Top 12 Things to Do in Historic and Outdoorsy Dowagiac, Michigan

Dowagiac, Michigan
Dowagiac, Michigan / Source: Great American Stations

Nestled in southwest Michigan near the Indiana border, the city of Dowagiac offers small-town charm paired with ample opportunities for outdoor recreation. From strolling the historic downtown district to playing a round of golf at one of Michigan’s top-ranked courses, Dowagiac makes a delightful destination for visitors.

1. Explore Dowagiac’s Downtown

Downtown Dowagiac
Downtown Dowagiac / Source: Flickr

Dowagiac’s walkable downtown commercial historic district provides enjoyable strolling, shopping, and sightseeing. The ornate 1890 Dowagiac National Bank building now houses the Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce, where you can pick up a self-guided walking tour map.

Browse antiques stores, boutiques, galleries, and eateries housed in Italianate-style architecture along Front Street. Stop for coffee and crepes at Sandhill Crane Crossing Cafe or craft beer at Dowagiac Brewing Company Taproom.

Enjoy riverside tables at Front Street Crossing Grille, wood oven pizza at Pompeii’s, or upscale dining at The Olympia. With compact charm and pedestrian-friendly streets, downtown Dowagiac offers a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

2. Rent a Canoe or Kayak on Dowagiac River

Dowagiac River
Dowagiac River / Source: Leader Publications

For a fun outdoor excursion, rent a canoe or kayak from Dowagiac River Canoe Livery and paddle down the gentle Dowagiac River. You can put in right at the livery’s location off M-51 south of town and be shuttled by vehicle 5 miles downstream after your trip.

Glide past grassy banks, woodlands and wetlands as you appreciate the easy downstream journey. This section of river is perfect for families, though be sure to portage around logjams. Allow 3-4 leisurely hours to paddle and stop for swimming or picnicking on the banks of the beautiful Dowagiac River.

3. Tour the Round Oak Stove Company

Round Oak
Round Oak / Source: Dowagiac Area History Museum

Gain insight into Dowagiac’s manufacturing legacy at the excellent Dowagiac Area History Museum located in the former 1893 Round Oak Stove Company factory.

This National Historic Landmark property houses exhibits on the rise of Round Oak into the world’s largest stove producer by the early 1900s, supplying stoves internationally.

Marvel at the stoves and artifacts filling multiple floors of the old factory, along with displays on Dowagiac businesses, residents, and area history. Docent-led tours are available Saturdays for deeper insights. There’s also a cool model train room and research library.

4. Have Family Fun at Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival

Dogwood Fine Arts Festival
Dogwood Fine Arts Festival / Source: Leader Publications

Each spring, the charming Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival takes place bringing joyful community entertainment and arts appreciation. Dowagiac’s tree-lined streets bloom with pink and white dogwood blossoms, a perfect backdrop for this lively festival.

Downtown closes for a craft fair, classic car show, dog parade, live music, and Art Attack chalk art competition. Enjoy performances from school bands and dance troupes at the Dowagiac Union School campus.

Kids will love the carnival rides and games. Sample food from local eateries while taking in public artworks and street performers during this spirited Dowagiac tradition.

5. Drive the Southwest Michigan Country Roads

Southwest Michigan Roads
Southwest Michigan Roads / Source: Pixels

Southwest Michigan is filled with incredibly picturesque winding country back roads that are perfect for pleasant drives. Some of the prettiest routes near Dowagiac meander past rolling farmland, wildflower meadows, red barns, and forested creeks ideal for Sunday drives.

Recommended country roads to explore include M-62 west towards Sister Lakes, Indian Lake Road, Yankee Street heading south, Pokagon Highway starting in Niles, and Peavine Street. Many are marked as official bike routes. Soak in the bucolic scenery on a meandering drive or bike ride through the countryside.

6. Tour the 1894 Beckwith Theater Building

Beckwith Theater
Beckwith Theater / Source: South Bend Tribune

Address: 100 New York Ave, Dowagiac, MI 49047

For a peek into Dowagiac’s ornate Victorian commercial architecture, don’t miss the beautifully restored 1894 Beckwith Theater Building, now home to the Dowagiac District Library.

