45Th Parallel
· ·

Towing the Line: A Journey Along the 45th Parallel North in Michigan

Surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes, Michigan is uniquely positioned in the Upper Midwest and the United States. But did you know parts of Michigan also sit halfway between the North Pole and the Equator?

That unique position on the 45th Parallel north creates a fun trip that Michiganders can take across the northern Lower Peninsula, looking for roadside markers denoting the inclusion of various towns along this line of latitude.

Use our guide to find out how and where to locate these roadside markers along the iconic 45th Parallel Michigan road trip.  

45Th Parallel-Leland
45th Parallel, Leland | photo via erica.terry

What is the 45th Parallel North?

The 45th parallel north is a circle of latitude 45 degrees north of the Equator. It is often called the halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator, though it is not the true halfway point.

The 45th parallel north crosses Asia, Europe, North America, and the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Around the world, the 45th parallel north passes through parts of France, Italy, Russia, China, Japan, Canada, and many other countries.

In the United States, the 45th parallel north passes through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.

45Th Parallel
45th Parallel, Gaylord | photo via justanabsoluteunit

Getting to Know the Polar-Equator Trail

In Michigan, the 45th parallel stretches from east to west, crossing just below Alpena, continuing just below Gaylord, through the Jordan River Valley, and over Torch Lake. Additionally, it traverses two of the Great Lakes: Huron and Michigan.

In 1965, the Michigan Polar-Equator Club was established on the Michigan State University campus to create and maintain an east-to-west trail across Michigan that was as close to the 45 parallel north as possible.

The Michigan Polar-Equator Trail was recognized by the Michigan Legislature as a significant tourist attraction in February 1971. Over a decade, the trail erected trail markers and published a trail guidebook in 1973.

Michigan is about 135 miles at the 45th parallel’s latitude, but the trail stretches a little longer than that. Additionally, a lack of roads along the trail makes it difficult, if not impossible, to travel east to west (or west to east) in a straight path.

45Th Parallel-Alpena
45th Parallel, Alpena | photo via puckttography

Traveling the Michigan Polar-Equator Trail

Once upon a time, the Michigan Polar-Equator Trail was described as “a backwoods trek in loveliness along the 45th Parallel.” The route was marked with more than 200 trail markers and offered trekkers a chance to explore vast expanses of Michigan’s rugged wilderness.

Today is a different story. Due to a lack of maintenance on the trail, certain sections are difficult to follow or impassible. Other sections of the trail have been renamed or no longer exist.

Diehard travelers can trek their way from just south of Alpena at Thunder Bay. But to save a little time (and likely a lot of frustration), we recommend driving along the 45th parallel.

45Th Parallel
45th Parallel, Alpena | photo via shrine_of_signs

A Day Trip Along the 45th Parallel in Michigan

The Polar-Equator trail may have seen better days, but signs designating the 45th Parallel in the state are easier to find and are popular photo ops for residents and travelers alike.

The markers read: You are now crossing the 45th Parallel halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.

Use this guide to travel east to west along the 45th Parallel in Michigan (or as close as you can get to it). Depending on how long you stop, it’s a journey that can be completed in about half a day.

Alpena

Make your way up Michigan’s Sunrise Coast to start your 45th parallel journey.

Heading north into Alpena on US-23, visitors can find the first 45th parallel marker going through Birdsong Bay on the righthand side of the road.

Alpena is a quaint town with plenty to see and plenty of water-based activity. One can’t-miss spot is the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. This museum is filled with interactive exhibits, artifacts, and history to give every visitor a glimpse of life sailing on the Great Lakes.

A trip to downtown Alpena offers the chance to visit unique shops, including the appropriately named Parallel 45 Books and Gifts. This independently owned store offers current titles, Michigan-related books, and unique gifts.

Travelers to grab a bite on the way out of town can stop at Cabin Creek Coffee, a downtown Alpena hidden gem that offers fresh coffee and other goodies. Hungry Hippie is another popular local spot, offering tasty vegan and healthy options. 

