Family Fun in the Fall
There’s no time like autumn in Saugatuck/Douglas when the trees display a riot of color, the air is a little crisp, and the crowds have thinned out. It’s the perfect time for families to enjoy an active weekend getaway sure to leave lasting memories.
The AmericInn and Best Western are traditional hotel options, but families with younger children will appreciate the added draw of indoor pools. For a stay that feels more like home, try a vacation rental from Mill Pond Realty Vacation Rentals, Shoreline Realtors Vacation Rentals, or Vacasa Vacation Rentals. Or, for a more traditional inn experience that welcomes children, the Maplewood Hotel, built in 1860, is located in the heart of Saugatuck and within walking distance of all downtown Saugatuck attractions.
If you know anything about the Midwest, you know that a visit to the local apple orchard is a must. Our area resides along a 30-mile stretch known as Michigan’s “Fruit Belt”—an agricultural region of abundance where apples and pumpkins are plentiful in the fall. Enjoy some apple picking, as well as fresh cider and donuts, at Crane Orchards. Then challenge your family through their 20-acre, intricately designed corn maze. The corn maze is available September through October, and maze designs are changed each year. Other fun fall activities at Crane’s include a tractor-driven hayride and a cow train that the little ones are sure to enjoy.
Virtue Cider not only offers delicious hard cider for the adults to enjoy but is also situated on an idyllic working farm that is open for families to explore. The outdoor area just outside the craft cidery’s tasting room features picnic tables, fire pits, yard games, and even a playhouse. The picturesque farm is home to heritage breed animals such as chickens, Gloucestershire Old Spot Pigs, and Icelandic Sheep that children will get a thrill out of seeing. During the fall, Virtue Cider hosts many family-friendly special events.
For the quintessential Saugatuck water experience that family members young and old will enjoy, take a ride on the Star of Saugatuck Cruise. This 51-ton double-decker paddlewheel boat traverses the Kalamazoo River into Lake Michigan, giving you a relaxing view of the town, harbor, and scenic natural areas. Cruises start in May and go through October, offering a fun and different perspective on fall colors.
For an activity the kids will never forget, hike the Ball and Chain. Take the hand-cranked Chain Ferry (the last of its kind in the US) and then head up 302 steps to the top of Mt. Baldhead to get a bird's eye view of the Kalamazoo River, downtown area, and Lake Michigan in all of its autumn splendor. You’ll also catch a close-up glimpse of the Mount Baldhead Radar Tower, a Cold War relic dating back the 1950s and one of the most iconic sights along the Saugatuck shore. Kids will love running down the sandy dune on the west side of the mountain, which will bring you to Oval Beach, recognized as one of Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 25 Beaches in the World.” Bring along a picnic lunch to enjoy while admiring the scenic shoreline—you may need some energy for the trip back!
Rent bikes from Big Lake Outfitters and explore our bike-friendly towns, stopping along the way to enjoy a bite to eat. Biking from Saugatuck to Douglas is a breeze when you use the bike lane along the Blue Star Highway. Or ride along the Beach to Bayou Trail which is a short but sweet (less than 2 miles) trail that starts/ends at Wade’s Bayou on Kalamazoo Lake and runs down Center Street taking you to the waters of Lake Michigan at Lakeshore Drive.
There are many family-friendly restaurants in Saugatuck/Douglas. To experience a local favorite for breakfast, stop by Ida Red’s Cottage, but be sure to bring cash, as this establishment does not take credit cards. For an incredible view of the Kalamazoo River, The Southerner serves delicious southern fare along with some gracious southern hospitality. The Farmhouse Deli & Pantry makes a great stop for lunch featuring fresh salads, gourmet sandwiches, a juice bar, and delectable desserts.
Scooter’s Café and Pizzeria is a local family favorite offering indoor and outdoor seating with a lovely river view. Combining food with fun, Alley’s is a classic American diner that also features eight lanes of bowling on the premises. And truly offering something for everyone, Saugatuck Brewing Company is a wonderful place for lunch or dinner with craft beer on tap for the adults and plenty of kid-friendly meal options.
And no family vacation in Saugatuck/Douglas would be complete without a visit to Kilwins Chocolates for a sweet treat. Watch fudge and caramel being made the old-fashioned way in shiny copper kettles, on marble slab tables, and crafted with wooden paddles. Family members of any age will enjoy trying their original recipe ice cream in handmade waffle cones or a hand-dipped caramel apple.