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 a 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 trial 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 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.