Travel

All the Ways to Enjoy Fall in the Ann Arbor Area

Put on your best flannel and get busy.

Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.

No state does fall quite as well as Michigan. Between famous college football rivalries, the state’s slew of cider mills and pumpkin patches, and plenty of places to view fall foliage, it’s the perfect destination for anyone who wants to do the season right.

Ann Arbor is easily the epicenter of the fall’s top activities and is a must-visit for pumpkin spice princesses, leaf-peepers, and college football fanatics alike. Put on your best flannel and revel in historical cider mills, U-pick apple orchards, abundant fall foliage, cozy dining and shopping, and exciting University of Michigan football games.

Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.

Where to sip on cider and pick your own pumpkins

No single activity better represents fall in Michigan than a visit to a cider mill. Whether it’s a historical mill that presses apples sourced from local farms, a family-owned orchard with U-pick (never “you-pick”) apples, or a full-on carnival experience with rides and petting zoos, greater Ann Arbor is home to every kind of cider mill experience your sweater-weather-loving self could want. And no cider mill visit is complete without also making a stop at a pumpkin patch!

Dexter Cider Mill

The charming Dexter Cider Mill – a classic “red barn” location in the heart of Dexter, situated along the Huron River – uses an oak rack press that’s over a century old to press locally grown apples for its famous cider. Open since 1886, it’s the oldest continuously operating cider mill in Michigan. Inside the general store, you can also purchase apples, pumpkins, and a cornucopia of apple-centric foods including caramel apples, apple nut bread, apple turnovers, and so much more. All baked goods are made from scratch in the bakery, including the classic cider donuts.

Wiard’s Orchards & Country Fair

Wiard’s Orchards & Country Fair in nearby Ypsilanti is a mini-state fair experience. Founded in 1837, Wiard’s is the oldest continuously operating family-owned business in Michigan. With U-pick fruit and pumpkins, a corn maze, a petting farm, an “apple cannon,” and hayrides, there’s no shortage of fall-themed fun. Timed entry tickets must be purchased in advance if you want access to the full orchard and country fair experience, but visitors can stop by the country store anytime to stock up on fresh cider, piping hot cider donuts, pies, caramel apples, and more.

For those interested in spooky season activities, Wiard’s is also home to Michigan’s Haunted Thrill Park with five different haunted attractions. (In 2022, it was even named one of the “Top Haunted Attractions” in the US by the Haunted Attraction Association.)

Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Alber Orchard & Cider Mill

Located 30 minutes west of Ann Arbor in picturesque Manchester, Alber Orchard & Cider Mill is a beautiful historical destination in the countryside (and is also a popular location for weddings, especially in the fall). The orchard was established in 1890 and is still home to heirloom apple trees over a century old; for this reason, Alber is a “U-taste” orchard – not a U-pick orchard. It grows over 100 different apple varieties and uses the mill’s original antique cider press to make its fresh cider. There are even working demonstrations of how the apples are made into cider using the original methods from over 100 years ago.

Alber Orchard also has a 7-acre corn maze, a U-pick pumpkin patch, tractor-drawn hayrides, farm animals, a straw maze, and (of course) homemade cider donuts and more farm-fresh fall food items in the general store.

Wing Farms
Established in 1852, Wing Farms is a working farm that operates over 205 acres of land. Arguably the best of all the area’s no-frills U-pick pumpkin patches, Wing Farms is known for their giant pumpkins – but it also has pumpkins in all shapes and sizes, as well as gourds and other decorative fall items. Free hayrides to the pumpkin patch are available every hour. This farm also grows Christmas trees and raises livestock, including turkeys for Thanksgiving.

Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.

Where to go leaf-peeping

It is truly a spectacular thing to see Michigan’s fall colors in their full crimson, copper, and gold glory, and Ann Arbor is an excellent place to experience them. With the nickname “Tree Town,” the city is home to more than 1.45 million trees, boasting a much thicker canopy than any other densely populated city in Michigan. Ann Arbor and its surrounding areas are also full of parks, nature preserves, and dedicated green spaces, so you’re never far from an outdoor escape while in Tree Town. Plan the perfect leaf-peeping outing by visiting Pure Michigan’s Fall Color Map for updates on the changing colors and when they’ll peak.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum

Located on the sprawling grounds of the University of Michigan campus, Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum offer a nature retreat in the center of the city that feels miles away. The “Arb,” crafted by American landscape architect O.C. Simonds in 1907, is home to an extensive collection of native and exotic trees and shrubs and is considered one of the richest naturalistic areas in the region. On its grounds, 3.5 miles of walking trails wind through forests, fields, and down to the Huron River. Sister site Matthaei Botanical Gardens is home to 10 distinct gardens filled with native plants, wildflowers, and ornamentals.

Bird Hills Nature Area

The largest natural area in the city of Ann Arbor, Bird Hills covers 146 acres of hilly forested land that is a haven for hikers year-round. (Note: The trails here are closed to bicycles to prevent trail erosion.) Full of beech, sugar maple, flowering dogwood, oaks, and hickory trees, this is a fantastic place to see vibrant color in the fall.

