Alpena - Gaylord - Mio

Michigan's Sunrise Side greets fall color in late September, and the autumn hues usually linger until mid-October. This 200-mile route travels from Lake Huron's shore to a stunning stand of virgin forest, with lots of opportunities for wildlife viewing along the way.

Best Enjoyed: Late September to Mid-October
Approximate Length: 200 miles

Alpena, the largest city in the northeast Lower Peninsula, was a waterfront lumbering town that shifted its attention to another local resource---limestone---and the production of Portland Cement. Soon, in 1904, Alpena businessman Jesse Besser launched another industry with his development of a machine to form concrete blocks. Note the many buildings made of concrete, including the fine museum that bears his name. It houses art, history and science exhibits, and a planetarium.
Due to its location on Thunder Bay and a treacherous stretch of Lake Huron known as "Shipwreck Alley" for the number of vessels at rest in these waters, the Alpena area is dotted with lighthouses along the shore as well as (about three miles offshore) the Thunder Bay Island Lighthouse. The area has proven ideal location for the annual Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival.

Alpena is also the home of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Preserve, which protects more than 100 shipwrecks that went down in a 448-square mile area of Lake Huron. The Marine Sanctuary and the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, where live video feeds allow visitors to explore shipwrecks without getting wet, are a part of the redevelopment of the Fletcher Paper Mill complex, which includes the Fletcher Street Brewing Company. 
Before leaving the city take a stroll through the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary's Island Park. The Thunder Bay River wraps around the 17-acre island with its 3/4 mile nature trail and platform for viewing the diverse birds and other animals that find refuge there.

Follow M-32 west out of town and take in the breathtaking colors as you head toward the Pigeon River Country State Forest and Elk Range. This part of Michigan is home to the largest free-roaming elk herd east of the Mississippi, and it's not uncommon to see the animals in the wild. In September the males are active and vocal, trying to impress the females and putting on a good show. (Tip: Bring binoculars and stay in the vehicle to view the wildlife.) Find designated viewing areas by continuing along M-32 to Gaylord, then travel north I-75 or meander up Old US-27 to Vanderbilt. Turn east on Sturgeon Valley Road, travel about 10 miles and watch for elk. For maps or more information continue east to Hardwood Lake Road and then head north for about one mile to the area DNR Forestry Field Office.

Back in Gaylord you may want to browse the shops or pick up a picnic lunch to enjoy at Otsego Lake State Park, just a few miles south of the city. Continue south on I-75 to Grayling, Exit 259, then northeast on M-93 to Hartwick Pines State Park. Here, in a 49-acre patch of old growth pines, is where you'll get a taste of what Michigan looked like before the loggers stripped the state of its valuable forests. Make time to learn about this natural resource and the life and work of the loggers and lumber camps on a visit to the Logging Museum and the Michigan Forest Visitor Center. (This is the interpretive center for the largest state forest system in the U.S.: Michigan's, at 3.9 million acres.)  A choice of hiking trails ranging from 1/4 to 3-1/2 miles pass through old forests, along logging paths and across the Au Sable River, a favorite stream for paddling and fly fishing.

Leave the majesty of the tall pines behind and head south on I-75, then head east on M-72 to Mio, where you can see a monument to the Kirtland's Warbler, an endangered bird that prefers the jack pine ecosystem in the Mio area. Sightings are highly prized, so keep the binoculars handy on a self-drive Jack Pine Wildlife Viewing Tour through the Au Sable River Valley. Stop at designated wildlife viewing spots, and if the elusive Kirtland's Warblers haven't departed to winter in the Bahamas you may catch a glimpse of them. The wildlife tour route begins on 600/F32 east out of Mio to Au Sable Road. Head south on 4001 and cross over the Au Sable River; continue west to 604/Curtisville Road. Follow that to 33 north back to Mio.
From Mio travel M-72 north to Fairview. Jog north two miles on M-33 to the Steiner Museum, where volunteers welcome visitors on weekends. The collection of pioneer and logging tools, equipment and artifacts was started by a local man, the late Earl Steiner, who rallied the community to preserve and appreciated pieces of the area's past.

Head back to M-72 and continue east to M-65. Turn north and at Werth Road head east; follow Werth Road back to Alpena for one last bite of history at John A. Lau Saloon and restaurant, which catered to lumbermen during the logging heyday (ask about the resident ghost).

