Discover Spring Hiking in Southwest Michigan!

southwest michigan trial challenge

As winter gradually loosens its grip and nature awakens with renewed vigor, Southwest Michigan beckons outdoor enthusiasts to explore its stunning landscapes through invigorating hikes. With the arrival of spring, the region bursts into life. From magnificent Lake Michigan dunes to lush forests, Southwest Michigan promises unforgettable journeys for adventurers of all levels.

Let’s delve into the best hiking locations, sights to see, and essential tips for making the most of your spring hiking experience. Adventure awaits in this charming corner of the Great Lakes State.


Spring hiking in Southwest Michigan promises an array of captivating sights. From vibrant wildflowers carpeting the forest floor to migratory birds soaring overhead, every step offers a beautiful encounter with nature. Keep an eye out for trilliums, jack-in-the-pulpits, morel mushrooms, dogwood, and redbud blossoms. Listen for the trills and calls of redwing blackbirds, robins, warblers, seagulls, and spring peeper frogs as they herald the arrival of spring. Visit a railroad garden or hunt for sculptures.

The rhythmic lapping of waves against sandy beaches along the lakeshore provides a soothing soundtrack to accompany your hike. Challenge yourself and your hiking partners to a rigorous climb up giant dunes where you can see the incredible beauty of Lake Michigan for miles. Comb the shore for rocks, fossils, driftwood, and beach glass. Always make time to stay and watch a breathtaking sunset paint the sky in hues of gold and pink, casting a spell of enchantment over the landscape. It’s magical.

young family walking in the dunes male female child



Located along Lake Michigan’s southeastern shore, Warren Dunes State Park boasts some of the region’s highest dunes, dense woodlands, and panoramic Lake Michigan views. Trails wind through diverse ecosystems, offering insights into the ecological processes shaping the dunes. This state park is also one of Southwest Michigan’s favorite places to bring your leashed dog on marked trails and a designated beach.


Warren Woods State Park transforms into a wonderland each spring. It offers the unique opportunity to hike through Michigan’s last virgin beech-maple forest. April and May are the best months to see trilliums blanket the forest floor and to watch for migratory birds nesting in the tall trees. This wooded state park is an ideal spot for wildlife photography.


With its dunes, beaches, and quiet woodlands, Grand Mere State Park is a spring haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Lupines, violets, and wild geraniums cover the landscape. The park is also on an ancient migratory bird route so expect to see raptors, shorebirds, and songbirds as they wing their way north.


Harbor Shores Nature & Fitness Trail System offers 12 miles of urban hiking fun. The paved trails take you through the Harbor Shores Golf Course, along the Paw Paw River, Ox Creek, and the St. Joseph River, across wetlands, and up the dunes for a mesmerizing view of Lake Michigan and the historic North Pier Lighthouse.

The trail system’s six loops offer food and beverage destinations along the way and easy access to the Benton Harbor Arts District. If you hope to spot wildlife along the trails, the best times are in the early morning and evening.


This wonderful nature center has eight miles of trails meandering through its 1000 acres. Hike along the Paw Paw River bluffs for great views of the river valley below. Follow the boardwalks to observation platforms in the floodplain to see spring awakening in the wetlands. Watch for wildlife emerging from their habitats in the wet forests, cattail marshes, shrub carrs, and even a unique alkaline wetland called a fen. Sign up for guided birdwatching hikes to spot some of the over 300 bird species that call this preserve home. See it all without getting your feet wet!


Love Creek County Park features six miles of hiking trails that take you through a variety of habitats, including a mature beech-maple forest with spectacular spring wildflowers. Watch for white-tailed deer and their fawns, and bring binoculars and a bird guidebook or phone app to identify the numerous birds that flock to this 200-acre natural area.


This picturesque park is on the east bank of the St. Joseph River. Its mile-long loop trail goes through pine and oak forests to a river bluff observation tower. You can also walk playing the 18-hole disc golf course.


The Galien River County Park gets high ratings from foot and wheelchair hikers. First, choose between hiking on two wheelchair-accessible boardwalks or a non-ADA-approved dirt and gravel trail.

The 300-ft. canopy walkway is a thrill for all ages. The ADA-accessible boardwalk takes you above the treetops to a 60-ft.-high marsh overlook. Or hike a 600-ft.-long boardwalk to a fishing platform where you can catch steelhead, rock bass, largemouth bass, and freshwater drum.

From either boardwalk, you can spot turtles, waterfowl, deer, and other marshland animals. Your best time to see wildlife is early morning and early evening.

