Saginaw Bay Beach

Michigan Day Trip Around the Thumb – Part One

The pandemic has really affected travel in Michigan. No concerts, no theaters or movies, and no big festivals like Caseville’s famous Cheeseburger in Festival. However, this does not prevent a person or immediate family that is currently in the same household from engaging in a Michigan Day Trip of outdoor activities like site-seeing, walking, hiking, running, and biking. There is no better place to do that, using safe distance practices, then in Michigan’s Thumb. If you have been housebound for the past 60 or more days, I would like to offer you some potential ideas to explore and take that outdoor walk. Especially before the summer weather fades into fall color.

A – Port Huron – Thomas Edison Park

Bluewater Bridge Port Huron
Bluewater Bridge Port Huron

This day trip starts at the gateway to Michigan’s Thumb. In the 1800s, stagecoaches plied their way north to lumber camps along ancient trails on the Lake Huron shoreline. Schooners and steamships passed on their way to the upper Great Lakes. Today you will travel north along M-25. This is considered one of Michigan’s earliest scenic highways as most of it closely hugs the shore all the way around the thumb. Our first stop is to see if we can catch a glimpse of one of the big freighters moving up the St. Clair River.

Canada Steamer Line on St. Clair River
Canada Steamer Line on St. Clair River

Our first stop is at Thomas Edison Parkway. This venue is a great place to watch the freighter and boat traffic on the St. Clair River. It’s free to visit with plenty of parking nearby. See the statue of young Thomas Edison and the railway deport where we worked as a boy. Walk under the Blue Water Bridges. This international crossing to Canada consists of two bridges. The original cantilever truss bridge with a total length of 6,178 feet was built in 1938. The second, newer span is a 6,109 foot, continuous bowstring arch bridge was completed in 1997. This crossing to Canada is the second busiest next to the Ambaster Bridge in Detroit.

B – Fort Gratiot Lighthouse

Ft-Gratiot-Lighthouse-Duplex
Tower and Keepers Duplex (left), Keepers Building (Right)

Your Michigan Day Trip continues a short drive north of Port Huron to one of the finest lighthouses on the Great Lakes. Enjoy a walk along the shore of the Fort Gratiot Lightstation. It operates today has a county park and is open to the public. The park campus includes the Light Keeper’s Duplex, Fog Signal Building, Single Keeper’s Dwelling, former Coast Guard Station, Equipment Building, and a three-bay garage.

The automated light tower is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. The light can be seen from 16 miles out into the lake. The green light flashes for one second every six seconds. In 1971 the Light Station was declared a National Historic Monument.  The US Coast Guard’s mission includes Search and Rescue, Maritime Law Enforcement, Ice Rescue, and Recreational Boating Safety.  The area of responsibility is Lower Lake Huron, the St. Clair River, three smaller rivers, and two man-made harbors on Lake Huron.

C – The Charming Lexington General Store

Our next stop is Lexington, only a little over a ½ hour from Port Huron. This town was first settled in the 1830’s supporting lumbering and early farmers with blacksmith, shoemaker, and fishing. Today it’s considered “on the edge” of suburbia for Metro Detroit.

Lexington General Store

This store was built in the late 1800s and is a great example of what was in just about every country village and town in Michigan. Known for their large candy selection including the old-fashioned penny candy. Take a picture and remember to come back to the general store so you can walk along with old squeaky wood floors, and browse gifts, lake signs, candles, kitchenware, jellies, and souvenirs. Listen for the “cha-ching” from their pull handle register from every sale. This is a neat step back in time.

D – Croswell Swinging Bridge

The Croswell Swinging Bridge Welcome Sign
The Croswell Swinging Bridge Welcome Sign

This little side detour is just west of Lexington. The Croswell Swinging Bridge is a pedestrian suspension bridge that is claimed to be the longest, (maybe only) spanning suspension footbridge in Michigan. It was built in 1905 over the Black River, with only the planks between two cables provided by Michigan Sugar Company.

Some call it Michigan’s Scariest Bridge. For little kids is a good-natured terror with the bridge always moving and swaying. It has a sign on one end that states, “Be Good To Your Mother-in-law.”

E – Port Sanilac Lighthouse

For the life of me, I think there is a conspiracy of silence with respect to Port Sanilac. The town, lighthouse, and harbor are truly charming but until the past couple of years, I hardly heard of this little port town. Park down by the lighthouse and walk out along the break wall for some great shots of the harbor, lighthouse, and catch a cool lake breeze.

Port Sanilac Light by Harbor

While the lighthouse is privately owned, the navigation light is still in operation as assistance to mariners. In 2016, the United States Coast Guard removed the Fresnel lens from the tower and installed an LED light in its place. The automated beacon flashes white every 2.5 seconds and can be observed up to 14 nautical miles out into Lake Huron. The light operates from dusk to dawn.

