For fans of Fighting Irish football, as well as for those who cheer for the visiting opponents, Southwest Michigan is a popular lodging destination during Notre Dame home football weekends. Not only is it a short drive to all the action at the stadium, this corner of Michigan provides a long list of fall activities to make it a full weekend. Such a long list, in fact, even season ticket holders have something different to do every home game weekend.
Here are our recommendations for the 2015 season.
September 5, 2015 – Notre Dame vs. Texas
Labor Day weekend may signal the start of college football, but it's still one of summer's biggest blowout weekends. After the game, push aside thoughts of fall. The beach-perfect weather forecast makes this the right time for a long weekend in St. Joseph.
On Sunday, take an early morning stroll on the south pier off Silver Beach to watch more than 100 sailboats leave on the second leg of the Tri-State Regatta. After bidding the boats bon voyage, check out Antiques on the Bluff, enjoy horse-drawn trolley rides, and kick back at one of two, free municipal band concerts.
On Monday, check out the downtown shops, the Silver Beach Carousel, and the Whirlpool Compass Fountain. Don't forget your swimsuit, flip flops, and beach chair for some quality time both days on one of three beaches within the city. St. Joseph Today has all the details.
September 19, 2015 – Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech
If you're wondering what that sound is, the golf courses of Southwest Michigan are beckoning you. When you pack the car with tailgate supplies, leave some room for your clubs. If you arrive early Friday afternoon, you will have plenty of time for 9 or 18 holes and a delicious dinner at one of the many area restaurants. Or, make a date to hit the links in the cool Sunday morning air. Either way, you have plenty of courses from which to choose.
Apple picking weekend
September 26, 2015 – Notre Dame vs. Massachusetts
Michigan is the third-largest apple producing state in the nation with orchards throughout Southwest Michigan leading the way. In addition to commercial harvesting, many farms give you the opportunity to select your fruit right off the tree. Enjoy a day of apple picking at farms including Jollay Orchards in Coloma, Tree-mendous Fruit Farm in Eau Claire, Lemon Creek Winery and Fruit Farm in Berrien Springs, Big Dan's U-pick 'Em and Farm Market in Hartford, and Lehman's Orchard in Niles. Apple varieties expected to be available during the last weekend of September include Red and Golden Delicious, Jonathan, Honey Crisp, Gala, Fiji, Rome, and Mutsu. Many of the farms also offer hayrides and other activities the entire family will enjoy. Note: Call ahead to make sure the orchards are open and to learn what varieties are available during your visit.
Fall color tour weekend
October 10, 2015 – Notre Dame vs. Navy
By mid-October, the Southwest Michigan landscape is aglow in orange, red, and yellow in what is a must-see experience.
Take in a hike and the breathtaking burst of autumn color at Madeline Bertrand County Park in Niles. Situated on the St. Joseph River, the park has plenty of hiking trails and a river bluff observation tower to explore. Sarett Nature Center in Benton Harbor features five miles of trails meandering through its 800 acres of woods, wetlands, and cattail marshes.
Combine a game of golf with your color tour by reserving a tee time at The Golf Club at Harbor Shores. With holes overlooking Lake Michigan, the Paw Paw River, and beautifully wooded vistas, it is a spectacular location to enjoy the scenery and sharpen your putting game.
If watching the game outdoors Saturday is enough fresh air for one weekend, experience the autumn colors from the car. Travel along M-63 from St. Joseph to South Haven for a pleasant, tree-lined drive with periodic peeks at Lake Michigan during the journey. Red Arrow Highway from Stevensville to New Buffalo also offers colorful views along the route.
Pumpkin patch weekend
October 17, 2015 – Notre Dame vs. USC
As Halloween approaches, it's time to sip some apple cider and pick out the perfect pumpkin. Farm markets and u-pick patches throughout Southwest Michigan offer a large selection of pumpkins, gourds, squash, and Indian corn to decorate your home for the season. Experience some country fun by choosing your pumpkin right off the vine at Stover's Farm Market & U-pic in Berrien Springs. Visit Piggott's Farm Market in Benton Harbor to look over a perfectly arrange selection of already harvested pumpkins and to pick up some local jams, fresh baked goods, and craft beers while you're there. These are just a couple of pumpkin patch locations among dozens you will find while traveling throughout the region.
Winery and craft brewery tour weekend
November 14, 2015 – Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest
After the final home game of the season, relax on Sunday by sampling wines and beers produced right here in Southwest Michigan. With more than 20 wineries and tasting rooms, as well as a growing number of craft breweries, you can fill an entire day exploring the many varieties.
Map out your own trip, or let someone else do the driving. Grape and Grain Tours offers the Sunday Fun Day Wine tour of four wineries, and the Sunday Brewery Tour with stops at four craft breweries. Each tour includes tasting fees and lunch. Fruit Vine Tours focuses on winery tours and has convenient pick-up locations in New Buffalo, St. Joseph, and Stevensville. All tours have friendly, informative tour guides and include tasting fees. Both tour companies require reservations, so call ahead for availability and to reserve your seat.