The third trail is a 1.4-mile loop through the woods, edged by steep ravines, to the wetlands and river. It is not ADA-accessible.


Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve is one of Southwest Michigan’s most treasured river hikes. It boasts meticulously curated gardens, wildflower-strewn woodlands, a pond, a water mill, a railroad garden, and St. Joseph River views. Spring blooms include daffodils, tulips, fragrant herbs, and wild cherry blossoms. Buzzing bees and flitting butterflies contribute to the ever-changing spring views.


A local favorite, Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve has three of the highest quality coastal plain marshes in Michigan, a rare find in the Great Lakes region. As you explore more than five miles of trails, you are likely to encounter reptiles and amphibians around the coastal plain marshes and small ponds. Watch for elusive mammals such as red fox, coyote, and many of the 100 bird species known to nest in the preserve’s shrubs and trees.

trails challenge model photoshoot sarett


Southwest Michigan has launched a new challenge to get you to lace up your boots and hit our gorgeous trails this spring. Download the Visit Southwest Michigan app to get started and play. Then visit five different trails in Southwest Michigan. Take a selfie by the trailhead and upload it to the app. The first 100 people to complete the challenge will earn prizes. Get all the Trails Challenge details here – then have fun!



Check the weather forecast and dress in layers. Pack essentials such as water, snacks, sunscreen, a cell phone, a basic first aid kit, a compass or GPS device, and a map from the trailhead or a copy of the Southwest Michigan Trail Guide.


Spring weather can bring unpredictable conditions such as mud, snowmelt, and swollen streams. Check trail conditions beforehand and be prepared for any obstacles you may encounter along the way.


Springtime is prime tick season, so take precautions to protect yourself from tick bites. They like shady, moist areas. Wear long sleeves and pants and use insect repellent containing DEET.

Stay on paved or well-groomed trails. Avoid contact with high grass, brush, and any ground that is covered with fallen leaves. Perform regular tick checks during and after your hike and remove them promptly if you find any on you, your children, or pets. For more advice, download this helpful guide.


Stick to designated trails to protect fragile ecosystems. Refrain from disturbing wildlife, especially spring babies. Leave no trace behind and dispose of trash and pet waste responsibly.

man walking through apple blossoms in springtime


After exploring one or more scenic trails, extend your stay. Discover the region’s arts and craft-beverage scene. Indulge in the culinary delights of local restaurants, savoring farm-to-table cuisine made with local, seasonal produce, delicious fish and meats, and mouthwatering artisanal desserts. Find the latest spring fashions and home decor in quaint downtowns and boutique shops. Take a sweetly scented blossomtime tour through our orchards and vineyards.

Stay over at one of our amenity-filled hotels with affordable spring rates. You will awaken relaxed and rejuvenated for more outdoor adventures tomorrow.

Book Your Stay

Spring Break in Muskegon: Plan for Family Fun

Lakeshore Museum Center

Looking for family-friendly activities during spring break? Look no further than Muskegon County!

Whether you’re seeking indoor or outdoor fun, this Lake Michigan beachtown has something for everyone.

Let’s explore Ten Spring Break Ideas for Families:

Bowling Fun for All Ages

“Strike” it lucky at the bowling alley! Gather the family and head to one of the 6 bowling centers in Muskegon County. From traditional bowling to the unique duckpin bowling at Socibowl by Pigeon Hill, indeed, there’s excitement for all ages.

Hands-On Learning at the Museum

Venture to the Muskegon Museum of History & Science at the Lakeshore Museum Center. Here, children can immerse themselves in hands-on exhibits while learning about local and Michigan history. Don’t forget to snap a photo with Moxie, the life-sized bronze mastodon welcoming visitors at the entrance. Dive deeper into exploration with a visit to the STEM room and the “Coming to the Lakes” exhibit. Grab a guide at the Visitors Center or the Museum and embark on a scavenger hunt. There are 20 “Mini” Moxies hidden throughout downtown Muskegon. Can you find them all?

6 foot bonze statue of mastodon with large bright blue tusks in front of museum seats and balcony viewed from stage in historic theater

Movie Magic on Rainy Days

Rainy spring days call for a cozy family movie outing, because after all, spring weather is not always predictable! Explore your options, including multi-screen theaters like Cinema Carousel and NorthStar Cinema, offering a variety of films for all ages. For a nostalgic experience, head to the Getty Drive-In, one of Michigan’s few remaining outdoor theaters, where you can enjoy double features under the stars. Alternatively, experience the splendor of the Frauenthal Center. Being that historic theater hosts monthly Free Family Movies from September to May.

