“Fall” in love with Midland County: A guide to living this fall to the fullest

Step aside, summer. 

If Midland County, Michigan isn’t on your list of fall destinations, it should be. The area has all your traditional fall fixings along with some more unique, local events. A word of advice: keep scrolling — there’s a lot here. Look out for bold text. Let’s get into it.

“There’s just fantastic opportunities to get outside, see what’s happening, and spend some time in nature.”

Apple Blossom Orchard

Apple Blossom Orchard is open Thursday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. They have a store that offers hot fresh donuts each day, their own fresh cider, caramel apples, and a wide variety of apples. They’re located on Wilder Road just east of Ashman Street. Follow their Facebook page for updates and events.

Grandma’s Pumpkin Patch

Tulip and Clementine are Juliana pigs. Come see them at Grandma's Pumpkin Patch.Grandma’s Pumpkin Patch opens this weekend, kicking off with their Fall Farm Flea on Sept. 25 and Opening Day at Grandma’s Pumpkin Patch on Sept. 26. Admission to the Flea is $1. To enter the Patch and to enjoy all regular activities is $7. The pumpkin area is free to enter, and parking is always free. They’re located on North Eastman Road.

“People have been really buzzing, asking a lot of questions. … It’s exciting that people are eager to come back and visit us,” says Amanda King, pig race specialist at Grandma’s Pumpkin Patch.

Pig Races were canceled due to COVID-19 last season, but with more people vaccinated, they’re making a comeback this year. The goat petting station is also coming back, meaning the public can go into the pen and interact with the goats. Jewls the Clown will be returning on Saturdays.

Cocoa, a 3-year-old Nigerian dwarf goat, and Roxie, a Nigerian dwarf goat born earlier this year, love meeting new people.The Patch is offering a discount to servicemen and women, health care professionals, firefighters, and police on Hometown Heroes Day, Oct. 2. They’ll also be accepting donations to send to troops overseas. In honor of the medical professionals that continue to support us throughout the pandemic, this year’s corn maze has a pattern that says “Thank you, heroes.” There’s also a stethoscope looped into the shape of a heart.

“We were trying to thank the medical community for everything that they’ve done over this pandemic,” says King. The maze is sponsored by MidMichigan Health.

The corn maze will be open at dusk for the Flashlight Corn Maze on the last two Fridays and Saturdays of October. The event is BYOF — Bring Your Own Flashlight. 

“It’s not haunted, it’s not spooky, it’s not scary; it’s just something fun to do. It’s the corn maze with the challenge of the darkness,” says King.

Luna, a red bourbon turkey, stands at the entrance to the corn maze at the Patch.And on Oct. 3, come see “BIG trucks” at the Patch’s BIG Truck Day. Admission to the event is covered by your admission into the Patch. 

The Penny War Car Show is happening Oct. 24, where guests can vote for their favorite antique vehicle with pocket change. There will be prizes, but more importantly, all money raised goes toward the Grandma’s Pumpkin Patch Scholarship fund.

King, the granddaughter of “Grandma” Delia Sandow, reminisces about her. Born in 1922 and living through the Great Depression, Delia went to work during World War II. She hitchhiked from Midland to Flint every week to manufacture machine gun covers. On weekends, she’d hitchhike home and work on the family farm. 

Amanda King of Grandma's Pumpkin Patch holds two baby goats, Snowy and Blipster.“She was a strong lady,” says King. “She passed away at 91 years old. We made a scholarship fund in her name at the Midland Area Community Foundation, and so the Penny War Car Show is a fundraiser for that.”

The business has been in the family since its inception.

The pumpkin area at the Patch is free to enter any time.“Our family has been doing this since 1994, and we started the pumpkin patch because grandma got sick and we couldn’t figure out what was wrong. We took her to a bunch of doctors and we just couldn’t figure anything out. Finally, it dawned on us … grandma didn’t need to watch the kids anymore. It was the first time in her life she didn’t have to take care of someone else, and she just didn’t know what to do with herself. She didn’t have a purpose anymore.”

King’s dad came up with an idea: a pumpkin growing contest. Needing about 120 days to grow from planting to completion, they’re the longest growing crop. He challenged Delia, who avidly began researching the crop.

Grandma’s pumpkin was 300 pounds. King’s dad’s was 10.

