Michigan’s Port Crescent State Park is one of the wildest and largest State parks on Saginaw Bay. From its beaches, you don’t see a single cottage or sign of civilization. In its large campground, you can literally set up your tent or RV on the beach’s edge. In between the beach area and the campground is a series of trails that meander through forest and sand dunes that were once the site of a lumber town along the slow-moving Pinnebog River.
Port Crescent State Park Map
Port Crescent State Park is located just west of Port Austin near the tip of Michigan’s “Thumb”. It has an incredible three miles of sandy beach on the northern edge of Saginaw Bay. Just in from the beach, there is a sizable boardwalk that curves around some of the protected dunes. This allows exploration of hidden clearings for beach access and a chance to see wildlife. Nearby is a dog-friendly shoreline.
#1 Port Crescent State Park Was Once a Town
Today the park looks extremely wild and untamed. However, Port Crescent State Park was once a thriving lumber town. Much of today’s campground sits on the site of the former city of Port Crescent. The only remnant that remains is a small portion of a brick chimney near the campground entrance.
In 1868 the village along the beach was assigned a post office. The postmaster named it Port Crescent, noting the shape of the sizeable crescent-shaped beach. Some of the residents objected, preferring to call the town Pinnebog, the name of the river. However, the village of Pinnebog to the south was already established, and the name of Port Crescent stuck. In 1871 telegraph service was established; this made the town an economic hub as it could keep in touch with the world.
Remains of the Pack Woods Saw Mill
Just about all the traces of the former town are gone. The exceptions are the base of a crumbling chimney from its sawmill near the campground. Built in 1872, the chimney was, at one time, over 120 foot high. It was part of the Pack Woods & Company steam-powered sawmill at Port Crescent.
The Iron Bridge
Another remnant of the town that still stands is an old iron bridge. This bridge crosses the former path of the Pinnebog river and is the trailhead to some beautiful hiking trails. Near the bridge on the right are a motel and restaurant. This is the site of a W. Willis Grist Mill. On the left of the bridge was formerly the site of the J. Hackney Brewery.
The 2.5-mile trail system accessible from this bridge offers hikers access to the four scenic overlooks of the dunes along the Pinnebog River.
The Port Crescent Cemetery
A ½ mile walk from the Iron Bridge is the Port Crescent Cemetery. Located on the edge of the former town, it’s the last resting place for over 150—the last sites for those who died from 1868 until 1930.
#2 Port Crescent State Park Offer Fabulous Camping On the Beach
The park has campsites also situated near the beach. It is a modern campground with waterfront views. For those not wanting to camp, Port Crescent State Park offers rustic cabins and upscale glamping geodesic domes for an outdoor experience. The family will never be bored as the park provides visitors ample chances for hiking, ADA opportunities for fishing, canoeing, hiking, and bird watching. The park is a year-round facility with trails for cross-country skiing and nearby hunting areas.
See Campsite Availability for an Upcoming Weekend at Port Crescent
New in 2020, the Michigan DNR now offers an online service for Port Crescent State Park reservations. This allows inquiring campers if space is available at their favorite campground park. This service makes it easier to find mid-week availability on short notice. You can see which locations have open spots immediately.
#3 Star Gazing in a Dark Sky Preserve
Port Crescent State Park is only one of seven parks in Michigan designated as a dark sky preserve. Bring your telescope for some exceptional stargazing. Due to its remoteness, the park is protected against much of the light pollution of the surrounding area. A viewing platform is available in the day-use area.
#4 Port Crescent State Park’s Cabin Camping Alternatives
Starting in 2020 the Michigan DNR has stuck arrangements from camp outfitters to offer alternative and upscale outdoor experiences. Glamping has come to the Upper Thumb at both Port Crescent and Sleeper State Parks. This is a nice alternative to those who want to camp but don’t have the gear.
Rustic Beach Front Cabin
Port Crescents Camper Cabin is located at the far east end of the park’s campground overlooking the beach. The cabin has two bedrooms and sleeps six. Bunkbeds are in each room and a pull-out futon in the standard room for two. The cottage is heated, has a microwave, a mini-fridge, and a small table with two stools.