Hockey Excitement at Trinity Health Arena

Feel the excitement as you cheer on the USHL Muskegon Lumberjacks at Trinity Health Arena! With their kid-friendly theme nights, these hockey games promise fun for the whole family. And what better way to bond than over some tasty tacos from Rad Dads before or after the game?

large, climbable, plastic turtle sits on floor at STEM play area in Montague Library brightly colored STEM play area in Montague Library

Literary Adventures at the Library

Dive into the world of learning at Muskegon County libraries! With engaging STEM play areas, interactive programs, and story trails, there’s no shortage of family-friendly activities to enjoy. Plus, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the learning gardens – especially sure to inspire curiosity in young minds.

Thrills and Adventures 

Seeking adventure? Look no further than Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park, where you can embark on a thrilling Trail Quest, solve riddles, and soar through the air on the dual zipline. Feeling adventurous? Try your hand at archery or tackle the 38-ft outdoor climbing wall.

child on zipline covered by canopy of green leaves trees covered in green foliage stand with trail sign readin g"spring trail"

Spring Strolls Through Muskegon

Slow down and savor the beauty of spring with a leisurely family walk through Muskegon’s parks, trails, and along the pier. Take in the blossoming scenery and keep an eye out for public art displayed along the trails – without a doubt, an outdoor treat for everyone!

Maritime History Exploration

Immerse yourself in maritime history at the USS Silversides Museum. Tour historic naval vessels, including a WW2 submarine and Coast Guard cutter, and gain insight into their roles in history. With each step, you’ll create lasting memories and deepen your appreciation for our maritime heritage.

ww2 submarine docked in muskegon channel  

Be a Butterfly

Strike a pose and spread your wings at the Kelsey Montague mural “What Lifts You” in downtown Muskegon. As part of Kelsey’s ‘Wings Around the World’ series, this mural serves as the perfect backdrop for a memorable family photo – a true testament to the uplifting power of art.

Make a Splash

Don’t forget to pack your swimsuits. Obviously, during your stay the kids will love playing in the pools at our hotels. Especially at Delta Hotels Marriott, Shoreline Inn and Fairfield Inn & Suites.

With all this in mind, remember to book your family getaway at one of Muskegon’s inviting hotels, cozy vacation rentals, charming cottages, or welcoming inns. With convenient locations, and all the amenities you need for a comfortable stay, you’ll undoubtedly create unforgettable memories with your loved ones.

Here are Southwest Michigan’s best destinations for fall colors, bird watching, paddling and surfing.

Fall in Warren Dunes - Southwest Michigan. Photo Credit : Joshua Nowicki

Lake Michigan’s beaches are beautiful in autumn! 

Discover the best fall beach destinations in Southwest Michigan

Summer isn’t the only time to visit Lake Michigan’s beaches in Southwest Michigan. Fall days and lake temperatures are often warm from September until early October. Then from October through November, pull on a sweater, fleece, or jacket and enjoy the wilder Big Lake waves and less-crowded beaches from golden sunrise to star-studded night. For many, fall is their favorite beach season. Come see why.

Fall in Warren Dunes - Southwest Michigan. Photo Credit : Joshua Nowicki
Fall in Warren Dunes – Southwest Michigan. Photo Credit: Joshua Nowicki

Visit nine Lake Michigan beach towns
If you’re planning an autumn getaway, solo retreat, or fall color tour along the lakeshore, add these Lake Michigan beach towns and their beaches to your itinerary. 


Grand Mere State Park | 7337 Thornton Drive
Grand Mere boasts sweeping dunes, deep blowouts, a mile-long sandy beach, and hikes beneath canopies of colorful leaves. 

Round Barn Winery in Fall | Photo Credit : Joshua Nowicki
Round Barn Winery in Fall | Photo Credit : Joshua Nowicki

St. Joseph

Lions Park Beach | Lions Park Drive
This tranquil beach is a good place to hunt for rocks and beach glass or immerse in the fall beauty on the John and Dede Howard Family Recreational Trail.

Silver Beach County Park | 101 Broad St.

This is one of Southwest Michigan’s most popular year-round beaches with its 2,450 feet of shoreline from the mouth of the St. Joseph River to Park Street. The park gives you access to the South Pier, and you can walk to the beach from downtown St. Joseph. 

Tiscornia Beach Park | 80 Ridgeway St.

Great place to watch freighters, sailboats, and surfers in the fall. Best of all, you can park and walk out onto the North Pier to St. Joseph’s historic lighthouses.  

