Lake Huron is the second largest of the Great Lakes, and with 3,827 miles of coastline, including its many islands, it has the most shoreline of any of the Great Lakes. Lake Huron is the world’s fifth-largest freshwater lake, with 23,000 square miles of surface area. So you’ll find many adorable towns along the shores. Since the shoreline is long, I’ve included a selection of cities from the entire length.
The “thumb” area, as Michiganders refer to the southern shores of Lake Huron, provides adorable towns like Port Huron and Port Austin. If you decide you’d like to make a road trip along Lake Huron, the 200-mile Sunrise Coast, beginning in Standish and ending in Mackinaw City, will provide many opportunities to experience northern Michigan towns on Lake Huron’s shores. To characterize the entire coast, I’ve included St. Ignace to represent the Upper Peninsula.
Starting in the southern part of the lower peninsula, I’ve arranged the towns as if we were “heading up north,” as we say in Michigan.
1. Port Huron
Port Huron, located on Lake Huron’s southern end, is the easternmost point of land in Michigan. The Blue Water Bridge connects Port Huron to Canada, making it an international gateway.
Port Huron’s relationship to the water influences the many activities it offers. Michigan’s oldest lighthouse, the Fort Gratiot Light Station, is the second oldest on the Great Lakes. The light has guided mariners between Lake Huron and the St. Clair River for over 187 years. Guided tours help you understand the lighthouse’s role in the area’s history.
Visit the Great Lakes Maritime Center to learn more about the history of the Great Lakes. The Blue Water River Walk and the Thomas Edison Parkway Boardwalk both offer opportunities for a pleasant walk.
Pro Tip: Thomas Edison lived in Port Huron from age seven to 16. The Thomas Edison Depot Museum is a fun way to learn about one American’s inventors.
2. Port Austin
Sitting on the tip of the thumb, Port Austin is on the Saginaw Bay. Kayakers will enjoy the adventure of paddling out to get a great view of Turnip Rock, a land formation sculpted by Lake Huron. If you’re not a kayaker, a boat tour is another excellent way to see Turnip Rock.
Pro Tip: Turnip Rock is private property, and you can’t climb on it.
Situated on the northern side of the Au Sable River, where the river meets Lake Huron, the town of just under 1,000 people is a nature lover’s paradise. The Au Sable River is one of the nation’s best rivers for canoeing, with tubing and kayaking being other popular river activities.
This area is excellent for those who enjoy birdwatching. Tuttle Marsh National Wildlife Area is 400 acres surrounded by 5,000 acres of wetlands, making it the perfect birdwatching ecosystem. If you stop at Shoreline Park, you can view 90 species of birds from the viewing platform. Tuttle Marsh National Wildlife Area is home to nesting Osprey, Warblers, Marsh Wrens, and Bitterns. At the same time, Clarke’s Marsh boasts the most productive eagle’s nest in the area, along with numerous marsh birds. The lower Au Sable is essential for the wintering Trumpeter Swan. Where Lake Huron meets the Au Sable River, you’ll find various Gulls, including Blackback, California, and Icelandic.
Pro Tip: Oscoda also embraces winter activities like snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking.
From Oscoda to Alpena, it’s about 50 miles north along Michigan’s east coast. From the stars high in the sky to the shipwrecks deep in Lake Huron to the fossils in the abandoned limestone quarry, what I like about Alpena is the variety of activities it offers.
The rural setting where Negwegon State Park and Rockport State Recreation Area are under dark sky protection makes light pollution among the lowest in the Great Lakes. What that means is you’ll be able to spot the Milky Way swirl around the earth, see planets, meteors, moons, and even the aurora borealis light up the sky when the conditions are right.
