90 minutes from Chicago, and just across the Indiana border in southwest Michigan, are “eight great towns and one Great Lake”. The eight towns are New Buffalo, Michiana, Grand Beach, Three Oaks, Union Pier, Lakeside, Harbert and Sawyer. The Great Lake is mighty Lake Michigan.
Harbor Country is also a great place to explore in autumn. Whether it’s a quick day trip or a weekend getaway, you’ll find plenty to do as the days get shorter and the nights are longer. In September, you can still get your beach fix as the lake water stays warm and the beaches are less crowded. In October, the fall colors are at their peak making it the perfect time for long walks in the woods or along the shore.
Start your trip in downtown New Buffalo, where everything is new! A multi-million-dollar streetscape project was completed this year and includes features such as sidewalk cafes, gathering areas and bike racks. Stroll the new Whittaker Street and visit with the shopkeepers who have stories to tell and time to tell them. Grab a bench at the harbor and watch the boats go bye-bye as they are moved to winter storage.
You can easily walk to the beach from downtown for spectacular sunrises and sunsets. There are no lifeguards on duty after Labor Day, so be careful when enjoying the sand and the surf. There is a Sculpture Garden at the beachfront featuring local and national artists.
If you’d rather not drive, New Buffalo is accessible via Amtrak with three trips daily. The platform is conveniently located to the downtown and beach areas. If you’re feeling lucky, a shuttle can whisk you away to the Four Winds Casino for some gaming or entertainment.
As you leave New Buffalo, pop into the Galien River County Park for a spectacular selfie on the 60’ overlook tower above the grassy marshes and gentle river below. The Park features a 300’ canopy walkway that leads to a river viewing and fishing platform. Both are accessible via hard-surfaced, barrier free hiking trails.
For more leaf peeping, visit Warren Woods State Park – home to the last climax beech-maple forest in Michigan. Because of the size and age of the trees, and the rarity of the ecosystem, the area was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1967. An interpretive station can be found near the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Galien River. Note: don’t be alarmed if you see people popping up from the forest floor. Warren Woods is a mushroom hunter’s paradise.
Head north on Red Arrow Highway to the towns of Union Pier, Lakeside, and Harbert. You’ll find plenty of antique shops, art galleries and designer studios offering everything from original art to architectural remnants and one-of-a-kind finds. You will also find some of Harbor Country’s most popular restaurants, bakeries and specialty food stores along this stretch of highway.
Need a place to stay? Union Pier and Lakeside offer an extensive choice of accommodations –from historic inns and romantic Bed & Breakfasts, to family-friendly resorts and home rentals. Many lodging establishments offer special mid-week or week-end Fall packages.
If you’d rather pitch a tent, head up to Warren Dunes State Park in the booming little town of Sawyer. Modern and rustic campsites can be reserved at the 1,952-acre park. There’s also a three-mile dog beach where your four-legged friend can take a dip. In downtown Sawyer, you’ll find the popular Greenbush Brewing Co, Sawyer Garden Center, and a growing number of retail shops.
Loop back south and east to the historic town of Three Oaks. Harbor Country’s inland town is the quintessential small town. Its Main Street was featured in the movie Prancer and the Village hosts the largest Flag Day celebration in the nation. Michigan’s largest bicycle event, the annual “Apple Cider Century” is also held in Three Oaks and brings more than 5,000 cyclists to the area. With venues like the Acorn Theater, Vickers Theatre Cinema and Journeyman Distillery offering live entertainment, curated films, and organic spirits, the night life is lively in Three Oaks.
No fall trip to Harbor Country is complete without a visit to one (or all) of the award-winning wineries on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. With a climate similar to Napa Valley in California, the wineries produce a variety of quality, small batch wines. You’ll find a variety of reds, whites, sparkling and non-alcoholic fruit wines. If you haven’t tasted a Michigan wine lately, you haven’t tasted Michigan wine!
During the fall harvest, the smell of grapes is in the air at the vineyards. Visitors are encouraged to join in the celebration with grape stomping contests and festivals. Be sure to take home a bottle of spiced or mulled wine, available only in the Fall.
For beer lovers, the growing craft brewery scene features seasonal brews and limited-edition IPAs, ales, stouts and hard ciders. Taproom menus continue to expand offering charcuterie, smoked meats, wood-fired pizzas and more. You’ll also find local beers on tap at most dining spots in and around Harbor Country.
All that eating and drinking requires some exercise! Ride your bike, or rent one, and take one of 20 self-guided tours on the Backroads Bikeway trails. The trails are on paved area roads with lengths from 5 to 60 miles and take you through picturesque rolling hills and patchwork farmland on roads less traveled. There is also a new mountain bike trail in the Chikaming Park & Preserve for those that like a bit more adventure. For long distance bicyclists, the 500-mile U.S. Route 35 runs from Indiana, through Harbor Country and on to Sault Ste Marie in Canada.
Harbor Country is home to some of the best golf courses in the Midwest. Fall is the perfect time to hit the links and enjoy 9 or 18 holes against Mother Nature’s colorful backdrop. There is also a disc golf course at nearby Madeline Bertrand County Park in Niles.
If you’d rather gaze at nature’s splendor on the water, kayak rentals are available for paddling the slow and gentle Galien River. The River empties into Lake Michigan and is a rich habitat for wildlife including beavers, swallowtails and blue heron. It is also a great fishing spot for trout, bass and pike.
Don’t forget to bring the kids! Fall in Harbor Country is filled with family fun. Kids of all ages can find the perfect pumpkin, hop aboard a hay ride and run through the corn maze at Dinges Fall Harvest in Three Oaks. The Hesston Steam Museum near New Buffalo celebrates Halloween with spooky fun on the Ghost Train or more tamer rides on the mini trains that used to chug around Kiddieland and Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.
Harbor Country isn’t just for summer any more. Experience the fall splendor in and around our eight great towns. Need more ideas? Find sample tours, maps and more in our Undiscovered Season promotion and a jam-packed Calendar of Events at HarborCountry.Org.
Harbor Country Fall Events
Sept 1&2 to Oct 6&7
Skip’s European Farmer’s Market
16710 Lake Shore Rd, New Buffalo
Fruits of Labor Party
Round Barn Winery
10983 Hills Rd, Baroda
22nd Annual Harvest Festival
Lemon Creek Winery
533 E Lemon Creek Rd, Berrien Springs
Downtown Three Oaks
Apple Cider Century
Downtown Three Oaks
New Buffalo Harvest & Wine Festival
Lions Park, New Buffalo
12th Annual Chili Cook-Off
Skip’s Restaurant & Catering
16710 Lake Shore Rd, New Buffalo
2nd Annual Barrel Aged Brewfest
109 Generations Dr, Three Oaks
Arts & Crafts show
New Buffalo Service League
1112 Clay St, New Buffalo