Maybe it’s a bit cliché, but I absolutely love fall in Michigan. Or the autumn if you’re fancy like that. I love it when the temperatures start to drop a little and the trees begin to turn. Plus, fall has most of my favorite holidays so there’s even more to enjoy. With plenty of great events and classic Michigan pastimes it’s easy to keep busy with all sorts of activities. Grab your favorite comfy jacket and break out the flannels so you can enjoy all that Michigan has to offer.
Things to do in the fall in Michigan
Whether you’re looking for seasonal traditions like family visits to the cider mill, long fall foliage drives through one of the many state parks, or searching for a festival to plan a weekend trip around, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Michigan in fall. This time of year sees incredible events throughout the state celebrating holidays, artwork, and international culture – or you can go full Americana and tailgate at one of the college stadiums. Whatever you decide to do during fall in Michigan, you’re sure to have a blast.
Sip and snack at cider mills
Visiting cider mills is one of the quintessential fall activities in Michigan. Locals will queue up in long lines on weekends for single cups of cider, gallons to take back home with them, and fresh donuts. It never really feels like a Michigan autumn until I’ve had a cider mill donut (traditionally covered in cinnamon sugar and served warm if you’re lucky) and washed it down with an icy cold glass of locally made cider. I don’t even like apple juice, but I still love my cider. The cider can be served cold or hot, and I recently sampled a cider slushie as well. The best cider mills have other autumn-y activities to do while enjoying their food and drink, like pumpkin patches, wagon rides, or trails to enjoy the fall colors.
My two favorite cider mills are both located in southeastern Michigan, a little bit north of Detroit. Yates, in Rochester Hills, is the most iconic, with its red barn and wooded trails. It boasts my favorite cider. The lines get long on fall weekends, but they manage to ring up orders at an unbelievable pace. Blake’s, located in Armada has my favorite donuts plus a huge variety of different seasonal activities like berry picking. They also make some fine alcoholic ciders. It’s a bit further from Detroit, but well worth the trip.
Enjoy the fall foliage
Getting out into nature is nice any time of year, but it’s especially nice in the fall when the leaves start turning. Because Michigan spans such a great distance from north-south, you have a decently sized window to hit peak colors. The leaves in the UP (that’s the Upper Peninsula for you non-locals) turn first, and then the colors creep southward until they brighten up the whole state. You’ll find fantastic foliage in most of the state parks, particularly in the UP where forests seem to stretch endlessly. Closer to Detroit, Seven Lakes State Park is a popular spot and most of the Metro Parks have great colors too.
Attend the Michigan Renaissance Festival
The Michigan Renaissance Festival, held in Holly, actually kicks off in August, but it’s always felt like more of a fall event to me.- it runs through the end of September and the later weekends are my favorite. Even if you’re not into dressing up in period costume (if you are, you can rent them there), it’s still a lot of fun to explore the festival and enjoy the atmosphere. You can play different medieval games like axe throwing (I STILL can’t actually get the axe to stick in anything, let alone the target) and target archery. There’s also a spot where you can pay to lob tomatoes at some hecklers in stocks. There are typically several jousting shows throughout the day, and you can watch knights perform different skill tests on horseback. Find all of the info you need about Renfest here.
Celebrate Oktoberfest in Frankenmuth
Frankenmuth is a small town located between Flint and Saginaw that is designed to look like a little Bavarian village. It’s famous throughout Michigan for its chicken dinners and the mind-blowingly large Bronner’s Christmas store. During September each year, Frankenmuth throws a traditional German Oktoberfest party – the only one that’s officially sanctioned by the original Oktoberfest in Munich.
For one weekend in September, Frankenmuth becomes a center of traditional entertainment, food, and – of course – beer. If a plane ticket to Munich isn’t in your budget, you can enjoy the next closest thing as you wander among the Bavarian style buildings and soak up the festival atmosphere. More info can be found at this link.
Admire the masterpieces at ArtPrize
Each fall starting in mid-September, artwork from all around the world takes over the city of Grand Rapids. Utilizing outdoor areas, galleries, vacant storefronts, and more, different works of art can be viewed all over town. Painting, photography, sculpture – you name it – and ArtPrize probably includes it. Almost half a million dollars are awarded annually to artists through grants and prizes, so it provides fantastic support to the creators. Learn more here.
Attend a college football game
As the home of two very proud Big Ten universities, college football is naturally a big deal in Michigan. Plus, after suffering through decades of the Lions’ failures, college football is really the only way that many locals have been able to experience actual success on the gridiron. Join in the chants, cheers, and other traditions handed down over the years and pick a game to attend.
As a Wolverine, I’m partial to the games at the University of Michigan. The Big House aka Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor is an experience in and of itself. The stadium doesn’t look all that large as you approach at street level, but as you emerge into the bowl and take in the massive expanse in front of you, it’s incredible. The Michigan State Spartans also have a stadium in East Lansing, but it’s just not the same and feels a bit quaint after the enormous Big House.
If you want the full experience, pick on the Saturday of the annual Michigan-Michigan State game and watch families be torn apart based on rooting interest and friendly wagers. You’ll also find plenty of other college football opportunities depending on where you’re located, so take a peek at the schedules for the schools nearest you. Check these links for schedules for Michigan and Michigan State.
Trick or treat at the Detroit Zoo
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and it’s absolutely one of the reasons I love fall in Michigan. The Zoo Boo event at the Detroit Zoo is a fun family friendly event that’s held after hours. Both kids and adults can wear costumes and go trick or treating along a route through the zoo. Most of the animals aren’t visible in the dark, though the reptile house usually remains open.
The walkway is lined with an endless array of carved pumpkins and spooky lighting. Entertainment varies, but the last time I attended, there was a lot of pumpkin smashing in the name of science. Plus, did I mention that you get to leave with a load of candy? Find out more about the Zoo Boo here.
Celebrate Hallowe’en at Greenfield Village
Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn has another awesome annual Halloween event on select nights in October. The Village, a fascinating collection of historic buildings that were brought to the museum from their original locations, takes you back in time to Halloweens of old. More than 1000 carved pumpkins line the path through the park and performers in period costume wander through the crowd. Special performances and live music provide additional entertainment, and if you keep your eyes open, you might just spot the legendary Headless Horseman. Find out more about the event here.
Watch America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Forget Macy’s in New York. The America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is my favorite annual parade. Every Thanksgiving Day, people line the streets of Detroit to watch a seemingly endless array of floats, high school bands, and gigantic balloons. Though my favorite part of the parade – the Briefcase Drill Team – had its last performance a few years ago, the parade is still a fantastic event.
One of my favorite parts of the parade are the kid-designed floats – each year children from the area submit designs for a new float and balloon and the top choices are built in real life. The parade wraps up with the mayor presenting Santa Claus himself the key to the city. If you’re more into running than stuffing your face at dinner (or both), don’t miss the Turkey Trot, a series of races before the parade with distances of 1 mile, 5k, and 10k. Get more info on the parade and Turkey Trot here.
Enjoy the Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer, and Food Festival
The name of the festival pretty much sells it for me. With international wines and foods, it doesn’t take a lot of convincing to put this on my list of things to do during fall in Michigan. With over 1500 different drinks to sample, Forbes named it as one of the best fall wine festivals in the country. Each year in November, this tasty festival takes over the DeVos Place with booths featuring international beverages and dishes from many local restaurants. Come hungry and bring a designated driver. Find out more here.