9 Highlights of the Thumb
The mitten-shape lower peninsula has a peninsula of its own: the thumb, a region wrapped around Saginaw Bay that’s (aptly) full of hands-on attractions. drive M-25 between Bay City and Port Huron to catch the highlights.
Get the Scoop
Step up for some supersized servings of hand-dipped ice cream at the delightfully quaint Grindstone General Store in Port Austin. Opened in the 1890s, the store is the last remaining business of Grindstone City, a once-thriving stone-mining town. The market for grindstones may have melted away years ago, but demand for the shop’s colossal cones remains as high as the stacks of scoops. (Even the baby size is huge.) While you’re there, check out the art, crafts and collectibles at the store’s Made in Michigan Gift Shop.
Hit the Lights
Michigan wasn’t yet a state when the Fort Gratiot Light Station began guiding ships in 1829. Today, you can visit the state’s oldest lighthouse and the keeper’s home in Lighthouse Park in Port Huron. Hike up the 82-foot-tall tower, which marks the entrance to the St. Clair River from Lake Huron. A mile south, beyond the Blue Water Bridge, tour the Huron lightship, a floating lighthouse moored at Pine Grove Park.
Savor Small-Town Flavor
Do a little old-school shopping and relax with brews and bands in delightful downtown Lexington. A compact and walkable village, Lexington packs plenty of eateries, stores and entertainment venues into a three-block-long stretch between M-25 and the harbor. Scout for souvenirs, tees and beachwear at Crazy Joe’s and The Painted Paddle. Hear the ka-ching of an old-fashioned cash register at the Lexington General Store, where candles, cards and penny candy crowd the counters. The Lexington Brewing Company and Wine House offers local brews and live music, including a Sunday afternoon Jazz Cafe. Comedians, tribute bands and occasional big-name acts perform at the 295-seat Lexington Village Theatre. On summer Friday evenings, folks take their lawn chairs and blankets to Music in the Park, a series of free concerts held in Patrick Tierney Memorial Park at Lexington Harbor.
Adjust Your Altitude
Have fun getting the hang of an aboveground obstacle course at the Frankenmuth Aerial Park. Tackle an array of swinging bridges, ladders, logs and other climbing challenges, all linked by ziplines and platforms anchored to trees. Courses test balance, agility and focus in a safe environment (each participant’s harness stays tethered to a cable). The easiest of the six courses starts 10 feet above ground; difficulty and height increase from there. On Glow Nights, glow tunnels, LED lights and lasers brighten the paths.
Come Sail Away
Help hoist the sails of the Appledore IV as it navigates from downtown Bay City across Saginaw Bay toward Lake Huron. On the Legends of the Saginaw River excursion, crew members tell of the river’s heyday as a lumber route and point out attractions like the museum ship USS Edson, which is docked near Independence Bridge.
Reserve a Tea Time
Stroll among weeping cherry trees at the Japanese Cultural Center, Tea House and Gardens
of Saginaw. Witness a centuries-old tea ceremony, where guests receive michi (green tea) and small sweets while sitting on padded benches.
Tour a TV Tree House
Check out a 330-square-foot tree house built by the crew of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters at For-Mar Nature Preserve and Arboretum in Burton. The sturdy tree house, perched 30 feet above Kearsley Creek among oak, basswood and hickory trees, can hold nature classes for 30 kids. Stairs and a ramp provide access options for all. The setting includes miles of trails around ponds and wetlands.
Follow the Sun
Start and end the day with a solar-powered spectacle on the beach at Albert E. Sleeper State Park in Caseville. The arc of sand, backed by gentle dunes, runs nearly a half-mile along Saginaw Bay, curving just right to let visitors witness both sunrise over Lake Huron and sunset over the western bay waters. In between, take time to explore the park’s 723 acres of forest and dunes.
By Tina Lassen