With 3,000 miles of shoreline on four of the five Great Lakes, there are so many places in Michigan to explore that it would take a lifetime to discover them all. But, I have not met many state residents who have had the thrill of exploring the beautiful lands and waters of our sunrise coast, along Route 23 on Lake Huron’s shoreline. I hope I can change that by telling you about three of my favorite places along that stretch – and while there are many more places to stop, these are three that I love and are totally worth the trip.
Start by visiting Thompson’s Harbor State Park – seven miles of shoreline and over 5,000 acres north of Alpena and south of Rogers City. It is like no other state park I have visited, because it is so pristine and undeveloped. Rustic trails, miles of beautiful cobblestone beach – and if you go in the early spring it is literally a carpet of Michigan’s official state wildflower, the dwarf lake iris, a threatened species.
I had the fun of participating in the park’s 25th anniversary this year, because The Nature Conservancy played an important role in the creation of the park when it purchased most of the land from U.S. Steel, later transferring it to the state. It is important to mention that this beautiful park would not have happened without the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Genevieve Gillette Trust, and today, the Friends of Thompson’s Harbor are the dedicated volunteers who help take such good care for the park and its trails. Make the trip; it is gorgeous.
The next place is an out-of-the way gem, the Alpena Township Nature Preserve. It is only 140 acres, but it is 2 miles of the most magnificent shoreline I have walked. You might think you are lost as you drive through the LaFarge cement plant to get there, but stay with it. Walk every trail – gorgeous coastal marsh, the largest pitcher plants I have ever seen, and it, too, is carpeted with dwarf lake iris in the spring.
Did you know that Michigan has sinkholes? There are three off the north side of this peninsula preserve – part of the fascinating karst terrain of this area. Learn more about karst terrain by visiting the Michigan Karst Conservancy. This preserve also came about from a partnership of The Nature Conservancy, Alpena Township and the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.
For those who don’t know, the Trust Fund was a visionary constitutional amendment back in 1984, when the fund was created to acquire and develop public recreation lands. The money comes from the royalties of state-owned oil, gas and mineral revenues. It has enabled hundreds of communities to protect and develop places like these preserves, the very building blocks of our Pure Michigan brand, and creating destinations for tourism, quality of life for local communities, and legacy places that are slowly being networked by our growing trail systems.
We are lucky because thanks to the work and foresight of many land conservancies and the Trust Fund, these places are protected forever.
Finally, you simply must go to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena. This is an amazing place both above and below water. On land, the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center is a dynamic, fun and engaging experience with simulated storms and schooner experiences, and Great Lakes learning. Below, the underwater preserve of hundreds of shipwrecks surrounding the North Point peninsula can be seen on the glass bottom boat rides that depart from the center – these wrecks bring history to life and display the power of the Great Lakes. Words can’t describe how cool the whole experience is, and much fun they make it to learn about shipping, stormy freshwater seas and underwater habitat.
Three beautiful places within 27 miles of each other along Route 23’s sunrise coast. Michigan at its best.