The Run Down

Pack the car because you're going on a day trip to Southwest Michigan. It's close to a 2-hour drive, and if you're going during the right time of year, you'll start at a pick-your-own peach/grape/apple orchard on a hillside farm. Afterward, you'll head to a park covering nearly 2,000 acres and 6 miles of sandy trails that go up and over steep sand dunes. The day ends at small downtown in one of the many communities dotting Lake Michigan's coastline.

1. Apples @ The Shafer Farm

2. Hike @ Warren Dunes State Park

3. Dinner @ Greenbush Brewing

1. The Shafer Farm

Clocking in at two hours from Chicago, the first stop on this trip is Shafer Farms, a family-run u-pick farm set inside “Michigan’s Fruit Belt,” a narrow region that follows Lake Michigan’s coastline where lake-effect climate and sandy and fertile soil make it especially suitable for fruit growers.

Once you get off the highway and drive through local roads, you’ll find yourself in the middle of the Fruit Belt. Every way you look is another orchard or winery, and if you wanted to make a whole weekend out of it, you could easily extend this trip to do a winery tour of the entire region. We’ll leave that for next time.

Depending on the harvest, there are about three months out of the year to visit. Here are notes to help you plan your trip. And here is their website for details on their harvest.

– Peach harvest is between late July through August

– Apple and grape season is from September through October

– No admission fee

– When you enter, they’ll offer you different-sized bags that you can use to fill with as much fruit as possible. You’ll pay at the end based on how many bags you fill. We purchased their smallest bag for $10, which fit around 25+ apples.

After you enter, you’ll park next to the orchards alongside the main road, and the fruit-picking extravaganza can begin. We visited during the apple harvest, and there were over 20 varieties across this 70+ acre farm.

While many u-pick farms layer on all the bells and whistles like corn mazes, petting zoos, and other activities, The Shafer Farm doesn’t have any of that.

This is a more Zen experience with wide-open spaces to spread out that at times makes you feel like have the entire orchard to yourself.

2. Warren Dunes State Park

The next stop is less than a 15-minute drive from Shafer Farm. You’re at Warren Dunes State Park, home to rugged sand dunes and miles of hiking trails. If you’ve been to the Indiana Dunes, you might think this is more of the same, but that can’t be further from the truth.

While the Indian Dunes has a varied ecological footprint, Warren Dunes State Park can sometimes feel more vast, like you’re exploring a beautiful barren lunar landscape.

Here are some notes for your trip:

– The entrance fee to the park is $10 per vehicle
– The main parking lot is next to the beach and Pikes Peak, the tallest dune in the park
– You can find restrooms and water fountains here before you set off on your hike
– Here’s a link to the trail map to help get your bearings. This parking lot is at marker #1

The hike begins on a vast stretch of sand with a gradual incline.

That gradual incline can sometimes turn into a steep incline.

If you’re ambitious, you can take the Mt. Randal Loop Trail, which is 4-miles circling almost the entire 1,952-acre park. It’s about a two to three-hour journey that includes long stretches along Lake Michigan, takes you deep into forests, and has you traversing steep climbs up mountains of sand.

The soft sand had most hikers going barefoot. Don’t leave the shoes in your car though. After awhile the sand can get a bit taxing, and a pair of shoes will give you some additional support and help you complete the long trek.


3. Greenbush Brewing

Before you head back home after a long day of apple picking and hiking, we’ve got one more place for you to visit. Head to the small downtown of Sawyer, Michigan, one of the many small communities in the area, where you’ll find Greenbush Brewing.

This family-friendly microbrewery is a craft beer mecca with a loyal local following and a varied BBQ menu.  This is right on the way back to Chicago, and judging from license plates in the parking lot, many other Chicagoans had the same idea before making the drive back.