Saginaw Forest

Located five miles west of the University of Michigan’s campus, Saginaw Forest – managed by U-M’s School for Environment and Sustainability – is an 80-acre area dedicated to the study of forest and sustainable ecosystem management. With densely forested areas that include hardwood, pines, firs, spruce, and maple, Saginaw Forest is also home to the 10-acre Third Sister Lake and surrounding wetlands. It is such a breathtaking, serene landscape, you’ll forget the city is just on the other side of it.

Bluffs Nature Area

Yet another unexpected escape tucked away in the middle of the city, Bluffs Nature Area is a 40-acre park with several miles of steep, rugged footpath trails throughout used by both hikers and mountain bikers. Here, you’ll be able to tailor your experience based on your preferences. Try the oak-hickory forest to be surrounded by fall-colored trees, or look for plants like goldenrod and mountain mint in the open meadow. In certain areas of the park, you’re also able to see the Huron River in the distance.  

Border to Border Trail

Bike the Border to Border (B2B) Trail, a 35-mile paved pathway that connects several cities and parks throughout Greater Ann Arbor, to catch the changing colors on two wheels. This accessible trail largely follows the Huron River and travels past several of the parks and preserves mentioned here, including Nichols Arboretum, Bird Hills Nature Area, and Bluffs Nature Area. (You could even make a side quest to Dexter Cider Mill for some mid-ride cider and donuts.)

Huron River Water Trail

The Huron River is one of 18 designated national water trails and is one of southeastern Michigan’s greatest outdoor recreation assets. Viewing the tree-lined shoreline from a kayak on a crisp fall day is one of the most enjoyable ways to see the fall colors. The river is easily accessed by Ann Arbor’s two canoe liveries, located in Gallup Park and Argo Park. The Gallup Park launch offers a gentler paddle, while Argo Park includes a little more adventure with the Argo Cascades – but don’t worry, this still isn’t whitewater rafting!

Courtesy of Spun Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Spun Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Spun Ann Arbor.

Where to shop for cozy fall essentials and snuggle up with a PSL

Pulling on a hand-knit sweater, grabbing a spooky book, and sipping on a pumpkin spice latte might just be the epitome of fall. For all those seasonal essentials and more, check out these locally owned Ann Arbor shops and cafes.

Boutiques

The coziest sweaters, scarves, hats, and gloves are the ones made by hand with love (which is something you could certainly imagine seeing on a cross-stitch hanging in an avid knitter’s house). At Spun, a family-owned yarn and fiber crafts store, you can indulge all your #cottagecore desires with its extensive selection of hand-dyed, machine-washable yarns available in every shade of the rainbow, as well as all the other fibers you could want to complete any knitting or crafting project. The shop also has knit and crochet kits, crafting kits, and books, and offers a wide range of classes to help you develop your technique.

For the latest fall fashions, check out Ferne Boutique, a contemporary women’s clothing and accessories shop stocked with trendy and timeless items you won’t find in any mall, available in sizes XS–3X to empower all women and their unique styles.

Lovers of vintage and socially responsible fashion should stop by The Getup Vintage, which offers lovingly cleaned and restored pieces that complement any wardrobe, whether you’re looking for fun, funky, or classic fashions.

And for just the right mix of modern and vintage, Dear Golden carries hand-selected vintage as well as thoughtfully curated modern clothing items, accessories, handbags, health and beauty products, antique quilts and blankets, books, food items, and more.

Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Home Goods and Gifts

Is there anything better on a crisp fall day than curling up with a good book? Find your next literary love at Literati Bookstore, specializing in everything from major new releases to genre classics to independent titles. This place is so popular it was named the 2019 Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year, and there’s even a coffee shop inside so you can relax with your new book and a hot beverage while enjoying the atmosphere.

You can also cozy up your home for the season with a stylish merino wool throw from Found, a home decor and gift shop featuring items from local artists as well as jewelry, gifts, handmade scented candles, ceramic mugs, and greeting cards.

Embrace the sweet smell of fall with seasonal scents from Buff City Soap, a local company that makes plant-based, handcrafted soaps fresh daily. Last year’s scents included whispering woods, butterscotch pie, and pumpkin spice for all the fall vibes.

Cafes and Coffee Shops

Warm up on a chilly fall day with a hot cup of fresh-brewed coffee from local roaster Hyperion Coffee Co., which specializes in single-origin and direct-trade coffees from all over the world. Your cup will be hand-brewed to order with your choice of brewing method, including French press, pour over, and Chemex.

For a sweet fall treat in an even sweeter cafe, pop into Le Bon Macaron for a decadent Parisian hot chocolate and their autumn collection of house-made macarons in flavors like apple cinnamon, pumpkin cheesecake, chai, and – of course – pumpkin spice latte. You’ll want to linger inside this charming cafe, accented with exposed brick walls, crystal chandeliers, and tons of pretty-in-pink floral arrangements.

Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.

Where to dine on seasonal fall fare (don’t forget the pumpkin beer!)