“She had more pumpkins than grandkids,” says King. “... A lot of people have been coming for two generations now, and it’s really exciting to see kids that used to come here, bring their kids here.”

See the fall colors — on land or from the water

You don’t have to travel north to see fall’s beauty. The Great Lakes Bay Region has a wealth of nature trails to choose from, and Midland is no exception.

“We’re incredibly fortunate [in our region]. For hikes here at the Nature Center, we have 19 miles of trails,” says Jenn Kirts, director of programs at the Chippewa Nature Center (CNC). CNC is located on Badour Road, southwest of downtown Midland.

The River Trail at the Chippewa Nature Center has vistas where you can see the fall colors up and down the river.She recommends the River Point Trail for cedars, red sumacs, and yellow beeches and birches. The River Trail has vistas where you can see the fall colors up and down the river. And the Wetlands Trail has a two-story tower where you can see over the wetlands; the first level has a ramp, making it universally accessible. See the trail map here.

If you love being on the water, try viewing the leaves by kayak. 

“It’s a fantastic time to be on the river. Sometimes, it’s better than a drive because you have time to absorb what you’re seeing,” says Kirts.

CNC’s universal access site will be open until mid-October. If you don’t own a kayak, you can rent one with Ike’s Mobile Kayak Rentals or Nor’East. Nor’East is currently offering fall kayaking trips. CNC is also offering a Fall Color Tour by kayak on Oct. 9. For more kayaking info in the area, you can read our roundup

Chippewa Nature Center has over 19 miles of trails as well as a kayak launch.“Those are my favorite places to be in the fall, honestly, are the trails and the rivers,” says Kirts. “It’s just such a beautiful time to be outside.”

Besides trails and rivers, CNC hosts many family-friendly events (also see the “Family Fun” section for more). Related to leaf viewing, CNC is hosting Families in Nature: Changing Colors on Oct. 9 and Fall Walk on Oct. 12. Fall Walk is led by an interpretive naturalist and is for adults only.

“The goal is to get people outside, whether they have the opportunity to come here, to the Nature Center, or whether they’re enjoying their local park or their neighborhood. Just encouraging them to get outside and take part in it,” says Kirts.

It’s not just CNC doing things outside this fall.

National Coming Out Day happens every October. To celebrate, why not walk “Outdoors Together”? On Oct. 10, you can hike at the Averill Preserve, express yourself with chalk, and enjoy fall-favorite snacks. The event is free, but a $5 donation is appreciated to cover food costs. Everyone is welcome. Great Lakes Bay Pride, Stand with Trans, and Little Forks Conservancy came together to hold this event.

Dow Gardens is holding a Fall Walk on Oct. 15-16, but you can visit anytime to see the fall colors.Dow Gardens is holding an evening Fall Walk from Oct. 15-16. The canopies will be lit with luminaries and graced with music. It’s recommended that you call to reserve your spot.

If you want to venture outside of Midland, see our top picks for hiking trails in the Great Lakes Bay Region. Kirts also recommends checking out the trails maintained by our local conservancies: Little Forks, Chippewa Watershed, and Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy.

Fun for the family

Heads up — this one is happening tomorrow! Join Early Head Start for “Apple of My Eye” at The Tridge. Activities include fishing for apples, make-and-take projects, snacks, take-home supplies, and a drawing to win passes to Leaman's Green Applebarn. You can also talk with Early Head Start staff to learn about their services.

Who says hunting for treasure is just for pirates? Assemble your team to participate in the Midland County Treasure Hunt, starting at The Tridge on Oct. 2. Registration is $10 per person. Hurry — registration closes this Saturday, Sept. 25. 

Dogs are part of the family, too! The Great Lakes Bay Animal Society is hosting its 9th annual Fast & Furriest 5K run/walk on Oct. 9. The event will be held in Midland City Forest. It’s a timed event with prizes, but you’re also welcome to participate just for the fun of it. They’re also offering a virtual challenge.

Chippewa Nature Center (CNC) has a full docket of family events this fall — most of them free. Kirts encourages families to try out the Story Hour and Nature Play! series, which will be happening regularly throughout the fall.

The Wetlands Trail at the Nature Center has a two-story tower where you can see over the wetlands; the first level has a ramp, making it universally accessible.“We try to have a lot of activities that are available to anyone; there’s no cost for them,” says Kirts.

