Things to do in the upper Thumb - for free

12 Free Things to do in Michigan’s Thumb

If you are ever at a loss for things to do in Michigan’s Upper Thumb, you found the right spot. We went looking for a dozen neat and interesting things to do and came up with this list of free things to do in Michigan’s Thumb. Check back with us from time to time as we will find more fun down the road.

1. Ancient Indian Petroglyphs

Upper Thumb Petroglyph Archer - Free Things to do in Michigan
The Archer

Petroglyphs are images created by removing part of a rock surface by picking or carving to form a picture or rock art. Petroglyphs are found worldwide and are often associated with prehistoric peoples. The Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park is one of 54 Petroglyphs in the United States and the only major park with ancient carvings in Michigan.

The petroglyphs are estimated to be from 300 to 1,000 years old. They include depictions of swirls, lines, handprints, flying birds, and bow-wielding men on top of large sandstone rock in Sanilac County, Michigan.

Sanilac Petroglyphs Hours and Location

The Petroglyphs are open for viewing Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day. The Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park is located east of M-53 Van Dyke Road on Bay-City-Forestville Road and Germania Road.

2. Play on a Sandy Beach

The Thumb tip has just over 90 miles of shoreline with ten free Huron County public beaches. Many of the parks have nearby campgrounds, but some are day parks and roadside turnouts. There are also two Michigan State Park beaches, Sleeper and Port Crescent, which require an entry free.

Bird Creek County Park

Port Austin Park

Bird Creek County Park is located in Port Austin and offers a great day-use park with a marked swim area, bathhouse, playground, picnic area, fishing, and picnic shelters along a huge boardwalk

Jenks Park

Michigan M25

Jenks Park – This is one of the original Michigan roadside parks. It is perfect for pulling off of M-25 with a picnic and a swimsuit and spend a couple of hours in the shade looking out over the water. There is an old-fashioned hand pump that is perfect for rinsing off the sand after your time on the beach.

Caseville County Park

Caseville Beach Crowd

Caseville County Park – Caseville has one of the largest beaches in Southeast Michigan and is great for swimming and people-watching. There is a new kayak launching area near the break-wall for paddlers. There are volleyball nets near the snack bar and a picnic pavilion.

Thompson Park

Michigan Beach Vacation

Thompson Park – This small roadside park has one of the best lake views on the shore. The park is rustic with picnic tables, grills, and toilet facilities. It’s very picturesque with two huge grindstones guarding the pathway to the beach. It’s very popular during the weekend so the best advice is to arrive early and stake your claim to your bit of the beach.

Oak Beach


Oak Beach – This is an ideal spot for large family reunions and get-togethers. The park has covered pavilions that can be reserved, horseshoe pits, and a playground. Plenty of parking with a small boat ramp on the beach. Its located across the street from the campground.

McGraw Park

McGraw Roadside Park 1951 Postcard

McGraw Park – Has a huge wide sandy beach. Steps allow easy access to the beach from the parking area. There are also picnic tables and a changing bathhouse.

Philp Park

Stairs to Beach at Philp Park

Philp County Park – This is the smallest park on the beach at only 2 acres. But this beach is calm and offers a wide beach even in the current high water conditions. There are a few picnic tables and grills available near the parking area which offers commanding views of the beach and Saginaw Bay. Wood steps lead from the parking down to the beach.

3. Huron Nature Center & Wilderness Arboretum

Huron Nature Center - Free Things to do in Michigan

Established in 1941 by Huron County Women’s Clubs on a large tract of untouched forest and ancient sand dunes in Hume Township, Michigan. It offers well-groomed trails, raised boardwalks, and an interpretive center. The Center is located between the shoreline towns of Caseville and Port Austin. Take M-25 to Oak Beach and turn south on Oak Beach Road to Loosemore Road Turn left at Loosemore and the Nature Center will be on the left about 1/4 mile down. Open year-round from dawn to dusk at no charge.

4. Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse

Haunted Michigan
Pointe Aux Barques Light

The Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse ranks among the ten oldest lighthouses in Michigan. Amazingly, despite its age, the light is still active and maintained by the US Coast Guard. The lighthouse and lifesaving station is located in Lighthouse County Park on Lake Huron north of Port Hope. “Pointe aux Barques” means ‘Point of 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.

You can tour the grounds and visit the historical displays. The museum is open to the public and there is a small gift shop to browse. The tower is open to climb on various dates. The Museum is open every day from 10:00 am until dusk starting with Memorial Day weekend and closes for the season on October 14th. (There is no admission charge. Donations are greatly appreciated)

To see the dates the tower is open for climbing and viewing visit the Lighthouse Events Calendar.

5. Walk the Breakwalls of the Upper Thumb Harbors

The three major harbors of Huron county all have marvelous break walls to walk out and explore. You can enjoy the walk or try your luck at fishing. Be sure to watch the weather as folks have been swept off these protective structures by waves during storms.

