Kayaking To The Portland Shipwreck at Besser Natural Area
Kayaking has been a big part of our summer adventures over the last five years. In 2020 while visiting Drummond Island I had the chance to kayak over a few shipwrecks in Scammon Cove on Lake Huron, and that trip has pushed me to see what other shallow water shipwrecks we could visit. I knew the Alpena area had a handful of sites worth checking out, so when we were camping in Cheboygan in July we made the trip down the Lake Huron coast to the Besser Natural Area in Presque Isle to check one of them out. Here’s a look at our visit to the Portland shipwreck in Lake Huron.
The Besser Natural Area is a 134-acre natural area that is home to a short hiking trail that leads through the ghost town of Bell. A stand of virgin white pines, rare plants like the pitcher’s thistle, and a beautiful sandy beach with shallow water for swimming are among the draws here. This can be a popular area in summer months, so visit earlier in the morning if you’re hoping for less of a crowd.
We walked the short trail to the beach when we arrived, and once reaching the lake we could see the buoy that was placed above the Portland shipwreck. After grabbing the kayaks and loading up, we set out on the short trip (roughly a quarter mile), thankful for calm waters and great weather.
The Portland was a 150 foot long two-masted schooner. It was built in 1863 and wrecked in 1877 while carrying a cargo of 300 tons of salt. A strong Lake Huron storm drove the Portland to the shore where the rocks and waves tore the ship apart. The entire crew survived, and the lower hull and starboard side of the wreck now sit in six foot deep water in Lake Huron. You can learn more about the Portland by visiting the NOAA website or stopping by the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena. Here are a few pictures from kayaking over the shipwreck:
Another part of the wreck can be found in a naturally formed lagoon back on the mainland. The murkier water here makes it harder to see, but we could still make out the remains of the stern section.
Be sure to check out the Shallow Shipwrecks Adventure Guide from Visit Alpena for a look at the Portland and a handful of other sites that are easy to access for kayaking or snorkeling. Now that we made it to the Portland we will be back soon to check the rest of these out!