In Part One of our Michigan Day Trip Around the Thumb we traveled from Port Huron up the eastern shore of Lake Huron to the tip of the Thumb. Our starting point for the second half of our fun day trips in Michigan adventure is in Grindstone City. We will begin heading west along Saginaw Bay’s shore of sugar sand beaches and interesting coastal towns and villages. I hope you brought your bathing suit because this side of the Thumb offers some of the best swimming beaches in Michigan.
A – Grindstone City Harbor
Our starting point is Grindstone City’s harbor. This is the only natural harbor on the shore of Lake Huron in the Thumb. The other local harbors are man-made, such as the huge Harbor Beach, the largest freshwater harbor in the world. Or developed from river outlets such as Port Austin’s Bird Creek, and Caseville’s Pigeon River. The road and pier of this small harbor was once the operation of the Grindstone City Stone Mill. There was a railway spur that took the huge grindstones to ships waiting in the harbor for transport all over the world. If you’re ready for a lunch break, a great place to grab a carry-out order is Shelly’s Bar and Grill. It’s one of our favorites. There is an adjacent party store next to Shelly’s for cold drinks and other supplies.
B – Port Austin History Center
After lunch, we will begin our trip west hugging the shoreline and taking Port Aux Barques Road to the Port Austin History Center. During the current coronavirus crisis, they are closed. However, they have an excellent outside display of pioneer log cabins and other historically interesting buildings on display. The Port Austin Historial Society is one of the most active in the area and they have events going on just about every week throughout the year and on most weekends. This is a spot to keep in mind for another visit when things return to normal in the future.
C – Veterans Waterfront Park Port Austin
This short stop affords great views of Port Austin Harbor. If the weather is nice, and if you have the time, consider stretching your legs with a walk along the long pier that extends out into the lake. This harbor is a recreational destination for recreational watercraft and sailboats traversing Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay. There are two break walls guarding the harbor totaling approximately 3,400 feet in length. The harbor provides an ideal spot for kayakers to put into day trips to Turnip Rock and the iconic Broken Rocks. There are also charter boat services for fishing and mid-week tours during the summer season to Port Austin Lighthouse. When the weather is nice and you are thinking of saying in the area check out our things to do in Port Austin Michigan for great family adventure ideas.
d – Port Crescent State Park
This state park is one of the largest parks in southern Michigan. Located at the tip of Michigan’s “Thumb” along three miles of sandy shoreline of Lake Huron Saginaw Bay, the park offers excellent fishing, canoeing, hiking, cross-country skiing, birding, and even hunting opportunities. However, a little-known aspect of this park is that it sits on the location of a ghost town. Port Crescent prospered as a lumber town from about 1864 to 1881. One sawmill became so busy salvaging thousands of trees felled in one of the infamous fires experienced by the Midwest in 1871 that it added a 120-foot brick chimney to help power the plant. The remains of this chimney can be seen in the campground area.
To hike the trails on this former ghost lumber town and to see the magnificent views, go past the campground entrance and park next to the Buccaneer Inn. Walk across the iron bridge to access the walking trails. There is a nice trail sign at the bridge. If you go straight back you can peer out over the Pinnebog River and Saginaw Bay from high atop a sand dune.
E – Thompson Turnout Scenic Park
From Port Crescent State Park continue to head west on M-25 toward Caseville. Watch for signs for Thompson County Park. This small scenic park offers a commanding view of northern Saginaw Bay. Huge grindstones guard the shore down to the beach. This is a great spot for a selfie. If the weather is warm and you brought a bathing suit or are waring shorts take a wade an cool off. Unlike the big Great Lakes, Saginaw Bay is sandy, shallow and has no undertow. So it’s perfect for children learning to swim or are fearful of the water. However, keep an eye on the little ones.
F – Caseville Pier
It’s one of the few piers/break walls anywhere that encourages you to walk out and take a look at Saginaw Bay almost like a boat would. You can fish, walk and catch a cool breeze on this 1/4 mile thick path of concrete and stone out into Saginaw Bay. This point is also a market spot on the Tip of the Thumb Heritage Water Trail. There is a special kayak launch area at the entrance to the pier that you can use to launch your kayak.
Watch the boats come in and out in the early morning and late afternoon. However, ifs it’s stormy be prepared to get wet.
G – Bay Port and the Bay Port Fish Company
Continue your Michigan Day Trip by heading west on M-25 out of Caseville. Soon, you will pass Sand Point. This spike of land extends over a mile into Saginaw Bay and has some of the neatest cottages in the area. When you come back for a longer visit, consider exploring the Sand Point Nature Preserve. It offers a glimpse of what much of the Thumb area looked like before settlers arrived in the 1800s. Continue west along Wild Fowl Bay until you reach the town of Bay Port. Watch for the big, blue, fish company sign and turn right toward the docks.
The Bay Port Fish Company has been a commercial fishery in Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay since 1895. It’s listed in the registry of national historic places. Today the 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 near the market or sometimes in Caseville harbor just south of the break wall. They are open seven days a week during the season. Sometime the staff will be busy cleaning and packaging various fish. It’s a fascinating process. Be aware “it smells like fish”.
H – Sebewaing’s Historic Downtown
This is one of the oldest settlements in the Thumb. It was first established as a mission among the Native Americans who lived in the area for generations. The town is the headquarters of Michigan Sugar Company. You will be able to see large mounds of locally grown sugar beets that are being prepared for processing as you come into town. A stroll through the historic downtown is an interesting activity. Bring your camera along.
I – Quanicassee and The Jenny the Bear Drinking Bear Monument
A Michigan Day Trip would not be complete without a visit to an obscure place that not many folks know about. Quanicassee was known by native Americans and today’s sportsmen as a fishing and wildlife area. The name “Quanicassee” is of Native American origin meaning “lone tree”. The region at the crook of the Thumb had been a fishing village and the marshes were known for wild rice long before the arrival of Europeans. white settlers. In the early 1900s, a larger then life personality named Frank Vanderbilt came and built a resort in Quanicassee. As an attraction for motorists kept a bear named Jenny who was known for her like of bottled beer, which the tourist bought and gave to the bruin.
A monument to this once famous roadside attraction is located off of M-25 near the bridge on Old State Road. It’ located on private property so be respectful and stay on the road.
J – Frankenmuth’s Wooden Bridge (Holz Brücke)
Our Michigan Day Trip concludes in historic Frankenmuth. This town was founded by German settlers in 18xx and has kept so much of its original Deutsche character that its nickname is “Little Bavaria”. Today the town is internationally known for its home-style chicken dinners from the Bavarian Inn or Zehnder’s and the Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland that promotes itself as the “World’s Largest Christmas Store”. This 239 foot covered bridge spans over the Cass River in Frankenmuth was built in 1980 to connect the Bavarian Inn restaurant to the Bavarian Inn Lodge and waterpark. It’s one of Michigan’s long covered wooden bridges, and you can actually drive across it. The Langley Covered Bridge in southwest Michigan is longer at 282 feet.
We hope you have enjoyed this extensive fun day trip around Michigan’s Thumb. If you encounter something noteworthy that we should include in an update, please drop us a note on our About page.