Looking for Something Different in Michigan This Fall? Try a Road Trip to Escanaba, Alpena or Kalamazoo

Escanaba, Alpena and Kalamazoo may keep low profiles, but they earn high marks for art, history and outdoor fun.

Michigan's fall color is legendary—road trips along the M-22, to the Keweenaw Peninsula, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Saugatuck and more. But the state holds autumn treasures almost everywhere you look. Try our ideas for lesser-known fall destinations like Escanaba, Kalamazoo and Alpena.


In the Upper Peninsula, Escanaba hugs Little Bay de Noc, a haven for water-based fun. Tap the depth and diversity of the area's history and culture.

Fayette Historic State Park, Michigan
Fayette Historic State Park. Aaron Peterson

What to Do

Fayette Historic State Park holds the haunting ruins of an iron smelting town. Take a walking tour of the 20 preserved buildings and restored historic structures. Pedal or paddle from the Van Cleve Park/Gladstone Beach: Bike 3 miles from the park in nearby Gladstone on the Little Bay de Noc Trail, then rent a kayak at the beach and paddle the Blue Water Trail. Unveil your artistic self at William Bonifas Fine Arts Center. Browse gallery exhibits, take a class or watch a play in the theater. Earn a beautiful bay panorama by climbing Sand Point Lighthouse in Ludington Park and ponder its unusual design: The tower faces town, not the water. Over the last 150 years, dredging and filling at the harbor drastically changed the landscape, and now the lighthouse sits several hundred feet inland. Next to the Sand Point Lighthouse, check out the Delta County Historical Society's Dr. John Beaumier Museum and Archives. Exhibits portray the area's history, including logging, shipping, surveying and rail transportation.

Where to Eat

Fresh-made sandwiches and salads with local flavors make AppleWood Eatery and Espresso Bar a popular lunch spot. The house dressing, a maple and cider vinaigrette, tastes like autumn. Try the Swedish Sampler or a sandwich on house-made limpa (Swedish rye) at Swedish Pantry. Enjoy fine yet unfussy dining at The Stonehouse, a go-to dinner spot. Locals love Breezy Point Bar for the view, wings and burgers. The Ultimate Bloody Mary comes "garnished" with heaping skewers of food-like a sampler platter on a stick.

Nahma Inn, Michigan
Nahma Inn. Aaron Peterson

Where to Stay

Book a waterside room at Terrace Bay Hotel and savor the scenery from Little Bay de Noc from your balcony. Many rooms have been updated recently, and suites are available. On-site Freshwater Tavern serves craft beers from UP breweries, including nearby Upper Hand Brewery. Built in 1909 when Nahma was a lumber-company town, Nahma Inn offers 14 period-look guest rooms-one said to be haunted by a spirit named Miss Nell.

Chapel Rock, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Upper Peninsula Michigan
Chapel Rock, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Aaron Peterson

Worth the Detour

Rock formations, beaches, waterfalls, caves and mineral-painted cliffs make up the natural art gallery of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, 42 miles of Lake Superior shoreline about 60 miles from Escanaba. Walk in the sand, hike trails into deep forest, or hit the water for a guided boat or kayak tour. Brave souls swim in the chilly shallow bays. See a holy grail of Great Lakes lighthouses, the 1874 Au Sable Light Station (tours through September).

Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, Alpena, Michigan
Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux


Set on Lake Huron's Thunder Bay in the northeast part of the Mitten, Alpena invites visitors to dive into maritime history and follow paths to natural beauty.

What to Do

Go deep into "Shipwreck Alley" at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, final resting place for more than 200 vessels. The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, the sanctuary's visitors center, displays wreck artifacts and a full-size replica schooner you can explore. Alpena Shipwreck Tours offers two-hour cruises aboard a glass-bottom boat for views of actual wrecks, typically through late September or early October. At Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan, see art by the greats (including Dali, Picasso and Warhol), browse replica 1890s shops, get all starry-eyed in the Sky Theater planetarium, and score all-you-can-dig fossils from Lafarge Fossil Park on-site. Take in Lake Huron and the Thunder Bay River on Bi-Path, a 14-mile bike route with links to Island Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. On a hike around the sinkholes at Rockport State Recreation Area, use caution. One of the chasms-caused by collapsed subsurface limestone-is now full of water.