F- White Rock Scenic Overlook

Michigan M25

This is our long jaunt north. We take a quick rest stop at the historic site of White Rock. A scared native site and a treaty marker that ceded all land south of it to the early European settlers. Indigenous Peoples of Michigan, the Anishinabeg, views the White Rock on the edge of the Lake Huron shore as a sacred site. The rock was much, much larger than it appears today. (Which is 2020 is mostly underwater). The Indian ensured that fresh game and food items were placed on the site as an offering. Gitchie Manitou or Great Spirit would recognize the offering by the Anishinabeg as a token of thanks for the bounty and richness of the peninsula.

At White Rock part there are steps to the beach, an observation deck, walking trails connecting to a non-motorized path on Michigan M25. A unique element of the project is the interpretive sign and viewing opportunities for the “White Rock” that marked an 1807 treaty with local tribes.

G – Harbor Beach Harbor

Harbor Beach from Air
Harbor Beach from Air – Google Maps

Your Michigan Day Trip takes a quick stop at the world’s largest freshwater man-made harbor, the port of Harbor Beach Michigan is an ideal stopping point for sailors making their way up the shore of Lake Huron. With its protected port and town that’s steps away from the Marina, Harbor Beach offers sailors and boaters a welcome break and an ideal provisioning point. Harbor Beach has some interesting things to see and do when things get back to normal. If you find yourself with a few extra hours there are some great little site seeing trips that are close and interesting.

H – Port Hope, Stafford County Park On Lake Huron’s Shore

Port Hope Railway Depot
Port Hope Railway Depot

Just north of Harbor Beach, Port Hope a shore town that is also home to a completely restored railway depot from the early 1900s. The Port Hope Depot was built in 1904 and was the end of the line for the Pere Marquette railway. It’s been restored to its county charm of the early 1900s. Nearby at Stafford County Park is the historic landmark of an 80-foot sawmill chimney.

I – Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse

Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse

We keep on our Michigan Day Trip with a short drive further north of Port Hope is a small detour to Lighthouse Park. The original Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse was constructed of stone taken from the shore of Lake Huron in 1848. The keeper’s house and separate tower were located on a three-acre clearing hacked out of the dense wilderness. By 1857, the ravages of shoreline weather and a fire in the interior of the house created the need for a new structure. The new keeper’s house and attached 89-foot tower were built of the finest brick available. The light is still an active aid to navigation, making Pointe aux Barques one of the oldest continuously operating Lights on the Great Lakes.

J – Grindstone City Harbor

Grindstone City Harbor
Grindstone City Harbor

This tiny town is only 10 minutes away from the Pointe Aux Barques lighthouse. But unless you’re a local it could be tough to find. Follow the direction on the map to the Grindstone Harbor. This small natural harbor is roughly the same size when it was found my Captian Aaron Peer in 1856 when he was looking for safety from a storm.

Shelly’s Bar & Grill

Shelly's Bar & Grill

If its lunchtime on your trip, Shelly’s is one of those hidden gems that no one talks about. They don’t advertise much because they don’t need to. A favorite with the locals and bike clubs touring the shoreline. It’s one of our go-to places when we want to get away from the crowds and tourists of Port Austin. Make no mistake, its tavern food. But they have large portions, and if you’re lucky enough to find they have walleye available – get it. Don’t let the exterior put you off. It’s super clean and they offer to carry out.

Part Two of the Day Trip Around the Thumb

Marlette Depot Rails

This concludes Part One of our day trip around the Thumb. From here you can proceed to Part Two or head back home or explore on your own. Part Two takes you to Port Austin, a quick hike through the site of a former ghost town at Port Crescent State Park then on to Caseville, Bay Port, Sebewaing, and to look for an elusive bear in Quanicasee. We finalize the trip to the famous German town of Frankenmuth. All at a safe distance.

Related Reading

  • Five Unique Great Lake Islands to Explore – The Great Lakes contain over 35,000 islands and many of them are uninhabited. However, a select few draw sailors and visitors from all over North America during the brief summer tourist season. Here are five of our favorite islands on the Great Lakes.
  • Our Great Lakes Beaches are Amazing – Top Hints For the Best Beach – Here is a small set of some obscure and best beaches in the Great Lakes region that you won’t want to miss on your travels.
  • Bay Port Fish Sandwich Festival – As late summer rolls around the days get a bit shorter and the evenings around the campfire can have a bit of chill in the air. It’s also a festival season! If you’re in the Upper Thumb the first weekend in August, head to Bay Port.
  • Early European Travellers to Charity Island – This set of excerpts takes place between Pointe Aux Barques at the tip of Michigan’s Thumb to an area today known as Tawas via Charity Island. The expedition continues to Michilimackinac and presses on to Sault de Ste. Marie and Fond du Lac and into Wisconsin. 
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2 thoughts on “Michigan Day Trip Around the Thumb – Part One”

  1. Shhhhh. Don’t tell them about Port Sanilac. Part of the sunrise side’s charm is that’s it’s not over-populated and it’s so scenic. However, I’m sure the business owners could use more business, so go ahead. I’ve been wanting to go Kayaking at Turnip Rock. I was scheduled to go once, but they cancelled because a storm was coming in. I just might have to try again. I hear it’s beautiful.

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