CNC is most excited to bring back the Fall Harvest Festival on Oct. 2. This celebration of early farming will feature blacksmiths, apple butter and apple cider making, and lots of hands-on activities like rope and candle making. The event is free for children and CNC members, and $5 for anyone else.

They also have a Black Light Hike on Sept. 28 and a Nature at Night event on Oct. 23. Both events will be fun ways for your children to learn about nature. Nature at Night will feature a lit jack-o-lantern walk, made by Bullock Creek students.

“There’s just fantastic opportunities to get outside, see what’s happening, and spend some time in nature,” says Kirts. “And to slow down a little bit, and enjoy the season.”

Non-traditional activities: Shop, volunteer, auto show, and more

The Michigan Antique & Collectibles Festival is happening this weekend, Sept. 25-26, at the Midland County Fairgrounds. Registration is $10 and parking is free. Follow their Facebook page for updates. 

Love reading, food and music? Want a free book? Check out the Big Reads Kickoff Party on Saturday, Sept. 25 from 1-5 p.m. To learn more about the event and the selected book, check out our coverage.

Fall isn’t complete without a cozy wardrobe. SoCal and Botanica Modern Market are co-hosting a Fall Fashion Show at The Ashman Loft on Sept. 25, complete with brunch and shopping. Part of the proceeds will be donated to Samaritan's Purse Ministry: Operation Christmas Child. Walk-ins will be accepted up to the event day, but space is limited.

Looking for a way to give back? United Way of Midland County is holding a Flood Survivor Fall Clean-Up on Sept. 30.Looking for a way to give back? United Way of Midland County is holding a Flood Survivor Fall Clean-Up on Sept. 30. Volunteers will be removing excess natural debris from homeowners’ yards affected by the flood. There’s a morning and an afternoon time slot to choose from.

Support your favorite local stores during the Buy Nearby event on Oct. 1 in downtown Midland. According to the event page, “If Michiganders redirected 10% of their estimated $23.7 billion in out-of-state e-commerce, Michigan would gain $1.9 billion in increased economic activity.”

Also happening that weekend is Northwood University’s International Auto Show, from Oct. 1-2. This massive event — with over 500 new and classic cars and 73 student and vendor booths — is 100% student-run. Read about some of the students “driving” the show in our story.

Halloween festivities

Decorating for Halloween is half the fun, and why not decorate with your original artwork? Creative 360 is holding two acrylic painting events, both family-friendly. On Oct. 3, choose from three fun, Halloween-themed designs for a “BOO-tiful Halloween Canvas” painting session. On Oct. 5, get in touch with your romantic side and paint the Bride of Frankenstein. Supplies are included for both events, but be sure to register in advance.

Decorating for Halloween is half the fun.Midland-local Deb Forshee is hosting Forshee’s Annual Haunted Forest Walk from Oct. 15-16. Kids are encouraged to bring candy to share. While the event is family-friendly, there’s also an adults-only portion where live actors will haunt the trails. The event is free, but donations are accepted to help fund next year’s event. Refreshments will be available.

If eerie poetry is what you need to get in the Halloween mood, check out Poe on the Porch at The Pines of Dow Gardens on Oct. 29. The evening will start out with Edgar Allan Poe but will include other writers. There will be “frightfully delicious bites of food” as well.

For early, trick-or-treating, go to Midland Center for the Arts’ Halloween Bash on Oct. 30. While picking up treats, your family can also watch “spooky science demonstrations” and participate in “ghoulish hands-on activities.” To attend, you must register in advance. It’s free for museum members, $7 for non-members.

What’s a holiday without a themed race? On Oct. 31, run through Sanford in costume for the 6th Annual Trick or Trot 5K Trail Run/Walk. The race is chip-timed, but there will also be awards for best costumes. Proceeds go toward the Meridian Band Department.
Are you reading this and not seeing your event included? Drop it in a comment below!

Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala is a freelance writer with a focus on health and science. As a lifelong resident of the Tri-Cities, she loves sharing how our communities are overcoming challenges. Crystal is also a serial hobbyist — her interests range from hiking or drawing to figuring out how to do a handstand. Her work can be seen in Wide Open Eats, The Xylom, Woman & Home, and The Detroit Free Press. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.