Guided tours are offered allowing you inside to see original stained glass, tin ceilings, cherry woodwork, carved pillars, Renaissance-style murals and more throughout this historic building. Learn about the structure’s history first as a vaudeville theater and opera house, then department store and finally public library.

It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its well-preserved grandeur. Tours run about 20 minutes showcasing this architectural gem.

7. Paddle Down Dowagiac Creek

Dowagiac Creek
Dowagiac Creek / Source: Flickr

In addition to the Dowagiac River, visitors can paddle down the slower, meandering Dowagiac Creek through nature areas as it flows into town. Start from riverside Lyons Park or nearby Saylor Park. Dowagiac Creek Canoe Rental in town also provides rentals and shuttles.

Be prepared to pull your canoe over some logjams. But floating downstream offers scenic views of the wooded wetlands with opportunities to spot herons, turtles and beavers along its banks. Allow 2-3 hours for a relaxing downstream Dowagiac Creek paddle.

8. Ride the Dowagiac Rotary Express

Dowagiac Depot
Dowagiac Depot / Source: Twitter

For leisurely sightseeing around Dowagiac, hop aboard the Dowagiac Rotary Express, a replica 1890s train offering public rides. The mini open-air train departs from the Dowagiac Train Depot taking guests on a 20-25 minute narrated tour through Dowagiac neighborhoods, downtown and parks.

The conductor provides historic commentary on landmarks and local history. Special event rides include the Christmas Holiday Express. Tickets cost just a few dollars for this fun family-friendly activity. All proceeds go to Rotary community service projects.

9. Enjoy the Works of Artist Harold O’Connor

Artist Harold O'Connor
Artist Harold O’Connor / Source: Interweave

Residents of Dowagiac take pride in being the hometown of renowned illustrator and fine artist Harold O’Connor. Many of his works reflecting Dowagiac are displayed at the Dowagiac Area History Museum.

O’Connor is best known for his 60-year career illustrating for Ford Motor Company, with drawings of cars, factories and Americana depicted in his realistic style. The museum’s exhibit describes his local roots and prolific career through displayed artwork and videos. Take time to appreciate creations by one of Dowagiac’s most talented former residents.

10. Explore the Cass County Council on Aging

Cass County Council on Aging
Cass County Council on Aging / Source: Cass County,

For retirees visiting Dowagiac or those seeking activities for older family members, the programs and classes offered by the Cass County Council on Aging provide social engagement and learning.

Their Lewis Cass Education Center houses computer labs, woodworking shop, fitness rooms and more for older adult programming.

Activities include technology lessons, fitness classes, card games, arts & crafts, special interest clubs, day trips and casing crystals. Browse the full catalog of activities promoting wellness and camaraderie for Cass County.

11. Explore the Cass County Parks

Cass County Parks
Cass County Parks / Source: South Bend Tribune

Cass County is home to over a dozen excellent parks that provide access to the region’s natural assets of forests, lakes, rivers, and prairies. Highlights near Dowagiac include 270-acre Dr. T.K. Lawless Park with trails, fishing and camping on Stone Lake.

Lewis Farms features equestrian areas. Jasper Dairy Prairie is preserved native prairie. Russ Forest has a log cabin village at Diamond Lake. 25-mile Cass County Famer Rail Trail connects several parks. The county parks offer myriad ways to experience beautiful southwest Michigan landscapes.

12. Visit Christmas Tree Lane

Christmas Tree Lane
Christmas Tree Lane / Source: Awesome Mitten

Each holiday season, one special street in Dowagiac transforms into a magical illuminated wonderland. Since 1963, two blocks of Louisiana Street have hosted Christmas Tree Lane featuring homeowners decorating their houses and yards with thousands of twinkling lights timed to music.

Visitors drive slowly down the street from the comfort of their cars enjoying this coordinated dazzling neighborhood light display. Christmas Tree Lane runs nightly from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, spreading free holiday cheer throughout Dowagiac.

Dowagiac, Michigan offers the perfect blend of historic small town charm and abundant natural beauty. After time spent enjoying both historic and natural Dowagiac, it’s no wonder the Potawatomi language name for this area meant “in the pines” – an apt description of this welcoming retreat nestled within beautiful woods and farmland.

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