Outside, there is a fire pit, grill, and picnic table. Enjoy beach breezes on the patio, or sheltered porch and deck with chairs and a table. There is no running water at the cabin, but the restrooms are nearby.
Port Crescent Geodesic Domes
Starting the summer of 2020, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources partnered with camping outfitter Recreation Resource Management and outfitted two environment-friendly geodesic domes. Walk inside to a comfortable setting with spruce paneling, skylights, and windows looking out to Lake Huron.
Each dome is equipped with a queen bed, sitting area, and mini kitchenette, including a coffee maker, microwave, and mini-fridge. There are two types of domes. The grey dome (named The Voyager) has more modern furnishings. The gold dome (named The Nomad) with more traditional furnishings. There is no running water, but the campground’s restroom facilities are located a short distance away. Each site also includes a picnic table and fire grill/pit combo to round out the outdoor camping experience.
Port Crescent Cottage Cabins
Like the Geodesic Dome sites, the Cottage Cabins offer a near outdoor experience for those who don’t have camping gear but want a few days in the outdoors. Starting in August 2020, these are five lodge-style cottage cabins that sleep up to six. Each cottage cabin is outfitted with one set of bunk beds and one queen bed in the back bedroom, a futon in the living room and a dining table, mini kitchenette (mini-fridge, microwave, and coffee maker) in the common space. Each site also includes a picnic table and fire grill/pit combo to help round out the outdoor camping experience!
These rentals are electric-only, including heating and cooling, but there is no running water. The campground restroom facilities are a short distance away. All cabins have a screened-in front porch and patio furniture, allowing visitors to enjoy the views in the campground.
#5 Hike Over A Ghost Town On Port Crescent’s Hiking Trails
The park offers many hiking opportunities. One of the most popular is a 2.5-mile hiking and cross-country ski path. The trail includes scenic overlooks that provide views of the Pinnebog River and Saginaw Bay. Other parts of the trail run parallel to the Old Pinnebog River Channel and the site of the former lumber town.
The best way to access this trail system is from the Port Crescent Campground, which is located on the east end of the park. The trail has a spur that runs down the middle of the loop and can reduce your hike to either a 1.3-mile or 1.1-miles instead of the full 2.5 loops. The trail terrain is primarily made up of sand dunes through a 120-year-old oak forest. There are bits of elevation but nothing strenuous. This route is popular with families and for walking dogs.
Related Port Crescent State Park Reading
Port Crescent – A Ghost Town in the Thumb – 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 and Thumb area in 1871 that it added a 120-foot brick chimney to help power the plant. The remains of the chimney are still visible near the State Park entrance in the camping area.
The Tiny Town of Pinnebog and the General Store – Pinnebog was one of the interior four corner villages in Huron County. The ruins of Champagne’s Pinnebog general store can still be seen across from Heck’s Bar. Pinnebog has just about faded away.
Thumb Pic of the Day – Caseville Vintage Camping – Caseville County Park was and is a premier beachfront park in Michigan’s Thumb. The park first opened in 1919 and has been a Caseville campground and beach destination for Southeast Michigan. The park is located on the site of a former sawmill and salt production operation.
Haunted Michigan Sites to Visit in the Thumb – Michigan’s Upper Thumb is full of colorful history—from the boomtowns of the 1800s lumber era to the resorts and vacation homes of today. The Upper Thumb is full of abandoned places in Michigan and has long been acknowledged as an active paranormal country It has been the subject of books, film, and television.
