awaits this kind of trip.

My Michigan road trip started on US-12 at the state line with Indiana. Heading north, I was quickly in the heart of New Buffalo along Lake Michigan. The swim trunks, flip flops, and beach towel came out. It was time to experience the warm sand of New Buffalo Lakefront Park and Beach. I took one last Great Lakes swim for the season. Afterwards, I walked along the beach town’s main drag in flip flops stopping at the touristy T-Shirt Factory to buy a souvenir.

US-12 Heritage Trail - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Making the turn inland and to the east, I quickly ran into the Village of Three Oaks. I got out of the car to walk around the quaint downtown noticing all the people dining outside at Froehlich’s gourmet shop. Walking in and now amongst the homegrown preserves, jams, breads and other treats, I ordered a deli sandwich with a summer theme, The Picnic Basket. I enjoyed my food while staring out at the town, later washing it down with a random whiskey tasting at Journeyman Distillery.

Continuing east, just outside of Galien, the fruit picking commenced at Springhope Farm. I hopped on a tractor ride with families out for some late season fun and picked bright orange Redhaven peaches as they were in season. You can pick apples and sweet cherries too depending on the time of year. People with kids were making an afternoon of it, setting up shop at the picnic tables on site.

US-12 Heritage Trail - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Tip: Secure some Southwestern Michigan Buttery apple butter while there.

Being a coffee lover, I cooled down to an iced coffee at Union Coffee Shop in Buchanan. Further to the east, Great Lakes Chocolate & Coffee in Sturgis and North Woods Coffee Company in Coldwater provided additional iced coffees, my preferred summertime beverage. I’d stop at all these again, each having food and snack options as well.

While the coffee was refreshing, I desired a true warm summer day treat. That next led me to downtown Niles and The Paris Soda Shop & Restaurant. Upon entering the authentic fountain shop, I was transported back in time with the 50s décor. I hung out at the soda fountain counter as I awaited my double scoop of carrot cake ice cream in a waffle cone. The shop also offers summer friendly sundaes, floats, and malts. I walked around downtown Niles capturing photos of the buildings of Main Street. That was followed up by a walk along the mile-and-a-half long Riverfront Park along the St. Joseph River. The ice cream cone slowly disappeared from my hand.

US-12 Heritage Trail - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Aaron Cruz.

Between Niles and Coldwater, I kept getting out of the car at various points. Random parks, photo opportunities along the St. Joseph River which you will cross over-and-over again, and right in the middle of the road to capture the US-12 scene were the reasons. I wanted to see and capture as much greenery as I could, as the colors of fall await. The camelback bridge in Mottville definitely provided that as did Rotary Park in Coldwater.

US-12 Heritage Trail - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Tip: US-12 dips to within a mile or two of Indiana a lot in Southwest Michigan. Quickly head south at random points to grab Welcome to Pure Michigan sign shots with countryside back drops.

Throughout the trip, I took advantage of the history the Heritage Trail has to offer. The train depot in Sturgis, the Tasty Nut Shop and Soda Bar in White Pigeon, and the Blue Hat Coffee / Gallery in Coldwater were among the highlights. While in Coldwater, I also went on a history walk. I enjoyed the small-town stroll checking out sites like the Tibbits Opera House and Wing House Museum.

Tip: There were a few places I didn’t have time to get to. In the future, I hope to check out Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Reserve in Niles and the drive-in duo in Coldwater sometime. A coney and homemade root beer at Short’s Root Beer Stand and a movie at Capri Drive-In sounds like a fun summer evening, too.

I made sure to capture some more pictures of what it’s like being on a Michigan road trip between New Buffalo and Coldwater along the US-12 Heritage Trail:

What other nearby spots would you recommend checking out when on a Southwest Michigan road trip along US-12? Let us know your favorite ways to explore the US-12 Heritage Trail.