When I was growing up, we would take road trips all over the Great Lakes. Mom would pack a picnic basket, and around noon Dad would pull off at one of Michigan roadside parks and have a break and a bite to eat. As poor college students, we continued in this fashion. We would pack cold chicken, a salad, chips, some beer, and pop and have a picnic feast. I realized that we have not tailgated while on a road trip in many years. It’s gotten too easy to find quick food at a carryout place.
Michigan led the nation with the development of roadside parks. In 1918 the Iron County Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of land to establish Michigan’s first roadside park and picnic tables on US-2 in the Upper Penninsula. This was quite likely America’s first such park and signaled the era of vacation motoring.
This past weekend, I traveled up to the hardware in Port Austin and spied an official State of Michigan roadside park. I pulled into Jenks Park just outside Port Austin.
It’s charming. Picnic tables and grills overlook commanding views of Saginaw Bay. It’s not a bathing beach, so the water laps right up to ungroomed seagrass and poplar trees that grow wild on the waterfront.
There is bathroom facilities, plenty of parking and an honest-to-God hand water pump.
Michigan’s Roadside Parks on M-25 & The Thumb
The State of Michigan has more than 80 scenic roadside parks located primarily on rural state highways. MDOT has this great list that provides details about its location and special features.
It’s worth a stop if only to take in the sites and think of times gone by. Jenks Park is one of four MDOT roadside parks in Huron County. The others in the Michigan Thumb region are:
Brown – South of Bay Port. It has a historical Marker for “The Great Fire of 1881.” A million acres were devastated in Sanilac and Huron counties.
Thompson Scenic Turnout – Features 2 large grindstones and access to a sandy beach on Saginaw Bay, picnic tables, and benches.
White Rock – Great views of Lake Huron and White Rock. Steps to beach, observation deck, walking trails connecting to a non-motorized path on M-25. White Rock is a large, white, offshore boulder used as a boundary marker to define the territory released by the Native American tribes of Michigan to the United States under the Treaty of Detroit in 1807.
Forrestville – Located south of Forestville on M-25.
Huron – Located south of Port Sanilac on M-25. Great view of Lake Huron, with stairs from the park to the beach. Historical Marker for “Great Lake Storm of 1913” when the sudden tragedy took 235 lives and 10 ships sank.
Cass River – Located on M-46 Sanilac Road.
Vassar – Located south of Vassar on State Road M-15.
Related Reading for Michigan Roadside Parks
- Michigan Indian Trails
- 1903 Railway Depot in Port Hope Michigan
- Jenny, Quanicassee’s Beer Drinking Bear
- How to Plan a Student Trip To The Great Lakes Region
- Fodor’s Names Two Michigan Beaches As Best In The US.