Michigan Indian Trail of the Upper Thumb


Sand Road – Michigan’s First Highway

Michigan Indian Trail Sand Road

Parts of Michigan Indian Trail Sand Road Still Exists

If you live or are in the Upper Thumb long enough you will encounter unimproved roads and trails. One such trail was a well known and established by Native Americans for over 1000 years. It’s called several names; Sand Road, Trail Road, and Old Sand Road. While it’s said that M-25 took the place of much of the trail, the area between Bay Port and Port Austin has miles of the old trail still intact. It’s not considered a major trial. It likely was a Michigan Indian hunting and fishing path into the Upper Thumb and part of a waterway trail that crossed Saginaw Bay from Pointe Aux Chenes (Oak Point) stopping midway at the Charity Islands the on to Tawas and the Shore Line Trail that hugged Lake Huron’s shore to Alpena. On the eastern side of Huron County, the trail picks up again at Pointe Aux Barques and hugs the eastern shore to St. Claire.

What follows are excerpts from research on the history of the Michigan tribes and the trail system. 

Michigan Indian Paths Established Todays Highways

Michigan Indian Trail Now M-25

Parts of Michigan Indian Trails Are Today’s Highways.

“Traveling on land the Indians followed a number of established trails. One led along the banks of the St. Clair River, up the lakeshore, around the semicircular boundary of present Huron County, and then to the mouth of the Saginaw River. From there the trail continued to follow the shore to Mackinaw by way of the present cities of Tawas, Oscoda, and Alpena. In the Thumb region, Highway No. 25 now pursues the course of this trail. Another trail ran from the mouth of the Clinton River on Lake St. Clair and thence across the present counties of Macomb, Oakland, Lapeer, Tuscola and Bay to the mouth of the Saginaw River. This trail crossed the Cass River at Tuscola. Two other trials followed the Belle and the Black Rivers into the interior. Pointe Lookout juts into Saginaw Bay from its western shore. Between Oak Point and Pointe Lookout, the Indians operated a ferry line by way of Charity and Little Charity”

The New History of Michigan’s Thumb, Gerald Schultz, c 1969, p 18-19.

A “Ferry Line” Crossed Saginaw Bay

Huron County has a straight-line boundary upon the south side, which is about forty-five miles long. Upon the shoreline of eighty-five miles were numerous villages and camps, as is attested by the debris left by the dwellers. There is a village site every few miles along the shore of Saginaw Bay. A few small islands in the bay also have remains of villages and mounds. The remnants of mounds that have been mutilated by relic hunters are visible within a mile east of Port Austin and upon New River, near its mouth. A mound group was situated in the southeastern part of Sheridan Township, near the southern boundary of the county, but the section upon which it stood could not be ascertained. Mr. Harlan I. Smith, of Victoria Memorial Museum, Ottawa, Canada, who made a survey of the Thumb district, reported in 1901 that a number of small mounds stood upon Katechay Island, Fair Haven Township. There is an old record of a circular enclosure where the courthouse at Bad Axe stands. Traces of workshops and camps, Are still to be found along the Lake Huron shore. A trail followed the shore from Oak Point, and a “ferry line” crossed the bay for Point Lookout with a stopping-place at Charity Island.” 

The Cass River was a Major Route

Indians Canoeing / Library and Archives Canada,

“The Cass River passes through what was a thickly populated Indian district lying east of Saginaw. Down the stream, according to archeological evidence, the Indians brought hundreds of chert nodules from which they made arrow points, knives, and other edge tools. The Flint River nearly parallels the Cass into the Thumb and was used extensively in Indian commerce.”

Archaeological Atlas of Michigan [by] Wilbert B. Hinsdale…Hinsdale, W. B. (Wilbert B.), 1851-1944., McCartney, Eugene Stock, 1883-, Stevens, Edward J.

“The settlers who followed them came up the shore by the way of Pointe Aux Barques following the Indian trail along the beach. There were a number of Indians about here at this period belonging to the Chippewa tribe. They were generally peaceful and frequently exchanged visits with these early pioneers bringing them gifts of venison, bear meat and in the spring maple sugar. They caught the sap in troughs made of birch bark and boiled it down in large brass kettles. These kettles had been so long in their possession that even the memory of the oldest Indian was taxed in vain when asked to give an account of how they obtained them. –

Cover Image – 1844 map with trails highlighted- Mark Putnam 


Michigan's Thumb ThumbWind



Mike Hardy

Author of a fun loving and event blog covering topics of the Upper Thumb of Michigan , the wind energy capital of the Great Lakes. Offering great trove of information on Wind Energy, Cheeseburger in Caseville, Saginaw Bay, Sailing.

4 Responses

  1. Mark Putnam says:

    It took me a lot of time to put together the Indian Trails Map of the Thumb of Michigan that I overlaid in white on an early Michigan map. I took the information for the trails from the early surveys and other maps that don’t always show the end of the trail as many trails seem to end but go on to connect with another trail later in the general direction. This is true of the trail that goes north out of Lapeer, branches, and has one branch pointing to Chief Otusson’s Village, which is today the City of Frankenmuth, Michigan. There was also likely a trail all along the shoreline of the Thumb of Michigan.

    • ThumbWind says:

      The Indian trail road goes right by my parents cottage. I always thought is amazing that such a complex network was established for generations before Europeans set foot in the area. I would like to prove, somehow, of the canoe network between Oak Pointe, charity Island and Tawas.

  1. November 26, 2018

    […] The route that the expedition noted and took to cross Saginaw Bay supports a theory that the route of Oak Point-Charity Island-AuSable was part of an ancient Indian transit route that in included the Indian Trail that starts in Saginaw and ends in Port Austin. See Indian Trails of the Thumb. […]

Please Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: