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Connect to Fall Color with the S.S. Badger

a path with trees on the side of a road

The S.S. Badger is the perfect way to explore fall! Enjoy the autumn sights in the shoreline towns of Ludington and Manitowoc, or turn your trip into a longer excursion. Either way, fall’s natural display plus seasonal events abound.

Fall is a perfect time to explore autumn colors using the S.S. Badger as your fall color connection. With daily crossings out of each port through Oct. 14 (9 a.m. ET from Ludington, 2 p.m. CT from Manitowoc), there is plenty of time for leaf-peeping in September and October on either shoreline.

Make either port (or both) your destination for fall-themed fun that is easy and relaxing. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Ludington/Mason County

With 28 miles of beachfront plus 2,000 miles of streams and 40 inland lakes, Ludington and Mason County offer a quintessential “Up North” experience that is magical in the fall. Ludington delivers the perfect combination of natural resources and outdoor recreation with quaint, small-town charm. There are many ways to view fall in the area:

Take a hike in Ludington State Park — Boasting 21 miles of hiking trails, this 5,300-acre piece of paradise offers numerous trails in varying lengths for a true fall color experience among nature. A favorite hike is the Lost Lake-Island Loop Trail for lake views and vistas. You can also snag a campsite more easily in the fall in the most popular park in Michigan’s state park system. Three modern mini cabins are perfect for colder evenings.

a path with trees on the side of a roadDrive in the countryside — Try this driving route to see fall colors, passing the dunes of Ludington State Park, country roads with u-pick orchards, wind farms, and a scenic overlook on Lakeshore Road. If you’d like to see fall colors while learning about the area, drive a self-guided Mason County Cultural Trail with cell phone-accessible narration. Routes include the Lumber Heritage Trail with stops ranging from lumber baron homes to historic cemeteries, the Barn Quilt Trail or Agricultural Trail. Autumn-themed stops on the Agricultural Trail include Orchard Market for produce plus homemade jams and salsas, and five-generation Kistlercrest Farms with apples and maple syrup for sale.

a small boat in a body of waterPaddle a river — With more than 2,000 miles of streams and 40 inland lakes in the county, you can get an up-close vantage point of Michigan’s fall colors from the seat of a kayak or canoe. Pere Marquette River is a favorite spot for paddling, and it is exceptional in the fall with the reflection of fall colors dancing on the river. There are several spots along the river to drop in. If you do not bring your own gear, outfitters can rent you everything you need.

Bicycle a path — A popular spot to bike or walk is at Cartier Park, just a mile north of downtown Ludington. It includes a one-mile paved loop and about 3.5 miles of single-track mountain bike path, where visitors are treated to serene, wooded surroundings and views of Lincoln Lake. Spindrift Cyclesports and Trailhead Bike Shop rent bikes if you don’t bring your own.

a man standing next to a riverDrop a line – Ludington is a top fishing port on Lake Michigan, with more fishing charters and more trout and salmon caught each year than any other in Michigan. October means fantastic steelhead with minimum boat traffic, giving anglers steelhead to themselves. Anglers from across the nation also travel to Mason County to experience the legendary steelhead and salmon runs in the Pere Marquette River. For information about hiring a charter boat, contact the Ludington Charter Boat Association.

Take in a fall festival or event – Ludington features many fall festivals that celebrate the season. Visit during one of the signature fall events like Bell’s Octoberfest (Sept. 28-29), Lumber Day (Sept. 29) or History in Action Days (Oct. 4, 11) at Historic White Pine Village, and Harvest Festival Weekends at Lewis Farms & Petting Zoo Saturdays and Sundays in October.

For more information about visiting Ludington and Mason County, visit the Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, call 800-542-4600, or email For information about other Michigan destinations, visit

Manitowoc/Two Rivers

The Wisconsin port city of Manitowoc and neighboring Two Rivers both have much to offer visitors — miles of pristine Lake Michigan coastline, beaches, trails, cultural attractions and more. And a fall visit is especially spectacular. Consider these ways to experience the western terminus of the S.S. Badger:

a person riding a bike down a dirt roadBike, hike or camp at Point Beach State Forest — This state forest offers 3,000 acres and six miles of sandy Lake Michigan shoreline; Rawley Point Lighthouse maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard since 1853, 111 campsites (including two large group cabins and an outdoor group camp); and hiking, biking and nature trails. Ride the popular Rawley Point Bicycle Trail, which traverses through a pine and hemlock forest for six miles and connects to the Mariners Trail (see more below) for an additional six miles.

Bird watching during fall migration — The Woodland Dunes Nature Center & Preserve contains more than 1,500 acres of hardwood and conifer forests, wetlands and prairies between Two Rivers and Manitowoc, with seven miles of hiking trails. The center’s ridges and marshes are an important stopover to songbirds and Monarch butterflies, not to mention a habitat for bats, amphibians, mammals and more than 400 plant species.

a person standing next to a treeTake a fall drive for cheese — It wouldn’t be a visit to Wisconsin without partaking in one of the state’s most popular (and delicious) exports. Pine River Dairy, a sixth-generation dairy producer just outside of Manitowoc, boasts more than 250 varieties of cheese in its retail store and also makes flavored butter. Fourth-generation-owned Hennings Wisconsin Cheese is a scenic 30-minute drive from Manitowoc featuring an on-site cheese store and museum plus a wide variety of cheese, including award-winning Cheddars and Colbys. Fresh cheese curds also are made daily. Once you’re stocked up on cheese, head to Two Rivers-based Wilfert Farms for fall produce, plus hit up the pumpkin patch for decorative, jack-0-lantern, pie or white pumpkins in addition to corn stalks, straw bales, and gourds for fall decorating.

Follow the coastline — Memorial Drive from Manitowoc to Two Rivers is one of the most scenic drives on the Lake Michigan coast of Wisconsin. Or if you prefer, follow the six-mile, paved Mariners Trail joining Manitowoc and Two Rivers via the lakeshore designed for bicyclists, walkers, joggers, and rollerbladers. The 10-year-old trail includes gardens, sculptures, telescopes, parking turnouts, restroom facilities, picnic areas, and local flora and fauna. Dogs on leash are welcome. You can also visit lighthouses, restaurants and gift shops along the way. Trail and beach access is available at parking areas and connects with Rawley Point Trail at Neshotah Beach in Two Rivers.

a group of people posing for the cameraCatch a fall event — Manitowoc and Two Rivers offer a smattering of festive fall events that make a perfect time to visit, including Windigo Fest for all-things Halloween on Franklin Street in historic downtown Manitowoc(Oct. 5-7), Enchanted Forest at Woodland Dunes in Two Rivers (Oct. 6), Applefest at Central Park in Two Rivers (Oct. 13), and All Hallow’s Eve at Pinecrest Historical Village in Manitowoc (Oct. 13).

For more information about visiting Manitowoc and Two Rivers, visit the Manitowoc Area Visitor & Convention Bureau, call 800-627-4896, or email For information about other Wisconsin destinations, visit

OPTIONAL: Fall Lake Michigan Loop Tour with S.S. Badger

If you have more time, consider a longer fall tour through northern Michigan or Wisconsin for more color exploration. Our August blog highlights how to take a Lake Michigan Circle Tour combining the S.S. Badger crossing with a Lake Michigan driving loop tour around the northern half of Lake Michigan, affording a chance to see beautiful fall colors in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin’s Door County, among other regions.

Ludington Photo Credits: Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Manitowoc Photo Credits: Manitowoc Area Visitor & Convention Bureau

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