A Dozen Things to See in Michigan’s Thumb


We encountered many folks who have come up to the Upper Thumb for their entire lives but never have seen these interesting sites. How many have you been to?  If your visiting Caseville, Port Austin or Harbor Beach check these out and let us know if you have a “must-see” from the tip of the Thumb.


Turnip Rock

Turnip Rock

This unique site is a small geological formation in Michigan. It is a limestone stack located in Lake Huron, in shallow water a few meters offshore, near the rock called the Thumbnail which is the extreme tip of Pointe Aux Barques, a small peninsula in Pointe Aux Barques Township which in turn is the extreme tip of The Thumb.

Turnip Rock has been severely undercut by wave action so that its top has a significantly larger cross-section than its base. Its consequent unusual form, reminiscent of a turnip, has made it an attraction for viewing by canoe and kayak. It’s only accessible from the water as it’s privately owned and not open to the public. Port Austin, the nearest large community, is the usual base for kayaking trips to Turnip Rock.


The Emergency Ark

Emergency Ark

A dilapidated barn from the late 1800s, carefully taken apart piece by piece, has been rebuilt by Detroit artist Scott Hocking as a huge wooden ark.

Originally conceived as an “Emergency Ark,” the project plays into the Hocking’s fascination with mythic forms and structures from the ancient world.

“Many of Scott’s projects are in hidden spaces, where you can’t necessarily see them,” one enthusiast noted. “But this is enormous — and so visible. I drove in from the east, and could see right away the great presence it will have in that landscape.”


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Caseville Breakwall

Its one of the few break walls anywhere that encourages you to walk out and take a look at the bay up close. You can fish, walk and catch a cool breeze on this 1/4 mile sprig of concrete and stone out into Saginaw Bay.

Watch the boats come in and out in the early morning and late afternoon. However, ifs its stormy be prepared to get wet.


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Charity Island

Also called Big Charity Island, is the largest island in Saginaw Bay, in the Michigan waters of Lake Huron. The island is 222 acres in area and has about 3 miles shoreline. The island was named by lake mariners for its location, placed ‘through the charity of God’ at the entrance to Saginaw Bay midway between the city of Au Gres, Michigan and “The Thumb”.

Geologically, the island contains pockets of chert that are believed to have been quarried by Native Americans. Offshore, the gravel reefs to the south create a shallow-water channel separating Charity Island from its smaller neighbor, Little Charity Island. The area between the two islands is a favorite spot for fishing. On the northeast end of the island, a small bay is lined with limestone bedrock, offering good holding ground as a place to anchor during storms. The harbor of refuge is accessible by small boat, though access is controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The island also contains an 11-acre  pond, literally a ‘lake within a lake’, fed by springs.


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Port Austin Lighthouse

This lighthouse off the shore of Lake Huron, about 2.5 miles north of Port Austin, Huron County Michigan sitting on a rocky reef,  which is just north of the tip of the Thumb and a real hazard to navigation. The light was first lit in 1878, and its pier was modified in 1899. It is still operational and is automated. The foundation materials are a pier, and the tower is constructed of yellow brick, with buff markings. It is an octagonal, 60-foot tall tower, with an attached keeper house. In 1985 the lens was replaced by a 12-volt solar-powered Tideland Signal 300 mm acrylic optic, which eliminated the need to maintain the submarine cable


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Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse

This Lighthouse ranks among the oldest lighthouses in Michigan. It is an active lighthouse maintained by the US Coast Guard remotely, located in Lighthouse County Park on Lake Huron near Port Hope, Michigan in Huron County. “Pointe aux Barques” means ‘Point of Little Boats’, a descriptor of the shallow shoals and reefs that lurk beneath these waves, presenting a hazard to boats as they round Michigan’s Thumb.


Port Austin Farmer’s Market

Wagon Rides at Port Austin Market.

One of that states largest on-going farmer’s market in Michigan. Every Saturday farmers, local artists, and craftsman offer a unique blend of local flare for each weekend. Be ready to walk as parking is at a premium in this small town. Enjoy an early Bloody Mary at the” Bank” and proceed to get your weekend stock of fresh corn, vegetables,  local fruit and an amazing assortment of local craftsmen offering clothing, rugs, collectibles to furniture. The market is open each Saturday through mid-October.


Octagonal Barn

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The Thumb Octagon Barn is a historic and unique barn located outsideGagetown, Michigan. It was built in 1924 by local businessman James Purdy. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources bought the property from the bank in 1991 to be incorporated into the adjacent Gagetown State Game Area. The farm buildings including the octagon barn had fallen into disrepair and were in danger of demolition. Local citizens banded together and organized the first Octagon Barn Festival in 1994 to raise funds to repair the barn. The Friends of the Thumb Octagon Barn was formed that year.

After the barn, historic farmhouse, garage and electric power plant were restored, other buildings were moved or built on the old Purdy farm. Moved to the site where a one-room schoolhouse and grain elevator. New construction included a schoolhouse museum, a large multipurpose building, a covered bridge and a sawmill. A blacksmith shop is planned.


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Sanilac Petroglyphs

The Sanilac Petroglyphs historic site is located near Cass City. Take M-53 to Bay City-Forestville Road and proceed east to Germania Road. Head south a one-half mile on Germania; the site is on the west side of the road. The carvings, known as petroglyphs, were discovered by residents after a fire swept through the area in 1881 and revealed rocks bearing the designs. Because they are made in relatively friable sandstone, geologists have been able to determine that the carvings were made 300 to 1,000 years ago, dating back to the Late Woodland Period. The Bow Man, believed to represent a hunter, is the most well-known of the Sanilac Petroglyphs, rock carvings etched into a sandstone outcrop.


Sand Point
From NOAA

Sand Point

The Sand Point Nature Preserve is one of the most critical protected coastal lands in the Saginaw Bay Watershed, and probably one of the most important in the Great Lakes. Through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act the Saginaw Bay Herpetological Survey found Sand Point Nature Preserve to be the most biologically diverse site along the Saginaw Bay shoreline.


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Bay Port

This is one of the Upper Thumb’s tiniest lakeshore villages but it overflows with history and sites unique only to Michigan. Home of the Bay Port Fish Company, operates between spring and fall, depending upon the weather and has four boats: the Osprey, the Argo, the Patsy, and the Sunflower. You can see the Osprey and the Argo tied up in Caseville harbor at the fish house just south of the break wall. Fresh, smoked, and frozen fish can be bought from the retail store in Bay Port. They also can be found at several Farmers Markets in Michigan. Look for booths at the Port Austin Farmer’s Market, Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market, and the Eastern Market in Detroit.


Huron Co Nature Center

Huron County Nature Center

Located midway between Caseville and Port Austin the wilderness arboretum offers over 120 acres of woods, dunes, marsh connected by an intensive trail system. This offers a glimpse of the upper thumb has it appeared 100 years ago. Alternating sand dune ridges, (now with mature growth), and wide areas of pine, oak, fern, and huckleberry.

There is no charge to visit and walk the trails. Donations are welcomed.


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