Benton Harbor/Coloma

Jean Klock Park | Jean Klock Boulevard, Benton Harbor

This is one of the most beautiful, lesser-used beaches in Southwest Michigan. It is also a  trailhead for a 10-mile natural and urban fitness hiking and biking adventure — the trees are autumn showpieces along the way. 

Rocky Gap Park | 1100 Rocky Gap Road, Benton Harbor

You will love the panoramic views of Lake Michigan, especially at sunset. This is also a popular rockhounding site due to all the rocks that wash ashore.

Hagar Park | 5440 M-63, Coloma

Enjoy a picnic beneath red and yellow leaves, toss a Frisbee, or send a kite soaring on the beach. Dogs are welcome. 

Roadside Park | 6930 Bluestar Highway, Coloma

Small, quiet, dog and kayak-friendly beach in the colorful forested dunes.  

New Buffalo

New Buffalo Public Beach & Lakefront Park | 200 Marquette Drive
800 feet of sandy beach near the public boat launch and downtown.


Warren Dunes State Park | 12032 Red Arrow Highway, Sawyer
Three miles of beach frontage, including a separate dog-friendly beach. A top pick for its giant dunes and beautiful fall foliage. 

Weko Beach | 5237 Lake St., Bridgman
Nestled among 42 acres of wooded dunes, it has 960 feet of sandy beach with some of the area’s favorite fall foliage and water vistas. 

Seven favorite fall things to do at our beaches

There are so many ways to fill several fall days in Southwest Michigan. Here are locals’ and visitors’ top picks from high adventures to total relaxation.

Take a fall color tour 

Follow the West Michigan Pike routes in this guide. Along the way, visit our pick-your-own and farm markets to gather just-harvested fruits and vegetables, plus bread, jams, desserts, and more for your fall beach picnic. This is also one of the best times of year to look for colorful rocks, beach glass, and fossils along the water’s edge. 

Explore the colors of Fall in Southwest Michigan. Photo Credit : Joshua Nowicki
Explore the colors of Fall in Southwest Michigan. Photo Credit: Joshua Nowicki

Paddle along the shoreline

Most beaches offer easy access to take your canoe, kayak, or SUP from the parking lot to the shoreline. Several also have launch areas on scenic rivers that empty into the big lake. Shoreline paddles give you gorgeous views of fall foliage along the bluffs and across the dunes.  

Watch for migratory birds on their Lake Michigan flight path 

The migration flight path along Lake Michigan’s shoreline is almost as ancient as the dunes. Fall is a peak time for birdwatching, seeing everything from songbirds and shorebirds to raptors. 

Be captivated by Great Lakes freighters and barges

It’s hard not to be drawn to the St. Joseph River and harbor when the big freighters and barges arrive or depart from St. Joseph. Watching these big ships navigate past the railroad swing bridge is especially enthralling. We hope you will also see the big ships at night easing through the channel by spotlight or their lights reflecting in the still harbor waters — it will take your breath away. Fall is the last season to be awed before the gales of November stop the shipping traffic on Lake Michigan until the next spring. 

Reel in the big ones from our piers, rivers, and the Big Lake

Pier fishing for feisty salmon, trout, and steelhead is a thrill in Southwest Michigan. You can easily access some of our favorite fishing spots from New Buffalo Public Beach, Silver Beach County Park, Tiscornia Beach, and South Haven’s South Beach.

Go surfing, snorkeling, and scuba diving

Many people are surprised to learn that you can surf, snorkel and scuba dive off the coast of Lake Michigan. Calmer days on the Big Lake are best for the latter two watersports, but frequent north and south winds make for surfable waves in the fall. You can often spot surfers from the shore at Lions Park, Silver Beach County Park, and Tiscornia Beach — or go out and ride the waves on your board! 

See the best sunsets 

It’s a daily ritual to head to any of our beaches to watch the sun sink below Lake Michigan’s horizon in a swath of peach, yellow, lavender, and scarlet colors brightening the evening sky. Even on overcast evenings, you will still find colors and a peaceful ending to your day on our shore. 

Fall Sunset Southwest Michigan in Dune Grass | St. Joseph MI
Fall Sunset Southwest Michigan in Dune Grass | St. Joseph MI Photo Credit: Joshua Nowicki

Stay over at near-the-beach lodgings

Lodgings in Benton Harbor, St. Joseph, and Stevensville are just minutes from our beaches, resort town shopping, dining, fall festivals, and attractions. It’s a great time of year to get the hotel rate and amenities you want, especially on weekdays. 

Book your fall getaway