Best Things to Do in Alpena Michigan
Looking for the best things to do in Alpena, Michigan?
That’s easy, because charming Alpena, located in the northeast corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula, is one of the best northern Michigan travel destinations, be it spring, summer, fall, or winter.
Whether you’re looking for sandy beaches to splash along, hiking trails alive with brilliant fall colors, or a snowy winter wonderland to explore by sleigh, sled, skis, or snowshoes, this bustling little city in Alpena County has it all year round.
One of my favorite things about visiting Alpena is the endless miles of beaches, manicured parks with hiking and biking trails.
You’ll also find rivers and lakes for kayaking and paddle boarding, farmers’ markets teeming with fresh produce, first-class fishing charters, and more…and that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the fun things to do in Alpena.
Downtown Alpena is a whole other story: cute boutiques and cafes, movie theaters (to keep you busy on a rainy day), and more are housed in the historic buildings that line the street, too.
Read on to learn more about this fun Michigan vacation spot and discover more things to do in Alpena, MI.
About Alpena, MI
Known as the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes, Alpena is located on the sandy shores of Lake Huron, and is surrounded by abundant natural forest.
A hub for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to its pretty setting, Alpena offers endless trails for hiking and biking in the warmer months and snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing in the winter months.
You’ll also find miles of meandering rivers for kayaking and canoeing, and lakes for boating, swimming, and fishing.
The town’s rich maritime history (thanks to its location on Thunder Bay), and its logging heritage (Alpena was once the “Logging Capital of the U.S.”) is evident throughout the area and is worth exploring both by land and sea.
You’ll find some dark sky parks for stargazing and very well-curated museums on both land and sea. In fact, you can even take a glass-bottom boat tour over shipwrecks.
In the downtown area, you’ll find shopping, farmers markets, art galleries and cafes, too.
Michigan’s eastern coast, known as the “Sunrise Side,” of the state doesn’t get quite as much attention as its counterparts Lake Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, but it’s not because it lacks merit.
From Tawas north along M-23 to Mackinaw City, you’ll find quiet towns dotting the Lake Huron shoreline, with the surrounding area offering endless opportunities for outdoor activities and some fun indoor ones, too.
Beaches in Alpena
With so many activities in Alpena to keep you busy; the beautiful beaches in Alpena may have to take a wait a bit, but be sure to visit them. Alpena is proud of its beautiful shoreline and it shows: the beachfront parks are all very clean and well-kept, with amenities like clean restrooms, picnic tables, kids playground and much more.
With so many activities in Alpena to keep you busy; the beautiful beaches in Alpena may have to take a wait a bit, but be sure to visit them.
- Starlite Beach
- Mich-E-Ke-Wis Beach
- Negwegon State Park
- Bay View Park Beach
- Thomson Park
Use our Guide to Alpena Beaches found HERE to explore these beaches and their amenities.
Discover the Art Scene in Alpena, MI
Art in the Loft
Art in the Loft is Northeast Michigan’s largest fine arts center and gallery featuring the work of more than 35 juried artists, located in the Center Building in downtown Alpena.
Thunder Bay Arts Council
The Thunder Bay Arts Council promotes visual and performing arts throughout the Alpena community. Furthermore, you can find projects by Thunder Bay Arts include Art Vision Alpena, which includes installing sculpture along the Alpena Bipath, a gallery of works by local artists, and Art on the Bay, a fine arts fest.
Another fun thing to do in Alpena is to take in a play at Thunder Bay Theater. This theater is Northeast Michigan’s only live professional theater, producing musicals, comedies, dramas, Shakespeare, and family-friendly entertainment.
The nearby Alpena Civic Theater, also downtown, is a great place to catch performances featuring local talent.
Go Shopping in Downtown Alpena
The intersection of Chisholm Street and North Second Street in downtown Alpena is a good place to stroll by foot and take in the fun shops and cafes set in historic buildings. Be sure and plan time to walk over the bridge spanning the Thunder Bay River for a scenic view.
Don’t miss these fun spots worth checking out:
Blue Bird Boutique
112 Water Street
Alpena, MI 49707
You’ll find unique women’s clothing and accessories at this fun spot, which carries sizes ranging from clothing in sizes xs-3x. This is always my first stop in Alpena.
