Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Trail: Explore the Lake Huron Shoreline at These 30 Michigan Sites
We love visiting the Lake Huron shoreline in Northern Michigan to see the lighthouses, beaches, wildlife, and history on the “Sunrise Side.” On a few of our recent trips we noticed more and more signs for the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Trail, as the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary has worked with local groups to get more interpretive signs at sites like lighthouses, shipwrecks, docks and harbors, and parks. We thought it would be nice to put together a list of all of these sites in one place, as it turns out we have been to almost all of them during our travels. You may have caught our post about the trail in Alpena centered around the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, which serves as the headquarters for the sanctuary as well as the unofficial midpoint of the trail. Sites extend as far south as Tawas Point State Park and as far north as Hammond Bay, and every one of these sites is worthy of a visit! For this list we will start at the south end and work our way north:
East Tawas State Harbor – the sign here tells visitors about the mid-19th century lumber boom that helped put Tawas on the map, as well as how ships have used the bay for shelter from storms over the years. This may not be a booming commercial port anymore but it remains popular with pleasure boaters and fishing vessels.
Tawas Point Lighthouse – the first lighthouse here was built in 1853 but within 20 years the changing landscape had made it useless. A lighthouse was needed here because while the sandy point helps protect the bay and provide refuge for ships, it is also a navigational hazard. A new lighthouse was built here in the 1870s and still stands today, open to visitors as part of Tawas Point State Park. Its tower stands 67 feet tall and offers amazing views of Lake Huron.
Tawas Point State Park – the sign at the state park talks a little bit about that lighthouse issue again and about how Tawas Point continues to change. It continues to grow, and the sandy beach here remains incredibly popular with visitors. Referred to as the Cape Cod of the Midwest, Tawas Point is also home to a great campground and is a popular birdwatching spot!
Harrisville State Park – one of the newer signs placed as part of this project is the one at Harrisville State Park. This park has a campground and a day use area. Its sandy Lake Huron beach is a great spot for visitors, and the campground has lots of shade from the cedar and pine trees here along the coast.
Harrisville Harbor of Refuge & Municipal Marina – this is a great harbor and marina for recreational boaters, and it is a popular spot for events in the summer months.
Harrisville DNR Boat Launch – not only is this a great place to launch a boat, when we visited this year we found it was a great place for birdwatching as well. The shipwreck of the Northern Star can also be seen just south of the launch area. This 1858 wooden barge can sometimes be seen poking out of the water depending on lake levels.
Sturgeon Point Lighthouse – the lighthouse at Sturgeon Point has stood since 1869 and was built after many ships had wrecked near this point. The tower stands 70 feet tall and is open to visitors as part of a museum site maintained by the Alcona County Historical Society. Many nautical artifacts are on display here, including the remains of the Bernice D fishing boat.
Black River Recreation Area (Alcona Township) – just offshore from this park (picnic area, restroom, boat launch) are some shipwrecks worth exploring. The Loretta, a 140 foot steam barge that sank in 1896, sits in water seven feet deep just 3/4 of a mile into Lake Huron.
Negwegon State Park – one of Michigan’s more off-the-beaten-path state parks offers 11 miles of trails, miles of sandy Lake Huron beach, wildlife viewing opportunities, and some great spots to launch and seek out offshore shipwrecks like the W. H. Rounds and William H. Stevens.
Mich-e-ke-wis Park – one of eight stops in Alpena, adjacent to Starlite Beach which is the next stop on the list. From the City of Alpena: “Mich-e-ke-wis Park is located on Lake Huron along State Avenue, between Thunder Bay Avenue and Mason Street. This park includes youth/women’s ball fields, playground equipment, a BMX bike park, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, picnic area, beach, off-street parking, and an enclosed warming /general park shelter building which is used for social events.” The shallow water shipwrecks of the Shamrock and the John F. Warner can be easily paddled to from here.
Starlite Beach – known for its awesome swimming beach and splash pad, Starlite Beach also has three large play structures, a picnic area, restrooms, and more. This is a summer must-stop in Alpena! The shallow water shipwrecks of the Shamrock and the John F. Warner can be easily paddled to from here.
Blair Street Park – this pocket park has a fishing pier/boardwalk and a very small beach. Like the two parks above it is a potential launching spot for paddles out to the shallow water shipwrecks in the area.
Thomson Park – another pocket park with access to Lake Huron, Thomson Park still impresses: “with 160 feet of Thunder Bay footage, this park has an excellent swimming beach, which is used quite heavily. Several picnic tables and a bike rack are available. A portable restroom facility is placed at the park during the summer months.”
Bay View Park – one of the crown jewels of the City of Alpena’s park system, Bay View Park has something for everyone: “It contains four tennis courts, three basketball courts, and a multipurpose open lawn area. There is an area of shoreline, space for picnics, and an open field for low profile activity. There is the Fine Arts Bandshell, which is used for summer band concerts, community celebrations, and by various groups for other occasions. A fenced, fully equipped young children’s playground, developed by and maintained in partnership with the Alpena Kiwanis Club, is another of the facilities available at this site. Public restrooms are located on Harbor Drive. The Bi-Path runs through the park and connects the park to other recreation areas. ”
Alpena Municipal Marina – see the unique Alpena Light from the end of the marina walking path, or launch your watercraft to check out the shipwrecks. The Bay City is just 1,000 feet from shore here in shallow water, and the Harvey Bissell is in 15 foot deep water and also 1,000 feet from shore. Two other wrecks lie in slightly deeper water out in the bay to the northeast. Look for interpretive signage as you walk the path and learn about Alpena’s shipping industry and the many wrecks below the surface of Lake Huron.
