CULTON: Fall is officially here

I don’t know when it happened, but it seems fall weather has appeared suddenly in southwest Michigan.

Last week, it was hot enough for me to have the air conditioning blasting in my apartment. Then, over the weekend, I had to flip the thermostat over to heating. I changed out of my summer dresses into my coziest sweaters, and instead of planning trips to the beach, I began planning trips to the apple orchard.

While the sudden switch of the seasons may have been disconcerting, Michigan fall is here, and that means fun times are ahead.

I’m a summer girl in my heart of hearts, but there is just something magical about the fall — and that is especially true in our little slice of southwest Michigan. There’s nothing quite like enjoying a glass of mulled wine around a bonfire or making daytime memories with friends as we watch the leaves change colors. Of course, many fall traditions will look different this year due to continued precautions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of activities to get us into the spirit of the season.

As Tuesday marked the first day of fall for 2020, I thought I would share my list of the top five things unique to southwest Michigan that I’m looking forward to this season:

• Apple picking — I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t list apples as my favorite fruit, but something about a freshly picked honeycrisp just tastes right. It’s even better if you get to pick that apple with some you love right before chowing down on some hot apple cider donuts.

Luckily, it’s easy to socially distance while picking apples, and our area has plenty of orchards to choose from. Whether you go picking at Lehman’s, Sprague’s Family Fun Farm, Holloway Orchards or one of the other dozen or so orchards within driving distance, you are sure to have a good time.

• Brewery hopping — While the summer days of Oberon may be fading fast, fall brings its own unique flavors to the beer scene. From brown ales to porters to even pumpkin beers, there are plenty of cooler weather beers to try — at least one is sure to appease the craft-beer lover in your life.

Of course, the brews themselves can only be enjoyed by those 21 or older, but many of our southwest Michigan breweries — including Lehman’s, The Strand and Sister Lakes Brewing Company — have family-friendly atmospheres.

Additionally, each brewery allows for outdoor seating and has been following state-mandated COVID-19 precautions to help keep patrons as safe as possible while enjoying their brews. 

• Pumpkin carving — Few things bring back the feeling of childhood like carving a pumpkin. Whether you are creating a silly face or an artistic masterpiece, pumpkin carving is a great way to have fun, make a mess and spend time with people of your own household.

My personal favorite place to pick up pumpkins is from Mason’s Pumpkins, a farm stand in Dowagiac. Nine-year-old Mason grows and sells his pumpkins with little help from his parents. His stand is located at 56450 California Road, Dowagiac. You can learn more about Mason’s Pumpkins by visiting his Facebook page.

• Niles Scream Park — Does anything else say spooky time is here in southwest Michigan better than the Niles Scream Park? I think not.

There’s little I can say about the Niles Scream Park that hasn’t been said a million times before, but it is genuinely one of the best haunted houses I have ever been to, and that doesn’t include the many other fun attractions the park has to offer. If you are an adrenaline junkie who lives for the scares, the Niles Scream Park is for you.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Scream Park staff have taken extra sanitary precautions and are spacing out guests to help everyone have a scary but healthy time.

• Nature hikes — OK, this might be a bit of a cheat as I like to hike almost year-round. However, there is something exceptional about a fall hike. Not only is the temperature near perfect, but if you go right as the leaves are changing, it is truly a beautiful sight to behold.

Our area has no shortage of great hiking spots, but my favorites are the trails at Cass County’s Dr. T.K. Lawless Park and Niles’ Fernwood Botanical Gardens.

No matter how you choose to celebrate fall, as long as you celebrate with people you love, it will be sure to be a good time. So, let’s bundle up in our coziest clothing and enjoy southwest Michigan’s fall while we can — winter will be here before we know it.

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