9 thoughts on “Port Crescent State Park – 5 Eye-Opening & Novel Park Features You Likely Didn’t Know”
You made me homesick from my old stomping grounds of so many years. I mean as a small child my parents and us would take our boat from our cottage just east of Jenks park, down to the new mouth as they called it. very few people anywhere because it was not a park then, it was all so natural. some old trails you could possibly walk on or drive on but most were grown up with brush. These were the streets of the old boom town. as we grew up to teenagers, we’d ride our bikes from Bad Axe and go fishing in the river mouth and swim most of the day in the lake, we’d walk down to the old mouth and walk along the river bank and see snakes, turtles, beavers, you name it and come to the old chimney which was soooooo high. we could walk inside of it , what a story it told….. was taken down for safty purpose when the state purchased all the land. and they did make a monument there, but looks to me like it might be caved in now. when old enough to drive cars we’d go up there fishing driving in almost to the mouth. If you didn’t know where you were going I guarantee you that you’d get buried in the sand on the trails ( mean the car would get buried) . we’d take our small boat up the river all the way to the highway 25 and back never see another human the whole trip….. caught so many fish, the beach was all so sandy especially the farther west you got from old mouth. . in a boat you could follow the old pier , the logs that were long in the ground to hold the dock , great fishing at each one of the places maybe extending sooooo far out. was a great place also for you and your girlfriend or boyfriend if reversed, as it was so private. you could run the sand thru your toes or fingers and study the fine grains. and walk into the water and all sandy ground to swim in . if you walked from the lake towards 25 across what we called the dunes, or plains there were numerous blueberries to eat. Was a very sad day for us old timers even way back then to see the bridge get closed down or blocked from motor vechiles. after so many years. , then east of the old river was made into a camping area…. and they only allowed campers there to use the beach…… teed us guys off . to us it was our land of our forefathers. then eventually they made the road back to the lake along the west side of the river to the new mouth. oh yes, the old trails were removed, history removed. and a toll or park pass needed to use the same land we had used for years. Good or bad, at least the land was saved from develoment or housing, cottages, shops etc. Progress has good and bad to it, drive back into the cemetary and you will find my grandfathers grave and other family. he was laid to rest in 1912 , only 22 years old. was so neat and overgrown by tall weeds and brush . then when i was serving in the US Army the invasion from the cities , some say hells Angels came in and destroyed most of the graves old memorials, or headstones, sad they knocked them down and dragged them all over and nobody knew where their familys were at anymore, except a few of us were lucky to have the graves untouched. across the street from the cemetary was a good size schoolhouse that looked like a normal country school except it had two levels. . Most of my fathers family including my father were born between Port Crescent and Pinnebog. sorry, i didn’t mean to ramble on, you can erase this if too long, but at almost age 75 seems so long ago. and i lived in Bad Axe till age 53 when we left Michigan. but everytime we come home to visit family i walk the cemetary. Ken Peterson, son of Arthur E. Peterson, and Arlene Merrick Peterson.
Fascinating story Ken. I walked through the campground yesterday and was surprised by the beautiful beachfront campground. So many folks can share the experience of Port Crescent.
ROBERT ALLEN 8-28-20:
Thanks for a wonderful article. The Port Crescent Park & Area surrounding it has some of the most wonderful beaches in Michigan. They are a fun place for children to play and swim. In some spots the water is quite shallow, and slowly gets deeper, which is terrific for all children, from teenagers on down, especially small children under 5. There is plenty of beach to walk and enjoy, east & west, for adults. A family can spend days enjoying the beaches and river always finding new and exciting moments, seeing wildlife from an eagle to a deer from a frog to a perch. You can spend summer after summer, year after year, enjoying the area, it never gets old. Every spring you will look forward to that summers fun on the Port Crescent Area Beaches. They are Wonderful.
You make great points Robert. In fact, just about every beach from Pointe Aux Barques to Bay Port is gentle, shallow, with no undertow.
I have heard a rumour, unverified, that at one time sand was mined at Pt Creseant. That Ships were loaded with sand near the river. That there are concrete remnants of the docks in waters near the river. It might be worth checking out. Thanks.
That is true…The concrete pilings can be seen from shore. Check out my post Ghost Town In The Thumb – Port Crescent State Park
Yes, they mined the beautiful clear white sand, I believe, but kinda forget now, that the sand was made into glass, but don’t quote me yet on that one . lol.