Cedar and Threads
133 E Chisholm St, Alpena, MI 49707
This family-owned gift shop in downtown Alpena offers a fun collection of unique gifts, including T-shirts, sweatshirts, and more.
My Glass Wings Stained Glass Studio and Gifts
106 N 2nd Ave, Alpena, MI 49707
You’ll find original stained glass pieces, supplies, classes, and more at this unique shop located in the historic John Rowe Building in downtown Alpena. It’s definitely worth a stop to browse and check out this cool building.
The Rabbit Hole
312 W. Chisholm St.
The Rabbit Hole offers one-of-a kind gifts, specialty teas, original and reprinted art works and more.
102 N. Second Ave.
You can spend hours here shopping the collection of upscale antiques, home décor, and local art in this boutique that features an eclectic mix of goods.
Explore Museums in Alpena
Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan
This Michigan-focused community museum features a full-dome sky theater, rotating art galleries, science education, and extensive history exhibits
Visitors can explore the lumbering and farming history of Northeast Michigan, and visit the Peoples of Lakes and Forest Gallery, which houses a variety of Prehistoric and Native American artifacts unique to this region.
The museum offers an opportunity to find your own piece of history: museum guests can also explore the historic buildings on the Museum’s property and dig for Devonian fossils in the Lafarge Fossil Park and keep the fossils you find.
Don’t leave this spot without trying your hand at fossil hunting.
Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center
One of coolest things about this museum is the full-size replica wooden Great Lakes schooner and shipwreck where visitors can walk the decks, feel a Great Lakes storm, and touch the massive timbers of the boat resting on the lake bottom…without getting wet.
HINT: If you’re prone to sea sickness, you might want to hold off on lunch until after you’ve toured the ship…we speak from experience ;).
Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary
Picturesque Thunder Bay – with its many small islands – is a prime destination for divers from all over the world.
The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary protects the waters surrounding the 116 shipwrecks below the surface.
These shipwrecks, victims of an area of the Great Lakes known as “Shipwreck Alley” due to the treacherous conditions caused by huge gales that can quickly whip up in the area, can be explored by divers or by glass-bottom boats.
Paddle over a Shallow Shipwreck
A number of the shipwrecks in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary lie in fairly shallow waters and can be easily accessed via paddleboard or kayak.
You can also take an Alpena Shipwreck Tour to catch a glimpse. Shipwreck Tours are also available in a glass-bottom boat.
Check out the Festivals in Alpena
Alpena Brown Trout Festival
Alpena is home to the “Longest Running Fishing Tournament in the Great Lakes,” also known as The Annual Michigan Brown Trout Festival.
The 10-day festival combines many different fishing tournaments as sportsmen and women vie for Brown Trout, Walleye, Steelhead, Salmon, and Lake Trout. Other events during the festival include Family Fun days and performances by local bands, as well as a beer tent.
Alpena County Fair
Every August, this county-wide festival returns to the Alpena fairgrounds, complete with a fairway of Ferris wheels, tilt-a-whirls, and cotton candy. It’s also the spot where you can see cows, goats, pigs, and horses up close and personal. This favorite local event also includes music and a food and beer tent, too.
Thunder Bay Maritime Festival
What’s not to love about a nautical-themed local festival that includes a cardboard boat regatta, whitefish sandwiches fresh from the Great Lakes, live music from local bands, and more? This fun festival is held every July and is a summer highlight.
Visit Alpena’s Dark Sky Preserve Parks
Some of the most amazing stargazing in the northern hemisphere can be found at one of Alpena’s nearby state Dark Sky Preserve parks including Rockport State Park Recreation Area, Thompson’s Harbor State Park, or Negwegon State Park.
These Michigan parks are now protected from artificial light pollution and provide amazing nighttime views. A visit to a dark sky park offers one of your best chances to spot the Northern Lights in lower peninsula. If you’re lucky, you might catch a view of a spectacular show of the Aurora Borealis.
Rockport State Recreational Area
This more-than-4,000-acre State Park located along the shores of Lake Huron just north of Alpena is an official Dark Sky Preserve, which makes it an ideal place to watch meteor showers and other galactic wonders throughout the year.
