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Best Things to Do in the Michigan Thumb Area: An Insider’s Guide

michigan thumb area
Sleeper State Park in Caseville MI

Discover the Fun of Michigan’s Thumb

I’ll come right out with it: I love the Michigan Thumb area.

Growing up in Michigan, I spent most of my summers on the beaches of Caseville and Port Austin, swimming, splashing, and sailing in Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay.

Yes, the beaches are some of the best in the state, but there’s plenty more to do here, too. Lighthouses and museums to explore, nature sanctuaries and county parks to hike, and so much more. Michigan’s Thumb area has some unique charms, as well as some hidden gems known only to those who frequent this special pure Michigan spot.

I’ve been vacationing and Michigan’s thumb my whole life and put together a guide of some of my favorite things to do in this special place in Michigan.

Read on to discover why you need to plan a trip to Michigan’s Thumb today.

park in michigan thumb area

About Michigan’s Thumb Area

One of the most overlooked Michigan travel destinations, Michigan’s thumb area offers beautiful beaches, a meandering water trail for kayaking, and endless miles of hiking biking trails, and more.

You’ll also find historic lighthouses, charming downtowns with fun boutiques and gift shops, cafes, and restaurants with a mix of down-home and gourmet cooking too.

Huron County at the tip of the Thumb, maintains many well-manicured parks and beaches, as does Sanilac County on the blue Thumb Coast. This is the heart of Michigan’s farmland and some of the farmer’s markets are some of the best in the state.

The festivals in Michigan’s Thumb are some of the biggest in the state, drawing visitors from across the country. From the Bay Port Fish Sandwich Festival and the massively popular Cheeseburger in Caseville Festival to Port Huron’s Blue Water Festival, there is something for everyone here.

Here are some of my favorite things to do at the tip of the Thumb and along Michigan’s Thumb Coast.

northern lights in michigans thumb area
See the Northern Lights at Port Crescent State Park

Things to Do in Michigan’s Thumb Area

Port Crescent State Park
1775 Port Austin Rd, Port Austin, MI 48467

With almost 650 acres and three miles of sandy Lake Huron beachfront, it’s no wonder that Port Crescent State Park is one of the most popular travel destinations in Michigan. This is a unique park featuring some of the only sand in southeast Michigan dunes.

There’s great hiking and kayaking, too. The Pinnebog River meanders through the park and opens into Lake Huron here, providing some spectacular scenery.

Some of the best scenery though is at night: Port Crescent State Park is a designated Michigan Dark Sky Park, and it’s a great spot to view the night sky unimpeded by artificial light. Catch the Northern Lights here or even a shooting star or two as they make their way across the galaxy for a truly memorable experience.

Caseville Cheeseburger Festival guide

Explore Downtown Caseville MI: A Top Michigan Beach Town

One of the things I love best about Caseville is the local culture.

There’s a shared love of this laid-back town, combined with a natural friendliness that makes it a pleasant spot to visit any time of the year. You’ll find a mix of cute gift shops in historic buildings, and restaurants here. I like the Lemon Tree Marketplace, with a mix of new and antique items at great prices, and LeBlancs for tees and hoodies.

There’s an amazing used bookstore across the street, Caseville Book and Gifts, and Keepsakes has fun gift items. Don’t miss the time-honored restaurants like Walt’s for breakfast or the Blue Water Inn for a great burger.

Beachy’s is a fun family restaurant with outdoor seating that is a hub of activity in summer and the Thumb Brewery is a great spot for some Michigan craft beer.

PRO-TIP: Both Port Austin and Lexington have fun downtowns to explore, too. These are great Michigan beach towns: spend the day shopping and then hop on over to the beach to take a refreshing dip into Lake Huron. Sleeper State Park, north of Caseville on M-25, is a don’t-miss, too.

point aux barques lighthouse- things to do in michigans thumb

Climb the Point Aux Barques Lighthouse

French for “Point of the Little Ships,” the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse is set on Michigan’s eastern shore, and it was the first lifesaving station on the Great Lakes.

The lighthouse is old, originally built in 1847 before being restored after a fire in the keeper’s house. This is a pretty spot of land, and both the lighthouse and the grounds are worth exploring.

I remember visiting this lighthouse many times as a child before serious restorations were made to the grounds, and I remember being taken in by its feeling of “remoteness.” Now, you can climb the lighthouse tower and explore the historical artifacts in the keeper’s house.

Explore Harbor Beach MI

Harbor Beach is an interesting little town with a lot to do. I love the well-manicured beachfront park with kayak and paddleboard rentals, and there’s a long, walkable pier that stretches into Lake Huron, too. There’s a municipal harbor for boaters, and parks and hiking trails, too.

You’ll also find some cool museums to check out. The Justice Frank Murphy Museum honors former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy, born in Harbor Beach in 1890. Murphy was a very well-educated and well-traveled man, serving both as Governor General of the Philippines and Governor of Michigan before being tapped by President Franklin Roosevelt for the Supreme Court.

You can take a tour of his 1870’s Victorian Gothic Revival style-home and see the largest collection of Philippine cultural artifacts in the United States.

michigan thumbs reagion underwater shipwreck

More to Things to Do in the Michigan Thumb Area

Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve

If you’re a diver, put Sanilac Shores on your list of must-dives. This underwater preserve stretches along Lake Huron’s long western shore from near Lexington to Forestville and is home to many Great Lakes shipwrecks.

