WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL
Young and old will enjoy autumn in Southwest Michigan, with many entertaining outdoor excursions amid fabulous fall foliage.
Quintessential destinations include festivals, orchards, wineries, and even a trip aboard the historic Little River Railroad Steam Engine Train in Coldwater. Fall is the ideal time to climb aboard.
“October starts our busiest season,” according to Terry Bloom, president of the Little River Railroad organization. “When the trees change color, everybody comes out.”
“Kids and adults are intrigued by our historic steam engines, and the refurbished open-air stock cars are very popular,” Bloom notes.
Built for the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1933 to transport livestock, the cars have had their top row of boards removed and replaced with seating to allow unimpeded viewing of the splendid autumn scenery.
Real steam locomotives pull the train from Coldwater to Quincy and back, about 35 minutes each way, with a 20-minute layover in Quincy, where passengers can disembark and watch as the engine is uncoupled and run around to the other end. Kids can also buy Halloween pumpkins from a farm wagon on the platform in Quincy.
Following the tour, young and old can find treasures at the Little River Railroad Museum at the Michigan Southern Depot, built in 1883, or venture to charming and historic downtown Coldwater.
On the third Saturday in September, Coldwater hosts its Applefest, a fine arts and craft show presented by the Chamber of Commerce featuring music, crafts, and all things apple.
Applefest is just one of the many celebrations in Southwest Michigan that venerate the rich harvest of produce for which the region is famous. Orchards, u-pick farms, and breweries also allow visitors to indulge in the harvest of Michigan-grown apples, peaches, pumpkins, sweet and tart cherries, and more.
Nye’s Apple Barn in St. Joseph is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Established as a farm in the 1800s, Nye’s is now run by the family’s fourth generation. Pick delicacies and visit the Jam and Jelly Room for fresh produce, salsas, hanging baskets, and specialty cooking items such as oil and vinegar bottles.
Jollay Orchards in Coloma was established in 1857 and is a working orchard with family activities and manicured u-pick orchards. The grounds also feature a cornfield maze, haunted house, a Caterpillar Crawl, and a hayride to the apple orchard and pumpkin patch.
At Grandpa’s Cider Mill in Coloma, visitors can watch apples fresh from the fields being made into cider at a fully viewable informative and entertaining press.
Adult beverages made from Michigan products can be discovered at the Round Barn Brewery & Public House in Baroda. Also family-owned, the venue has been in the winemaking business for more than 30 years and specializes in award-winning wines, handcrafted spirits, and microbrews.
Enjoy beer and wine tastings or beverages by the glass, bottle, growler, or howler as well as food made with locally sourced ingredients. Wines bear such unusual labels as Weekend White and Black Walnut Crème Divine Wine. Tastings take place beneath the intricately interwoven ceiling of the Baroda Tasting Room and Estate, built by Amish craftsmen. The Round Barn also presents live music every Saturday and Sunday through October on its beautiful grounds. Visitors are welcome to bring their own lawn chairs during the popular fall season.
The Round Barn has a satellite Tasting Room in Berrien Springs, the Free Run Cellars, a quieter venue that specializes in small-batch wines and unique spirits, according to the website.
Another fall event in Berrien Springs is the juried Chapel Hill Arts & Crafts Show on October 6. Roughly 280 exhibitors fill four commercial buildings at the Fairgrounds, according to the website. The event is sponsored by the Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Sodus in support of its mission projects and is renowned as among the best craft shows in the area.
These delightful destinations, as well as shopping, dining, and lakeshores, are awaiting you this fall in the quaint communities of Southwest Michigan. All aboard!
About the Little River Railroad
The Little River Railroad is a not-for-profit organization incorporated in 1974 and operated entirely by volunteers, who hope to keep history alive for future generations. The organization is dedicated to the restoration and operation of historic railroad equipment.
The 110 steam engine is a 4-6-2 Pacific-type locomotive weighing approximately 58 tons. It is the smallest of its kind ever built for standard gauge, and it is also a one-of-a-kind locomotive.
The cabooses were built between 1925 and 1929 and are the only two of the 25 built that are still running. The Railroad is also home to the WWII Troop Sleeper car built in 1946 to transport troops home. It has been revamped as a concession car.
The Little River Railroad is supported by ticket sales, concession sales, memberships, and donations.
October is also when the very popular Christmas runs sell out. Make reservations in the fall.
The train can only be boarded in Coldwater. Advance tickets are needed, and schedules are subject to change.
Coldwater County Conference and Visitors Bureau
20 Division Street, Coldwater
(800) 968-9333, (517) 278-0241
Berrien County Youth Fairgrounds
9122 U.S. Hwy 31, Berrien Springs
Little River Railroad
29 W. Park Ave., Coldwater
(517) 227-5488 l LittleRiverRailroad.com
Nye’s Apple Barn
3151 Niles Road, St Joseph
1850 Friday Road, Coloma
(269) 468-3075 l JollayOrchards.com
Round Barn Winery, Distillery & Brewery
10983 Hills Road, Baroda