By Peter Daining
Fall will turn into winter before you know it, and soon West Michigan’s vibrant display of colors will be gone for another year. Take advantage of the season while you can by heading to one of these forests to indulge in one of life’s simplest pleasures – a walk in the woods.
Rosy Mound Natural Area, 13925 Lakeshore Dr. Grand Haven
If you pick the right late fall day to hike Rosy Mound, your feet may not touch the ground until you spot Lake Michigan. Instead, you’ll be treading across a soft bed of maple, hemlock, and beech leaves. Ottawa County’s Rosy Mound Natural Area is a 0.7-mile hike under a shady fall canopy. The colors continue until you climb the stairs down to the dune-grass-lined boardwalks, which will lead you to the beach. If you haven’t heard of Rosy Mound, it might be because this 164-acre reserve is relatively new, opening in 2004.
Aman Park, 1859 Lake Michigan Dr. Grand Rapids
Don’t forget your camera, because you’ll likely pull it out immediately when you see the picturesque bridges over Sand Creek. Grand Rapids’ Aman Park isn’t actually in the city limits, but it’s worth the drive six miles out of town toward Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus. The 300-plus acre park has six trails, each about a mile long. Both bridges are part of the longest trail, a 1.5-mile interpretive hike. You’ll be treated to several autumnal perspectives while you take in fall colors from along the Sand Creek ridgeline.
Pickerel Lake, 6001 Ramsdell Dr. Canonsburg
Also known as the Fred Meijer Nature preserve, Pickerel Lake Park is a great place to see how autumn’s oranges, yellows, and reds reflect off undisturbed water. The 1.9-mile trail takes you around the lake, but the best part might be the 800-foot boardwalk that allows you to travel through the middle of the lake. The park is 300 acres, 80 of which are taken by the lake while the rest are made up of temperate forest.
Saugatuck Dunes State Park, 2215 Ottawa Beach Rd. Saugatuck
It could just as easily be called Saugatuck Woodland State Park. Except for the Lake Michigan edge of this 1,120-acre park, almost all of it is covered in trees, which light up with color each fall. The park has four hiking loops. The 2.5-mile north loop, 2.5-mile Livingston loop, and the 5.5-mile south loop all include beach overlooks. The 2.5-mile beach loop is the only one with access to Lake Michigan.
Yankee Springs Recreation Area 2104 Briggs Rd. Middleville
Located between the Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo areas, this is one of the most extensive trail systems in West Michigan. It won’t take you long to find breathtaking shades of fall along the 30 miles of trails maintained by the Department of Natural Resources. The trails meander between and around nine lakes and even more marshy areas, many of which are lined with colorful trees. Yankee Springs also has campgrounds and cabins, if you’re in the mood to wake up surrounded by autumn.
Palmer Park 1275 52nd St, Wyoming
The towering trees of Palmer Park provide a spectacular fall fireworks show. You’ll likely find yourself craning your neck as you explore this 300-acre Kent County park. There are a few paved and unpaved trails, including some that will take you along the adjacent Kaufman Golf Course. I have a soft spot for this park because my own wedding reception was at the picnic shelter here, which is also surrounded by large shade trees. Too bad it was we had a summer wedding – we missed out on the fall colors.
Fallasburg Park, 1124 Fallasburg Road, Lowell
You’ll either have to high step through Fallasburg Park or get used to kicking through the blanket of leaves with each step. The park’s main attraction is a historic covered bridge, which is backlit with auburn and gold each fall. The park has 2.5 miles of trail, and also a portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail, a 4,600-mile trail from New York to North Dakota.
Cascade Garden Peace Park, 8900 Grand River Ave. Ada
This diminutive, sparse Cascade Township park may not have the appeal of larger state and county parks, but the fall colors in its old-growth forest are certainly worth a visit. Cascade Garden Peace Park is less than 200 acres, and the main loop trail is 1.6 miles long with a few short tangents. There is a small parking lot near the Bolt Drive trailhead, but that’s about it. The other entrance is off of Grand River Avenue, where hikers can park along the road.
Have a question or comment? Did I miss your favorite hike? Email me at [email protected] so I can add it to the list.
Peter Daining spent five years as a newspaper reporter in Michigan and Indiana, then six years as an elementary teacher. At age 34, he’s now embarking on his third career, this time as a stay-at-home dad.