Flaming fall foliage— crimson, tangerine, and amber ignite the clear sapphire skies along the Lake Michigan shores. Typically my color tours involve driving country roads with no particular destination in mind. Still, I found a new way to approach enjoying the autumn leaves on my trip to Ludington.
Typically when I think of Ludington, Michigan, images of sandy beaches, sunsets, and lighthouses come to mind. It’s my quintessential summer happy place. My favorite season is fall, so I thought I’d get out and explore my happy place during my favorite season and see what I’d find. So here’s the low down.
Ludington features several cultural trails that provide a purpose to those drives along the back roads. But, those country roads are only one way to enjoy the panoramic views of fall color. Second, explore the miles of hiking and biking trails, where you’ll get an up-close view of the kaleidoscope of color. Finally, check out the brilliance from the water via some paddle sports along the rivers and inland lakes.
Note: Thank you to Pure Ludington for hosting my trip to Ludington, Michigan.
Follow Ludington’s Cultural Trails
Ludington features half a dozen cultural trails—the Barn Quilt Trail, the Agricultural Trail, the Lumber Heritage Trail, the Music Heritage Trail, the Maritime Heritage Trail, and the Sculpture Trail. The Barn Quilt Trail and the Agricultural Trail provide a point to your journey down the country roads. Use your smartphone and scan a QR code or dial a phone number for a guided tour of each stop along the various cultural trails. The barn quilts are gorgeous against the fall colors. The Agricultural Trail leads you to the autumn harvest and the bounty of the local farms.
Here’s a fall color driving map that combines several of these cultural trails for a chance to experience the best of the area’s fall colors, all within 10 miles of downtown Ludington.
Hike or Bike a Ludington State Park Trail
With over 5,300-acres, Ludington State Park provides 21.5 miles of hiking and biking trails. While you’re there, take time to investigate the historic Lake Michigan Beach House built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC.)
For stunning autumn views, just south of the guardhouse, check out the Sauble River Outlet to Lake Michigan. In addition, to making hiking easier, the Sauble River has a paved path.
Although Ludington State Park in the fall has fewer crowds than in the summer, take time to check out the even less populated Hamlin Lake Beach. At Hamlin Dam, you’ll find storytelling placards relating to the area’s history, a paved river path, and a lower-level boardwalk. Next, hike the two-mile Lost Lake, Island Lake Trail. Hiking counterclockwise avoids a few hills, and you’ll enjoy the inner lakes adjacent to Hamlin Lake.
Discover the Views from the Water
With 28 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, three rivers, and several inland lakes, Ludington’s outdoor experiences include boating, kayaking, and canoeing. The Pere Marquette River, a National Wild and Scenic River, flows through the Manistee National Forest. Autumn is the perfect time to explore some paddle sports as your journey will take you through a forest of color. The Pere Marquette River Loop takes about two hours to paddle, depending on weather conditions. A great place to start is Suttons Landing which has easy access to the river and plenty of free parking.
If you don’t bring your kayak or canoe, you’ll find several places in the area to rent one: Pere Marquette Expeditions rents both single and double kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards (SUP). Along the way, you’ll discover several spots to get off the water to enjoy a picnic lunch in a colorful autumn setting.
Grab a Picnic Lunch at Q Smokehouse
Before our color tour, we ordered a picnic lunch and headed back out for some al fresco dining. First, pick up a Picnic Pack from Q Smokehouse’s Take Away window, where they offer both On the Bone and Off the Bone Picnic Packs. On the Bone Picnic Pack that showcases chicken and ribs, Off the Bone includes one and a half pounds beef brisket and one and a half pounds chopped pork. Twelve potato roll buns, baked beans, one quart each of coleslaw, and pasta with cheese accompany the meal, along with a half a pint each of the Q sauce and the Carolina sauce. If anyone in your group is vegetarian, try the jackfruit al pastor served as tacos or burritos. They also feature vegetarian side options, like coleslaw, potato salad, pasta and cheese, and candied sweet potatoes.
The Picnic Packs also include plates and silverware, so you’ll be all set. Then, head back out to enjoy your meal in one of the many areas where you can enjoy Ludingtons brilliant fall color.
Piper’s Pro Planning: Q Smokehouse is open only Thursday through Saturday.
Have Dessert at House of Flavors
House of Flavors is fun. The notice warns you, “This is a happy place. If you’re crabby, go home.” The 1950’s retro décor featuring black and white floor tiles and 45 RPM records add to the relaxed atmosphere. While their ice cream menu features 40 different flavors daily, you’ll want to have a meal before you take one of their super-sized ice cream challenges. The front window displays rotisserie-roasted turkeys to encourage you to eat a healthy pre-dessert meal. They use the fresh-roasted turkey to create a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings every day of the week.
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If You Go
Ludington, Michigan, is in the Eastern time zone and is in Mason County. Most major US airlines serve Grand Rapids’ Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR) if you fly into Michigan. You’ll find flights on Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, and United.
If you’re coming in from Wisconsin or anywhere west, the S.S. Badger is an excellent option during the summer and fall months. The car ferry leaves Manitowoc, Wisconsin, once daily for a four-hour one-way ride across Lake Michigan. We like using the ferry since it gives the driver a break, and depending on where you are in Wisconsin, it can be quicker than entering from the Upper Peninsula or through the south.
Piper’s Pro Planning: Manitowoc is on Central Time, and Ludington is in the Eastern Time zone.
How far is Ludington from?
|Grand Rapids||96 miles|
|Sleeping Bear Dunes||83 miles|
You’ll want a car for this visit. If you’re flying in, you’ll want to rent a car.
Ludington has a fall lodging special, and several of the area’s accommodations offer 50 percent off a second-night stay during the week through October 31, 2021. The offer excludes Friday and Saturday nights, and you have to mention the deal at the time of reservation. Click here for more information.
For more trip planning to Ludington visit Pure Ludington.
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Ludington looks like a great place for a laid-back Fall trip, I would swing by the lighthouse for sure!
Looks like a lovely place for a fall road trip. Love the lighthouse and the water. fall is one of my favourite times of the year
Fall is definitely my favorite season! I love the colors.
I’ve been hearing so many great things about Michigan’s Fall Colors, but have to admit I hadn’t heard of Ludington before. I should probably check it out, considering my Brother lives in Grand Rapids!
Yes, you definitely should. It isn’t far at all and makes a good day trip at least.
Biking is such a wonderful way to enjoy the fall colors and weather. This looks lovely.
My favorite season, too. So beach towns can still be very interesting in fall! I would love the barn quilt trail!