To the opposite extreme, you can explore Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary by kayaking, snorkeling, or scuba diving. The 4,300-square-mile sanctuary protects the United States’ most nationally significant groups of shipwrecks, known as “Shipwreck Alley.” The waters of Lake Huron are treacherous because of the rocky coast and unpredictable weather. Lake Huron has claimed more than 1,000 shipwrecks, and about 200 ships lie off the northeast coast in the Thunder Bay area. You’ll find a wide variety of vessels in the area, including an 1844 sidewheel steamer and a 500-foot-long German freighter. The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is free to visit.
Finally, Michigan’s one hundredth state park, Rockport State Recreation Area, is more than a place to stargaze. Your dinosaur-loving grandkids and other amateur archaeologists will want to dig in the abandoned limestone quarry where you’ll find fossils over 400 million years old. You’ll love the fact you can take home up to 25 pounds of fossils from the park annually.
Pro Tip: Be sure to review these Great Lakes water safety tips before venturing out on any of Michigan’s Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are more like the sea than an inland lake, and you need to take additional precautions.
5. Rogers City
Continuing our journey north, from Alpena to Rogers City along US-23, it is about 38 miles and will take about an hour.
You’ll want to see the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse, which got its name from its position 40 miles southeast of Old Mackinac Point and 40 miles northwest of Thunder Bay. This lighthouse showcases a magnificent 1896 white tower. Also, check out the freighter named the Joseph S. Fay, which in 1905 wrecked on the beach in the shallow waters below the tower. The area is an excellent place for a picnic lunch, and you can climb the tower for spectacular views of Lake Huron.
Just west of Rogers City, be sure to see Ocqueoc Falls, the largest in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. If you continue with a brief walk downriver, you’ll find another smaller waterfall.
Pro Tip: If you’re planning to camp in the area, both Thompson’s Harbor State Park and Hoeft State Park are good options. Thompson’s Harbor offers two cabins that sleep up to six people in addition to campsites. Hoeft State Park provides a mini-cabin in addition to 126 camping sites.
Continue along Michigan’s Sunrise Coast for 40 miles to Cheboygan, and you’ll find a town made for outdoor enthusiasts and an area that has more miles of trails than any other county in Michigan.
The Cheboygan area features two state parks, including Cheboygan State Park and Aloha State Park. Cheboygan State Park has a well-marked trail system with views of scenic Lake Huron and rare wildflowers. Aloha State Park, 5 miles south of Cheboygan, is popular with campers and boaters. While not on Lake Huron, the campground sits on scenic Mullett Lake, a central point for the Inland Lakes Waterway. The North Eastern State Trail, which borders the park, goes from Alpena to Mackinaw City and crosses the North Central and North Western State trails.
Pro Tip: You must have a Recreation Passport to enter Michigan state parks, state trailheads, recreation areas, state forest campgrounds, and most boating access sites.
7. St. Ignace
Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, St. Ignace rests at the Mackinac Bridge’s northern base where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet. As the Western Hemisphere’s longest suspension bridge, the 5-mile-long Mighty Mac spans the Straits of Mackinac, connecting Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the perfect place for an outdoor lover who wants to spend their days at the beach and getting close to nature. Hiking, boating, and fishing are all an integral part of a typical northern Michigan day.
Located 3 miles north of St. Ignace, Castle Rock showcases Mackinac Island, Lake Huron, and downtown St. Ignace. With a view 195 feet above the water, you can see up to 15 miles on a clear day. Climbing to the top requires a bit of an effort at 207 steps, but it’s worth it for the million-dollar view.
St. Ignace features several museums that explore the area’s history. The Museum of Ojibwa Culture provides a view of the Ojibwa culture with indoor and outdoor exhibits that showcase an authentic collection of Native American arts and crafts. Father Marquette National Memorial and Museum narrates the life of the 17th-century missionary-explorer.
Located in Naubinway, about 50 miles from St. Ignace, you can get a taste of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula winter at The Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum. The museum contains vintage and antique snowmobile displays.
Pro Tip: Many places in St. Ignace are open seasonally, late April through late October. Call ahead to be sure the area you plan to visit is available in the shoulder season.