Most states in our country have small towns tucked away from the hustle and bustle of state capitals and big cities. In Michigan’s greater Detroit area, Port Austin fits the bill. This harbor town is two hours away from Detroit in a straight drive up M-53 all the way to the tip of the Thumb of Michigan. This budding artist colony nestled between farms and pasture land to its south and the expanse of Lake Huron to its north. As a result of this unique position the town offers breathtaking sunrise and sunset views over the big lake. With a small year around population just over 600, it’s a summer destination with cottage owners and weekend tourists seek the cool breezes of Lake Huron while the parents take the kids out to enjoy the numerous sandy beaches throughout the area. Boaters and cruising sailors carefully motor past the rocks and the iconic Port Austin Lighthouse to utilize the strategic port to stock up with groceries or make repairs before heading over to Canada’s Georgian Bay or the pristine waters of the North Channel.
This historic and unique town embraces visitors and its community with activities that allow everyone to get out and fellowship with one another forming lasting bonds. There is an “Art in The Park” event every Labor Day weekend and White Church gallery is minutes away in Grindstone City. During the summer months, the town holds a weekly farmers market full of fresh veggies and produce accompanied by arts and crafts. No need to ask for directions as it’s located downtown one block from the harbor. This laid-back event is much anticipated by the locals and serves as both a marketplace and social gathering. The newest event to hit the town has been the Porchfest. Here famous and not-so-famous music groups preform folk, country, jazz and even a little rock. Participants stroll from house to house and take in each entertainer. The event is held each June and we will update our readers with dates as the event gets closer.
The outdoor enthusiast will find no shortage of things do or places to explore in Huron County. Turnip Rock is at the foremost of many beautiful sites. Only accessible by water (as any route taken by land would trespass on private property), the 5-hour kayak round trip is the best way to experience this natural treasure. The 2 hours heading out seem shortened by the anticipation of seeing something so marvelous and the 2-hour paddle back allows ample time to explore the rocky shore let the experience sink in. If you’re a fisherman, the Port Austin harbor is home to several charter boats that specialize in finding the numerous Lake Trout, tasty Walleye and Steelhead Salmon that are out in the big lake.
For those who like to enjoy their site seeing underwater, Port Austin has an entire underwater park full of shipwrecks from the 19th century. Scuba divers and snorkelers can be seen here daily in summer months. On the other hand, if you feel the need to stay dry and hit the links, head just south of town to Bird Creek Golf Club and test your skills at the “best greens in the Thumb”. If putting is more your style, Port Austin has several classic mini-golf attractions for the kids and the popular Sandy Dunes Adventure Golf which claims the only waterfall in the Thumb. Horseback riding is available for kids age 8 and up at the Knoblock Riding Stables and the stable offers Pony rides for the little ones.
The Tip-of-the-Thumb offers some of the finest home cooked and Great Lakes fare in the region. With over twenty restaurants, grills and pubs there is a choice for just about every taste. Some of the more outstanding establishments include the epicureanism of The Farm Restaurant, the classic dishes of The Bank 1884 Food and Spirts and breakfast at the Lighthouse Café. For those who like a sense of history venture to the recently reopened Garfield Inn. The 20th President of the United States, James Garfield, did not build or own the landmark 1850’s Inn, but he was a rather frequent visitor. A few minutes from Port Austin in Grindstone City are the dueling ice cream shops of the Grindstone General Store and Rybak’s Ice Cream.
If you like to enjoy the great outdoors Port Crescent State Park is the perfect place. Located on 640 acres with 3 miles of sugar sand beach, the park offers excellent scenery making it the perfect place for a beach walk or to relax among the sand dunes and enjoy a good book. The park is located on the site of an 1860’s lumber town that has long since faded away. Some remnants of the original town of Port Crescent are still seen in the park such as the chimney base from the salt works and lumber mill. Much of the park literally resides on a ghost town. The park also supports canoeing on the gentle Pinnebog River with rentals nearby. For those who want to venture on foot there are 7 miles of dunes and woods hiking terrain will satisfy the adventurous souls. Other amenities include, hunting, fishing, cross country skiing, and birding. Port Crescent State Park has been designated as one of the few areas qualified to be listed as Dark Sky Preserve. With little light pollution from nearby metro areas, this park is a haven for astronomers each summer.
Port Austin is affordable resort town with a budding artist colony in a family friendly atmosphere. Visitors can find numerous places to stay. Lodging is available on the waterfront overlooking the famous Broken Rocks, a favorite of kayakers, to cozy knotty pine cabins in town and near the shops. Couples can also experience the romantic and classic touches of several Bed & Breakfasts in town. Camping is also available at several commercial, county and at Port Crescent State Park campgrounds. Port Austin is a place to call home, or to spend a long weekend in an atmosphere reminiscent of the early to mid-1900’s America at the tip of Michigan’s Thumb.
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