Where to Eat

Cabin Creek Coffee provides big-city brews and small-town charm. Don't expect typical pub grub at Austin Brothers Beer Company. Hit the tasting room at Thunder Bay Winery downtown.

Where to Stay

Big Bear Lodge is a mom-and-pop place with friendly owners and quaint 1950s-style décor across the road from Mich-e-ke-wis Park and Thunder Bay.

40 Mile Point Lighthouse, Michigan
40 Mile Point Lighthouse. Brian Confer

Worth the Detour

Lighthouse-lovers double their delight on Presque Isle, about 20 miles north of Alpena. Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, built in 1840, ranks as one of the oldest surviving Great Lakes beacons. The 1870 New Presque Isle Lighthouse is the region's tallest tower you can still climb. North of Rogers City, 40 Mile Point Lighthouse long guided sailors along a dangerous stretch of Lake Huron. A two-story house incorporates the tower, named for the sailing distance from Mackinaw Point.

Air Zoo. John Robert Williams


Home to notables such as the state's largest brewery, Checker Cabs and the first outdoor pedestrian mall, Kalamazoo delivers a first-rate weekend full of surprises.

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux

What to Do

Strap into a super-realistic flight simulator or soar on indoor theme park-style rides at AirZoo, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum. Real aircraft on display include a Top Gun-era F-14 Tomcat. Take a tour with a docent, who most likely flew one of the featured aircrafts. What do Checker Cabs and an Egyptian mummy have in common? Both have local stories explained at Kalamazoo Valley Museum. Bike all day on Kal-Haven Trail, a 34-mile former rail route from Kalamazoo's west side to South Haven, or Kalamazoo River Valley Trail, which covers more than 20 miles between downtown and Battle Creek. Dale Chihuly's fanciful glass chandelier sets the creative tone in the foyer at Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. Browse 11 galleries and check out the gift shop for items by local artists. Shop historic Kalamazoo Mall, the first outdoor pedestrian mall in the United States. Revitalized Art Deco buildings house stores and restaurants.

Where to Eat

Hole up at Sweetwater's Donut Mill (on Sprinkle Road!), open 24/7. Fall brings flavors like pumpkin cheesecake and apple crisp. More than 20 craft beers and food, such as the Michigan Cherry Bacon Burger, are big draws, plus live music at Bell's Eccentric Cafe. Sample more than small-batch beer at Brite Eyes Brewing Company-you'll find espresso, hard cider, wine and even breakfast (think egg scramblers or biscuits and gravy). At Sarkozy Bakery, stop for breakfast pastries and come back at lunchtime for pizza and sandwiches. Better make reservations at intimate Rustica, where Michigan-flavored European dishes land on tables framing an open kitchen. Pamper your palate with Kobe tri-tip steak and house-made gnocchi.

Where to Stay

At The Kalamazoo House Bed and Breakfast, the beauty and charm of a historic 1878 home find roommates in modern amenities like private baths, AC, free Wi-Fi and HDTV. Park and walk to downtown shopping, dining and nightlife. With four restaurants, a spa and an athletic club all on-site, Radisson Plaza Hotel at Kalamazoo Center helps you relax and recharge after exploring the city, and you can't beat the convenient downtown location.

Gilmore Car Museum, Hickory Corners, Michigan
Gilmore Car Museum.

Worth a Detour

Help a famed 1929 Duesenberg celebrate its 90th birthday and see nearly 400 other classic autos at Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, 30 minutes northeast of Kalamazoo. As the nation's largest auto museum, the venue houses vehicles from every era, including a Ford Model T and muscle cars. See vintage structures, too, such as a re-created 1930s Shell station, and eat at the restored 1941 Silk City Diner (now open as The Blue Moon Diner).

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