Partially located on on old limestone quarry, you’ll find a great spot to hunt for fossils as well as hiking and biking trails, a deep-water port, sinkholes and even secluded, sandy beaches.
Thompson’s Harbor State Park
You’ll find more than 7.5 miles of stunning Lake Huron shoreline at this remote public recreation area spanning over 5,000 acres. You’ll find a wide variety of terrain including second growth forest, limestone cobble beaches, and deep sand dunes. It’s a unique spot along the Great Lakes coastline and one worth exploring over a few days.
Negwegon State Park
One of Michigan’s most remote state parks, Negwegon is home to a beautiful shoreline dotted with bays, tiny islands and miles of hiking trails. It’s one Michigan’s oldest state parks, nestled in a stand of pine, cedar, and hardwood forest. You’ll also find primitive camp sites, including beachfront spots overooking Lake Huron.
More Things to Do in Alpena Michigan
Who knew Michigan’s own Jurassic Park is located in northeast Michigan along Lake Huron?
Take a walk past enormous T-Rex, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, and tons of other giant life-like prehistoric creatures.
Guests can explore the No-Boundaries exhibits to discover what life was like when dinosaurs ruled the world.
Try the walking or guided tours, play putt-putt golf, or even dig for fossils at this fun-for-all-ages stop along US-23.
Travel about an hour north of Alpena to find the largest waterfalls in Michigan’s lower peninsula, also the only universally-accessible waterfall in the United States
Hike of bike the more than six miles of trails and if it’s warm enough, duck your head under the falls to cool off.
This pristine forest setting is so beautiful, you’ll find yourself returning year after year.
Beautiful Presque Isle County is just a shore drive north of Alpena, and it’s worth it.
Drive north along US-23 and you’ll pass Long Lake and Grand Lake, two of northern Michigan’s most scenic inland lakes and enjoy the aquamarine color of the water.
In addition to a natural harbor, you’ll find not one but TWO lighthouses: the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse and the New Presque Isle Lighthouse.
The New Presque Isle Lighthouse is a favorite tourist attraction in the area: climb the 130 steps to the top and you’ll be rewarded with stunning vistas of Lake Huron.
Arzo Sports and Fun Park
Just outside of Alpena along US-23 is Arzo Sports and Fun Park, a sprawling complex that includes a Go-kart Track, Sky high Bungee, beautiful 18 holes Mini Golf, breathtaking Driving Range. This spot is fun for kids of all ages.
Explore Besser Natural Area
Just about five miles north of Alpena is the Besser Natural Area. Home to the ghost town(!) of Bell, MI , you’ll find remains of buildings. Hike the one-mile trail under a stand of beautiful white pines and you’ll find a gorgeous sandy beach.
Canoeing in Alpena
Surrounded by the waters of Lake Huron, the Thunder Bay River and a 500-acre Wildlife Sanctuary, Alpena is an excellent spot to canoe, kayak or paddleboard. Head over to Island Park and the Sanctuary Kayak Launch to get started on an unforgettable pure Michigan water adventure. You can learn more about the great spots to explore the water via paddle here.
Things to Do in Alpena Michigan in Fall
In addition to the miles of beautiful leafy hiking trails, Alpena is near one of Michigan’s most popular apple farms and cider mills, Knabe’s Apple Farm and Ciderworks. This bustling apple farm and u-pick orchard offers apples, pumpkins, cider, donuts, hard cider & pizza, too. A visit here is a must if you are in the area.
Things to Do in Alpena Michigan in Winter
Thunder Bay Resort Sleigh Rides and Elk Viewing
There are not many places in Michigan where you can actually dash over the snow, pulled by a team of beautiful horses, but you’re in luck here.
Unique Thunder Bay Resort in Hillman is unlike any other in Northern Michigan: a perfect place for a romantic getaway. In addition to the thrill of the ride, you’ll also have the chance to gaze out at some Elk as you take a horse-drawn sleigh ride.
Are you looking for for more fun things to do in Alpena in the colder months? Use our Guide to Things to Do in Alpena in the Winter. It includes detailed information on snowshoeing, snowmobiling, winter hiking, ice skating, ice fishing, cross country skiing, sledding, or fat tire biking.