North Riverfront Park – This small riverside park is located on the north side of the river near the Second Ave. bascule bridge. It has a dog park, picnic area, and a boat launch. Chances are you’ll see a boat parked at the Alpena Fisheries Research Station, where the research vessel Tanner is “rigged for sampling with nets and trawls, using a crew of five to six while under way. The Tanner is also equipped with the latest in hydroacoustic survey equipment to expand its fisheries assessment capabilities. ROV (remote operated vehicle) and side scan sonar are used to assess and document fisheries habitat.”
Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center (500 West Fletcher St.) – Located in downtown Alpena, the Maritime Heritage Center is the centerpiece of this trail. With more than 10,000 square feet of immersive exhibits this is the place to be to learn about Lake Huron history, shipwrecks, lighthouses, and more. Shipwreck tours can be booked here and the walking trail along the river is filled with interpretive signage that provide a background on Alpena’s history as well as the shipwrecks out in Thunder Bay.
Rockport Recreation Area – north of Alpena, the site of the former Rockport quarry is now an undeveloped state park that spans more than 4,000 acres. You can launch a boat here, explore the trails and quarry ruins, enjoy the night sky, or hunt for fossils.
Besser Natural Area – This natural area has a beautiful sandy beach and is popular with summer swimmers. You can explore the trails here to see what remains of the ghost town of Bell, or hop in a kayak and venture out to the shallow water shipwreck of the Portland (like we did in the summer of 2022).
Range Light Park – as you head to Presque Isle, the next stop is at Range Light Park. The Presque Isle Front Range Light is the centerpiece of this small park with some Lake Huron beach. From the Michigan historical marker: “In 1869 the U.S. Congress appropriated $7,500 to build two range lights marking the channel into Presque Isle Harbor. Orlando M. Poe submitted plans in May 1870, and by August the range lights were in operation as seafarers aligned the lights to direct them into the harbor. Anna Garraty, one of the few women light keepers, maintained this light from 1903 to 1926.” Those willing to carry their kayaks in on the short trail from the Presque Isle Cemetery can check out the shallow water shipwreck of the Albany just south of here.
Presque Isle State Harbor – this full service marina and boat launching facility can get you set up for a day of charter fishing, shipwreck diving, or sightseeing.
Old Presque Isle Lighthouse – one of the oldest surviving lighthouses on the Great Lakes, the 38 foot tall Old Presque Isle Lighthouse tower served for just a short time before a taller lighthouse needed to be built down the road. Today it is open as a museum and you can see photos from the 1840-1867 years of operation, or climb to the top of the tower for views of the harbor and Lake Huron.
New Presque Isle Lighthouse Park & Museum – in 1870 the New Presque Isle Light Station replaced the smaller, older light down the road. At 123 feet it is one of the tallest mainland lighthouse towers on the Great Lakes. The buildings and tower are open as part of a museum complex where you can learn what it was like to keep the light here, and even some details about its haunted history. The views from the top of the tower are spectacular, especially in the fall!
Thompson’s Harbor State Park – just like Rockport and Negwegon, Thompson’s Harbor State Park is a rustic and undeveloped park along the Lake Huron shore. It has six miles of trails to explore, and is home to the elusive Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake (the only venomous snake in Michigan). “The area supports one of the largest known populations in the world of the federal and state-threatened dwarf lake iris, Michigan’s state wildflower.” Offshore, the wreck of the American Union sits in 10 feet of water roughly a quarter mile from the shore here.
Rogers City Marina – next to a beautiful park in downtown Rogers City is a full-service marina and boat launch for all your on-the-water needs. Historical signs throughout the park tell about the limestone quarry here as well as the many shipwrecks on Lake Huron. Take a drive to Harbor View Park and watch Great Lakes freighters load limestone. Two shallow water shipwrecks are marked with buoys near the docks for those that want to dive or snorkel.
Hoeft State Park – whether you’re looking for a place to camp or a place to hike and swim for the day, Hoeft State Park north of Rogers City has you covered. There are more than 140 campsites, four miles of trails, a mile of sandy Lake Huron beach, access to bicycle trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, and more.
40 Mile Point Lighthouse – The county park here has quite a bit to offer. You can tour the 1896 Forty Mile Point Lighthouse, see the shipwreck of the Joseph S. Fay on the shoreline, see the old Calcite freighter pilot house and other maritime artifacts, an old schoolhouse, or spend some time on the beach.
Ocqueoc Falls – a bit of a detour from the main route takes you west to the only named waterfall in the Lower Peninsula. On hot summer days you might see people swimming and playing in the waterfall. This is the only universally-accessible waterfall in the country! If you’re lucky you might even catch a salmon heading upstream through Ocqueoc Falls during the spawning season.
Ocqueoc River DNR Boat Launch – access to Lake Huron is easy at the boat launch here, and the river is a popular spot for fishing. Divers may want to use this as a starting point to try and reach the well-preserved wreckage of the F.T. Barney, where they “can see its intact stern cabin, erect main mast, and cargo hold full of coal.”
Hammond Bay State Harbor – the northernmost stop on this tour is another great access point for boating on Lake Huron. Just a bit south of here the wreckage of the Racer lies in 11 feet of water where it can be viewed from a kayak on calm days.