Thunder Bay Island Lighthouse
Thunder Bay Island
Alpena, MI 49707
Phone: (800) 425-7362
Lighthouse located on beautiful Thunder Bay Island, three miles north/northeast of Alpena.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary's Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center
500 W. Fletcher St.
Alpena, MI 49707
Phone: (989) 356-8805
Free admission. Summer hours open everyday at 10am. Winter hours Monday - Saturday 10am to 5pm. The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary preserves a national treasure, nearly 200 historic shipwrecks in and around the bay. Lake Huron's cold, fresh water preserves many of these shipwrecks intact and in water depths ranging from a few inches to 200 feet, making the sanctuary a popular destination for divers, snorkelers and kayakers. You can explore the history and archaeology of these wrecks at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, the Sanctuary's 20,000 square foot, river-front headquarters. Exhibits on Great Lakes maritime history and shipwrecks include the new "Exploring the Shipwreck Century" exhibit, a 9,000 square ft. permanent exhibit featuring a life-sized recreation of a Great Lakes schooner and a shipwreck site. Visitors may also enjoy artifact displays, and interactive learning stations on technology and diving. The Center also features a sanctuary store, state of the art education spaces, high-definition theater, and archaeological conservation lab. Wreck locations are available on our web site. While visiting Alpena, you may want to explore the Thunder Bay Sanctuary Research Collection, one of the largest archival collections of Great Lakes maritime history, located at the Alpena County Library.

Island Park & Wildlife Sanctuary
208 N. First Street
City Hall
Alpena, MI 49707
Phone: (989) 354-4158
A 17 acre Island jewel surrounded by the Thunder Bay River which winds through 500 acres of back waters, low islands and waterfowl. Several paths lead joggers, walkers, photographers, fishermen, nature lovers through varied eco systems including sand dunes, meadows, woodlands, gentle slopes, marsh areas. Has viewing platform (handicapped accessible).

Pigeon River Country Elk Range
Pigeon River State Forest Campground / Otsego Lake State Park
7136 Old US 27 S
Gaylord, MI 49735
Phone: (517) 732-3541
Pigeon River Country State Forest and Elk Range is the home of the largest free-roaming elk herd east of the Mississippi. For viewing drive east of Vanderbilt on Sturgeon Valley Rd. about ten miles to one of the designated sites. For more information continue driving east about three miles to Hardwood Lake Rd. Turn left (north) one mile to the DNR Forestry Office for maps and viewing information. Portions of this area are open to public hunting. Rustic campground includes 19 sites for tens and small trailers. Water access, vault toilets and hiking pathway at campground. First-come, first-served.

Otsego Lake State Park
7136 Old 27 South
Gaylord, MI 49735
Reservations: (800) 447-2757
Phone: (989) 732-5485,4570,7-153-10365_36576-308731--,00.html
Otsego Lake State Park is shaded with large oak, maple and pine. It encompasses 62 acres and provides more than a half mile of sandy beach and large sites near or within sight of the lake. The majority of the sites are large, flat and shady. Otsego Lake was established as a state park in 1920. 155 clean, shaded, modern campsites. Recreation Passport required for entry. Pet friendly shoreline.

Hartwick Pines State Park, Visitors Center & Logging Museum
4216 Ranger Road (M-93)
Grayling, MI 49738
Reservations: (800) 447-2757
Toll Free: (800) 447-2757
Phone: (989) 348-2537,4726,7-282-61080_62657---,00.html
Hartwick Pines State Park preserves the largest stand of old growth white pine (49 acres) in Michigan's Lower Peninsula. With nearly 9,000 acres in which to roam, Hartwick Pines is a great destination for mountain biking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, camping, hiking, picnicking, birding, hunting, fishing and exploring Michigan's great outdoors. Situated among the towering trees of one of Michigan's largest remaining stands of virgin white pine, Hartwick Pines Logging Museum depicts the state's 19th-century logging era, when Michigan led the nation in sawed lumber production.

Kirtland's Warbler and Jack Pine Wildlife Viewing Tour
107 McKinley Road
Mio, MI 48647
Phone: (989) 826-3252
The Jack Pine Wildlife Viewing Tour is a self-guided, 58-mile auto-tour through jack pine ecosystems that are home to a variety of wildlife, including the endangered Kirtland's warbler. The tour is marked with signs that display an image of the Kirtland's warbler and the watchable wildlife symbol. Along the route are also opportunities to stop at one of the many recreation sites available to access the Au Sable River. Along the route there are many examples of wildlife habitat. Interpretive signs discuss specific management methods at the five stops. Occupied Kirtland's warbler habitat is closed to public entry during nesting seasons to protect the birds. Closed areas will be posted with signs. Maps are available at the Mio Ranger Station.

Steiner Museum
1980 Reber Road
Fairview, MI 48621
Phone: (989) 848-7233
Steiner Museum has a fine selection of pioneer and logging industry artifacts in it's collection. Annual Events include: Maple Syrup Social, Quilt Show, Antique Appraisal Fair, Heritage Days, Gun Show, and Indian Days. Open Memorial Day - October. Visiting Hours: 12:00 noon - 4:00 p.m. - Saturday - Sunday.

John A Lau Saloon
414 North Second Avenue
Alpena, MI 49707
Phone: (989) 354-6898
Welcome to Alpena's oldest historic saloon. Serving full lunch and dinner menus. Voted number one "beef restaurant". Don't forget to check out our micro brews, including our own Lau's Bootleg Brew.
Michigan's Sunrise Side greets fall color in late September, and the autumn hues usually linger until mid-October. This 200-mile route travels from Lake Huron's shore to a stunning stand of virgin forest, with lots of opportunities for wildlife viewing along the way.