Best fall color drives in West Michigan

Fall colors
Fall colors in West Michigan on Nov. 2, 2015.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The dramatically changing weather conditions have caused a bit of color chaos in West Michigan. This fall, our trees have endured a sweltering heat wave in September, flooding conditions leading to the wettest October on record. And finally the season’s first frost/freeze.

All of this has ultimately acted to save our color show this year. The recent rain has helped marginally reduce leaf stress. This means fall colors will unfold naturally and leaves will stay on trees longer, extending the foliage display.

With this in mind, here are some of the best routes to enjoy fall colors in West Michigan:

GRAND RAPIDS

You can’t go wrong by heading east on Cannonsburg Road to Fallasburg or Townsend ark and maybe have a picnic amidst the colors next to a flowing stream and wooden, covered bridge. They’re great location for pictures. Another nice drive is west out of Grand Rapids on M-45 or east on M-21. But if you are heading in the direction where colors are best head north on M-37 up to Newaygo.

>>PDF: Kent County Road Commission’s fall color tour maps

GRAND HAVEN

First, head north on US-31 to Pontaluna Rd., then west to P.J. Hoffmaster State Park and a three-mile stretch of Lake Michigan shore with sandy beach and forest-covered dunes.

Plan some time for the Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center to learn about the unique dune environment and its plant and animal life. Take a stroll or hike on a choice of trails, and don’t miss the dune climb stairway for a scenic view from atop the dune.

HOLLAND

Take a jog to the lakeshore on South Shore Drive to start your fall color tour. From there head south on 66th Street for a good view of the changing trees. This road will take you just north of Saugatuck Dunes State Park. An extended tour will take you south using 64th street eventually working over to Blue Star Highway. This will give you a good view of Saugatuck. From there, take a sharp right onto Ferry Street on the southwest side of town. This will take you north to gorgeous Oval Beach.

People venture up high mountain peaks to enjoy the warm colors of the fall leaves. Here’s a view from a bit higher. This Earth satellite image shows the autumn colors as they sweep across the eastern United States and Canada. According to The Foliage Network, fall colors were at or just past their peak in much of upstate New York and the upper peninsula of Michigan the day before this image was captured. As seen in the Adirondack Mountains and Catskill Mountains in New York, peak color comes to high-elevation areas before surrounding lower-elevation areas. Credit: NASA #nasa #space #earth #fall #colors #leaves #autumn #picoftheday #satellite #fallcolors #fallleaves #mountains #newyork #unitedstates #canada #michigan #adirondack #catskill

A post shared by NASA (@nasa) on

SAUGATUCK

Continue south on US-31/I-196 to Exit 41. Go west to 64th Street and 138 Avenue to reach Saugatuck Dunes State Park.

There, you’ll find a 2.5-mile stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline and wonderful dunes that rise 200 feet above the water. The 300-acre natural area and coastal dune system are home to a variety of plant and bird life, with 13 miles of hiking trails.

SOUTH HAVEN

The 14-mile Van Buren trail originates at the Van Buren State Park, a 400-acre recreation area that features dune formations on Lake Michigan. This makes it an ideal location to get your hiking shoes on or put some miles on your bike.

The 34-mile Kal-Haven Trail State Park, one of the state’s five linear state parks, follows a former railroad bed from South Haven to Kalamazoo. Scenery along the path includes picturesque bridges, farmland and woods. Don’t forget about M-43 west out of Kalamazoo. You can take M-40 south to Paw Paw and sample a few wines.

KALAMAZOO

Follow M-43 east to Kalamazoo, home of the wonderful collection of aircraft and interactive exhibits at the Air Zoo Aerospace and Science Center. If you are a fan of all things cars, you can jog north on M-43 to the Gilmore Car Museum and/or head northeast on M-43/Gull Road and stop at Gull Meadow Farms to pick that perfect pumpkin or apples, and sample apple cider and donuts.

Continue on M-43 and take a slight right onto D Avenue E. Turn left onto M-43E/M-89. Continue to follow M-89 west until you get to northbound US-131. From there, turn right towards Grand Rapids. Take exit 61 for M-179 and turn right onto M-179/Chief Noonday Road. Travel about seven miles to Yankee Springs Recreation Area, which was the hunting grounds of the Algonquin Native Americans and Chief Noonday. Natural features include the Devil’s Soupbowl, formed by a glacier. Hiking trails are plentiful, including six miles of the national North Country Trail network. The 12-mile park trial is a great challenge for mountain bikers.

HASTINGS

Head north to M-43 and travel west to Grand Ledge, which takes its name for the 60-foot high sandstone rock ledges that line the Grand River through town. You don’t have to be a rock climber to enjoy the 300 million-year-old outcroppings. The riverside trail in Fitzgerald Park is a nice, scenic hike along the natural wall. Note the town’s restored opera house and shop for crafts by local artists at Ledge Craft Lane.

Follow M-43 west to where M-37 drops south to Hastings, on the Thornapple River. The handsome Barry County Courthouse has been serving the community since 1893. Historic Charlton Park, a recreated 19th century town, is open only seasonally, but you can enjoy the autumn color that lines the shore of Thornapple Lake.

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