Harbor Beach

Harbor Beach – US Army Corps of Engineers

Harbor Beach is considered one of the largest man-made freshwater harbors in the world. The north section is 1500 feet long break wall and was constructed in 1873 to create a Harbor of Refuge. It is available to walk.

Port Austin Harbor
Port Austin Harbor – US Army Corps of Engineers

Port Austin’s long curving breakwall starts in Veterans Park and traverses to the entry of the harbor. The west break wall is almost 2,000 feet long.

Caseville Harbor
Caseville Harbor – US Army Corps of Engineers

Caseville Harbor is located at the mouth of the Pigeon River on the east shore of Saginaw Bay. The walkable breakwall is about 1300 feet long and offers great views of boat traffic coming into the harbor and the large Caseville beach. Fishermen are usually on the breakwall and visitors often see them take in Perch and Lake Trout.

6. The Emergency Arc Near Oak Beach

The Converted Barn – Emergency Arc

Viewing barn art and sculpture is another free thing to do in Michigan’s Thumb. The Emergency Arc is located south of Oak Beach and west of Port Austin. This 1800s converted barn has a new life as a work of art. The Ark was completed by sculpturing artist Scott Hocking in 2015. He has transformed the barn into a large object denoting sanctuary and safety. The Arc can be found about a mile south of M25 at Oak Beach on Oak Beach road and Fehner.

7. Sand Point Nature Preserve

Sand Point
From NOAA/ Google Maps

The Sand Point Nature Preserve is listed as one of the most critical protected coastal lands in the Saginaw Bay Watershed. Noting its historical position north of Wild Fowl Bay the area is probably one of the most important sanctuaries in the Great Lakes. The Preserve has been determined to be the most biologically diverse site along the Saginaw Bay shoreline. Covering over 220 acres, the site includes 5 miles of well-marked trails, signage, and a boardwalk.

The Preserve’s trailhead on the southern end can be accessed by turning west off M-25 onto Dunn Road. Visitors can park at the gate on the left 1/4 mile down the road. The main parking lot is off M-25, just north of Dunn Road. ​ Watch for the brown sign along the west side of M-25.

8. Port Hope’s 1900 Train Depot

Port Hope Railway Depot - Free Things to do in Michigan
Port Hope Railway Depot

The Port Hope Depot has been exquisitely restored. You can walk through the station and see exhibits in the passenger waiting room, the station master’s office, luggage, and the freight room. Each room has been painted to match the original color. The station looks brand new. One of the most interesting items on display was a pair of glasses found trapped for over one hundred years behind window trim in the station master office. The wireframe glasses are extremely fragile yet look brand new.

In the basement of the depot, there is a unique model railroad being built by volunteer craftsmen. It’s considered one of our top free things to do in Michigan’s Thumb. The model depicts how Port Hope and Harbor Beach depots and freight yards looked when the railway was active in the early 1900s. It’s a fascinating exhibit in miniature. The model railroad can be seen when the depot is open or by appointment at 989-550-5298.

9. Cross the Croswell Swinging Bridge

A quick walk across Michigan's scariest bridge, the Croswell Swinging Bridge in Croswell

One of the most unique free things to do in Michigan’s Thumb is located 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. Later two more cables were added to provide a handhold.

The Croswell Swinging Bridge Welcome Sign - Free Things to do in Michigan
The Croswell Swinging Bridge Welcome Sign

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.”

Local Hint: There is a disc golf course in the same park hidden by the pines.

10. Cass City’s Giant Playground

One of the hidden gems for parents with kids is finding a place to blow off steam for a bit when you’re traveling up into the Thumb for vacation or a long weekend.

Cass City Playground - Free Things to do in Michigan
Cass City Playground

We found the huge playscape in Cass City ideal. It’s enclosed, so the little ones can’t wander off. The grounds around the playscape are covered with soft rubber pellets. There is bench seating to offer a supervised view of the playground and picnic tables to serve a snack or lunch after play.

Cass City Playscape - Free Things to Do in Michigan's Thumb
Cass City Playscape

The Cass City Playscape is situated on an acre of land in the center of town.

11. Visit Log Cabins Throughout the Thumb

Log Cabin in Elkton Michigan
Log Cabin in Elkton Michigan

The Upper Thumb has the most extensive collection of restored log cabins in Michigan. You can start your cabin tour in Bad Axe and see more at Huron City, Elkton, and you may soon see the restored cabins of the famous Ora Labora colony from the 1860s in Pigeon.

11. Find a Copy of the Thumb Resorter for More Ideas

The ubiquitous pulp magazine Thumb Resorter comes to your favorite stores, party stores, and gift shops each season. It’s full of history and more ideas for free things to do in Michigan’s Thumb. Best of all, it is Free!

End Of the Road In Michigan Podcast
End Of The Road In Michigan Podcast

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Michael Hardy

Mike Hardy is the owner of Thumbwind Publications LLC. It started in 2009 as a fun-loving site covering Michigan's Upper Thumb. Since then, he has authored a vast range of content and established a loyal base of 60,000 visitors per month.

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