Atlanta

Continuing west on M-32 out of Alpena, travelers will cross into Montmorency County and will arrive in Atlanta after about 40 minutes.

Visitors can find two markers in the area: One six miles west of town on M-32 as it curves south, and one six miles east of town near the junction of M-33 and M-32.

M-32 cuts right through Atlanta, the Elk Capital of Michigan, and visitors can keep their eyes peeled on the righthand side of the road for a giant glass-encased elk that welcomes travelers to town.

Hungry travelers can have several options in Atlanta. Chatters Bullpen and Grill offers cold drinks and bar food favorites. Lucky D’s Smokehouse Bar and Grill is another highly-rated local spot that serves BBQ favorites like chicken, ribs, brisket, and more.

45Th Parallel-
45th Parallel, Gaylord | photo via unavailablega

Gaylord

Travelers heading west out of Atlanta will arrive about 40 minutes later in Gaylord, Michigan’s Alpine Village with a proud Swiss Heritage.

Start a visit in Gaylord with a trip to 45th Parallel. This clothing store promotes the 45th parallel as a lifestyle brand, one that’s all about exploring the area. The store sells men’s, women and youth apparel, and accessories.

Gaylord’s Elk Park is also a fun stop. This fenced-in city park is home to an elk herd and sika and fallow deer. Visitors can walk around the perimeter of the fence to observe them in the space.

Hungry travelers have a great deal of options at their fingertips. Alpine Tavern and Eatery offers a little bit of everything from award-winning chili, fresh salads, and gourmet pizzas. For travelers looking for a quick snack, Cops and Doughnuts offers a variety of delectable pastries.

The Gaylord 45th parallel marker can be found on Hayes Tower Road. Travelers can take a left off of M-32 onto Hayes Tower to find the marker a little ways down.

Travelers can continue their journey along the 45th parallel near Alba. At M-32 in Elmira, drivers can turn left on US-131 and find the next marker just past the Bates Road intersection on the way to Alba.

Cairn Highway, Kewadin, Michigan
45th Parallel – Cairn Highway | photo via jrcjr321

Kewadin

The Polar-Equator Trail runs through Torch Lake, and on the west end of Torch Lake north of Kewadin, visitors can find a fantastic pyramid-like structure that’s arguably the most unique 45th parallel marker.

Here, visitors can find a fantastically unique cairn – known officially as the Hugh J. Gray Memorial Rock Cairn. The cairn is constructed of 83 stones, one from each Michigan county, and stands 16 feet high and is 12 feet square at the base.

The cairn is located at 5899 Cairn Highway (formerly old US-31) north of Kewadin. A 45th Parallel road sign is also present about 2.5 miles north along US-31.

Each stone is inscribed with the name of the county that donated it. The one exception is Wexford County, which has its name engraved on a steel plate attached to a two-foot piece of rubber.

The cairn was dedicated in 1938 and remains a popular Northwest Michigan tourist attraction for curious tourists. Inside the monument is a tightly sealed crypt that holds tourist brochures from every region of the state and newspapers with stories about the dedication.

45Th Parallel
45th Parallel, Gaylord | photo via takingbackstacy

Other Spots to Find 45th Parallel Markers

The suggested day trip route takes visitors to the majority of Michigan’s 45th parallel markers, but there are a few other spots where eagled-eyed travelers can spot them.

  • In Traverse City, travelers can find a marker at the lighthouse at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula.
  • In Suttons Bay, travelers can find markers going in both directions on M-22, two miles north of downtown.

Take a Journey Along the 45th Parallel in Michigan

A journey along the 45th parallel in Michigan is perfect for locals and out-of-town travelers who love sightseeing and snapping photos at different tourist attractions.

Have your camera at the ready and keep your eyes peeled for markers as you travel in Northern Michigan. Don’t be shy about taking photos either. Many of these signs are popular tourist stops, so the odds are good you may see a few people taking photos of their own.

Apart from seeing signs and taking photos, a journey along the 45th parallel is a fun, relaxing way to see the Northern Michigan countryside. So hop in the car, head north, and get ready for a fun adventure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *