Featured in Michigan Travel Ideas 2012, on page 120.
As the day’s last rays dip into Lake Huron’s deep blue horizon, Middle Island Lighthouse (10 miles north of Alpena) fires up for another night’s watch. This red-banded sentry is just one of more than 100 towering beacons gracing the Great Lakes State shoreline; some are still active, others restored and preserved as museums or renovated into lodging, such as the former Foghorn building on Middle Island. Come explore these iconic outposts for a rewarding glimpse into the region’s long and storied maritime history, rich with tales of valiant rescues, mysterious disappearances and tragic shipwrecks.
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More Things to Do
Art in the Loft Gallery 109
The name “Art in the Loft” sounds sort of intimate, but this multi-artist gallery occupies a huge upstairs loft in downtown Alpena. Many Michigan artists are featured here, and the art on display is all for sale—and often quite affordable.
Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center
Lightning flashes, thunder claps, and men shout orders as a Great Lakes schooner heaves in the surf at this Alpena museum. That sense of diving headfirst into history is what makes the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center such a great spot.
Island Park and Wildlife Sanctuary
Island Park is a 17-acre triangle of land right in the middle of the Thunder Bay River near Alpena. Locals bring kayaks and canoes to paddle around the island and the surrounding 500 acres of backwaters—there’s even a canoe trail you can follow—but it’s lots of fun to explore the island on foot, too (989/354-4158 or 989/356-0353).
Ludington State Park
At 5,300 acres, Ludington is the Lower Peninsula’s second-largest state park, and it really makes the most of its great setting between Lake Michigan and inland Lake Hamlin. The beautiful scenery includes sand dunes, forests, marshes and ponds .
New Presque Isle Light Station
The New Presque Isle Light Station was built in 1870 to replace the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, which is just down the road. Most people visit the older tower first and then drive here. Both are worth a stop. The new tower is an elegant spire, with green paint and a whimsical red-capped roof. The balcony at the top offers sweeping views of Lake Huron.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
The region’s largest waterfall starts at this park near Paradise. Stop at Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub near the park entrance for a pre- or post-hike refreshment.
More Places to Eat
Hidden in (surprise!) the cellar of a riverfront building in Alpena, this special-occasion gem serves spot-on meat and pastas. On weekends, live music and happy chatter fill the glass-walled dining room, which overlooks the Thunder Bay River.
The Fresh Palate
For foodies traveling along the Lake Huron shore, Fresh Palate is like an oasis in the desert. A huge menu of healthy, flavorful sandwiches, wraps and salads makes this tiny downtown cafe one of Alpena’s best places to eat.
Considered one of the better dining spots in Presque Isle, the Portage is a fine place to get traditional steak and seafood entrees and enjoy a view of Presque Isle’s marina (989/595-6051).
More Places to Stay
Cartier Mansion Bed & Breakfast
The picture-perfect Lake Michigan vacation starts with a stay at the exquisite Cartier Mansion Bed and Breakfast in Ludington. Built in 1905 by lumber baron Warren Cartier, this neoclassical estate still boasts the original woodwork, fixtures, inlaid flooring and countless antiques. True to the lumber era, the home is an amalgamation of rich, warm wood tones
Middle Island Keepers’ Lodge
Relive the romance of the lakes by spending the night in the converted Fog Horn building at this Middle Island treasure. During the day, narrated three- to four-hour tours include a boat ride, a nature walk and viewing of restoration efforts.
North Bay Bed & Breakfast
Though their living quarters are separate from the guest bedrooms, Neil and Carla Dietlin treat visitors as friends, not customers at his Presque Isle inn. The Dietlins’ home sits on North Bay, across from the New and Old Presque Isle lighthouses. A rustic boardwalk leads from a lower-level common room through pine trees to a private beach.