Ann Arbor is surrounded by rich, fertile farmland, and autumn is a highly productive season for crop harvesting. Take advantage of the abundance of field-fresh fall produce at one of the city’s many area farmers markets, farm stands, and farm-to-table restaurants. And, of course, enjoy all the fall-flavored beers and cocktails at local bars and breweries!

Farmers Markets and Farm Stands

Open year-round, the Ann Arbor Farmers Market is a producer-only market with 120​ regional vendors. Started in 1919, it’s the second-oldest continuously operating public market in Michigan. Shop for fresh seasonal produce, farm products, prepared foods, artisan items, and much more.

Agritourism destination White Lotus Farms, just 10 minutes from downtown Ann Arbor, offers a bounty of sustainable, ethical produce and farm goods year-round, including organic microgreens, farmstead meats, handcrafted artisan cheese, and breads and baked goods made from scratch with 100% organic regional flour. It even has its own line of botanical skin care products made with ingredients grown on the farm.

Just three miles north of Ann Arbor, Slow Farm Organic is a woman-owned, biodiverse, USDA-certified organic seasonal U-pick farm and farm stand that remains open through the first week of October for early fall crops.

Zingerman’s

One of Ann Arbor’s most popular and most celebrated restaurants, Zingerman’s Deli is located close by the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. It’s part of the Zingerman’s “Community of Businesses,” which has been championing farm-to-table, sustainable farming, sourcing, and dining for decades – before it was cool. The Deli is certainly a must-visit, but also check out its full-service restaurant Zingerman’s Roadhouse, known for a hyperlocal, seasonal approach in its from-scratch kitchen. Snag a table by the fireplace and save room for a slice of the famous Zingerman’s Bakehouse pumpkin cheesecake or pecan pie.

Restaurants

Another cozy spot with a passionate commitment to seasonality and sustainability is Taste Kitchen, a fusion of Vietnamese flavors with French culinary techniques utilizing local ingredients. This spot also has a fireplace to warm up next to on chilly fall days!

At Spencer, weekly tasting menus highlight the brightest, freshest flavors of the season and locally sourced ingredients. This tiny restaurant is also a bottle shop with a thoughtfully curated selection of wine. Stop in for “Day Wine” from 12–5 pm on Saturdays and Sundays because, frankly, a glass of cab franc on a crisp fall day really can’t be beat. Then at night, enjoy some fall-flavored desserts at Avalon Café and Kitchen during its recently launched “After Hours” on Fridays and Saturdays from 6–10 pm, when the charming brick-lined cafe and bakery transforms into a cocktail and dessert bar.

Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Bars and Breweries

Ann Arbor is full of fantastic craft breweries that offer a variety of seasonal releases every fall, from pumpkin ales made with real pumpkin and malty Oktoberfests to bittersweet oatmeal stouts and toasty brown lagers. For some of the best locally brewed beers in the coziest local taprooms, visit Wolverine State Brewing Company, Arbor Brewing Company, and (a little on the nose) Jolly Pumpkin.

Ashley’s is another great spot to grab a fall pint, with a constantly rotating selection of somewhere around 100 beers largely focused on Michigan and regional breweries (but with a strong showing of Belgian brews, too). This Ann Arbor institution has been around for 40 years and is a beloved community bar; it’s as popular with the college students as it is with beer aficionados.

For fall cocktails emphasizing bourbons and warm baking spice flavors, head to the Ravens Club, a fantastic whiskey bar and stylish cocktail lounge with a seasonal new American food menu, as well as The Bar at 327 Braun Court, a comfortable and cozy “third space” serving seasonal cocktails and Michigan beers and ciders.

Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.
Courtesy of Destination Ann Arbor.

Where to celebrate the maize (and blue)

U-M Football Games

Going to the “Big House” for a football game is a Big Deal. University of Michigan football is one of the most historic and storied college football programs in the country – its first game was held in 1879. A Wolverines home game just has an energy that’s different from any other college football stadium. Many professional athletes have cut their teeth on this turf, as did a former US president.

The Big House is an apt nickname: With a capacity of 107,601, Michigan Stadium holds the largest capacity of any stadium in the US, and the third-largest in the world. Even more impressive than that: During Saturday home games, the population of Ann Arbor more than doubles, and most of those people are tailgating around the city right up until kickoff. If you can’t snag a ticket, you can still participate in the fun by watching at a local Ann Arbor sports bar like Wolverine State Brewing Company – or just spend the whole game tailgating outside. (Here’s a handy guide for that.)

THE game to catch is the one currently held every Thanksgiving week between U-M and Ohio State, a century-old rivalry referred to simply as “The Game.” Whether you’re a football fan or not, going to a game at the Big House is a bucket-list Michigan experience.

Corn Mazes

There are corn mazes, and then there is Blast Corn Maze at Nixon Farms in Dexter. This 14-acre maze can take up to three hours to complete, but if that sounds too daunting or just like too much of a commitment, there are exits along the way as well as a cheat-sheet QR code map to navigate your way out. Do this by the light of day or by flashlight at night. The location also has a pumpkin patch and a ton of other family activities and fall foods.

Visit this page for even more ideas on how to enjoy fall in Ann Arbor. 

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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