It’s a very picturesque stretch of coast, with stunning aqua-blue water, but was also a very treacherous route for ships. This is a very popular spot for divers, though, because 16 of the shipwrecks rest above 120 feet deep, making them more accessible for exploration.

turnip rock in port austin - best thinsg to do in Michigan thumb area

Kayak to Turnip Rock

A must on any Michigan bucket list is a kayak trip out to Turnip Rock, one of the most unique rock formations in the lower peninsula. Turnip Rock is a towering rock formation reachable only by water and is one of Michigan’s great natural wonders.

Located off the coast of Port Austin, the trip is a 7-mile out-and-back trip via the Point Aux Barques trail. You can rent a kayak and take guided kayak trips from Port Austin Kayak or launch your own kayak from Bird Creek County Park.

Be sure and check the weather conditions before you set out, the Great Lakes can be dangerous and weather changes happen rapidly. Also, the land surrounding Turnip Rock is privately owned, so please be respectful on your visit.

Birdwatch at Kernan Memorial Nature Sanctuary
Pochert Rd, Port Hope, MI 48468

Port Hope, on the eastern shore of Michigan, is a true hidden gem.

Quiet and quaint, the small town is home to a pretty harbor and an amazing nature sanctuary for birdwatching. The Kernan Memorial Nature Sanctuary is 45 acres of marshy land along the coast.

Once known as Whiskey Harbor and a popular stop for bootleggers dropping off whiskey and other alcohol from Canada during Prohibition, these low-lying wetlands are now a protected habitat for migratory birds and other natural life. This is a great place to connect with nature: walk the trails to the shoreline with the chance of encountering over 100 bird species that have been sighted here.

See the Port Sanilac Lighthouse

The pretty, white brick Port Sanilac Lighthouse was built in 1886, and is located on a redidential street in the chamring town of Port Sanilac. The lighthouse has fallen into a state of disrepair and both the light and keeper’s home were restored in 2017. Now privately owned, the lighthouse is open for tours in the summer. Visitors may observe and take pictures of the lighthuse from the sidewalk at other times.

marine city michigan- michigan's thumb coast area

See Freighters Up Close on the Blue Thumb Coast

South of Port Huron, the towns along the St. Clair River that make up Michigan’s “Blue Thumb Coast” including St. Clair, Marsyville and Marine City, all boast stunning riverfront parks with some beaches thrown in, too.

It’s great place to see the seemingly slow-moving freighters as they pass by, so closely that you can make our all of the details of these massive ships! Pack a picnic and make a day of it: the water here is a lovely shade of aqua blue and it’s quite picturesque.

Michigans's blue water area- discover the blue thumb coast

Tour the Fort Gratiot Light- Michigan’s Oldest Lighthouse
2802 Omar St, Port Huron, MI 48060

Michigan’s oldest lighthouse, the Fort Gratiot Light is almost 200 years old (built in 1825) and stands over 80 feet tall. Take a tour of the lighthouse and make the climb, where you can see the Blue Water Bridge’s twin spans across the St. Clair River in the background.

Lighthouse Park has a wide sandy beach, picnic tables, and a nice playground, too.

Croswell Swinging Bridge
Maple St, Riverbend Park, Croswell, MI 48422

Are you brave enough to cross the “Longest Spanning Suspension Footbridge in Michigan?” The only pedestrian swimming bridge in Michigan, the Croswell Swinging Bridge was built in 1905 and is a fun stop for kids of ALL ages. Set in Riverbend Park, the bridge spans the Black River.

This is a great place for a picnic day: You’ll find disc golf, kayak rentals for kayaking on the Black River, a splash pad, and a playground for the kids.

michigan thumb area

Even More Things to Do in the Michigan Thumb

Visit a Port Huron Museum

The Port Huron Museum is actually a collection of museums, including the Carnegie Center, Huron Lightship Museum, Thomas Edison Depot Museum, and the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse.

Each of these locations is filled with plenty of information and offers something for everyone. Learn about local legend Thomas Edison, see how a real-life functioning lightship works, visit Michigan’s oldest lighthouse, and more.

Blue Water River Walk in Port Huron MI
51 Court St, Port Huron, MI 48060

For nearly one mile, the Blue Water River Walk, located in downtown Port Huron, stretches along the St. Clair River, near the Blue Water Bridge and the historic downtown area.

Members of the public are welcome to enjoy the river walk and all of its features all year round. See the views from the observation dock or cast your line at the fishing pier. These are fabulous learning centers for travelers and students alike, and the public art that lines the Blue Water River Walk is a community favorite.

best things to do in michigan in summer

Great Lakes Maritime Center
51 Court St, Port Huron, MI 48060

Port Huron is known as the Maritime Capital of the Great Lakes, so it just makes sense that the Great Lakes Maritime Center (GLMC) is located here. It sits at the junction of the Black River and St. Clair River, making it a great spot to view the ships cruising down the river, from massive ocean freighters to small sailboats.

Sanilac Petroglyphs State Park
|8251 Germania Rd, Cass City, MI 48726

Home to Michigan’s only known prehistoric rock carvings the Sanilac Petroglyphs State Park and is definitely worth a stop on any Michigan thumb tour. Located just south of Bad Axe, Michigan, these rock carvings are thought to be between 300-1200 years old, left by Native American tribes living in or passing through the area.

More Vacation Guides to the Michigan Thumb Area

We have numerous travel guides to more areas in the Thumb area for a detailed look at things to do and places to stay. Be sure to check out:

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