Nestled in Northeast Michigan on the shores of Lake Huron, the City of Alpena is known as the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes. The area is full of outdoor recreation, interactive indoor activities, and fun events.
During the fall, the changing leaves make Alpena Michigan a colorful place to explore. Plus, there are a handful of events and festivals to delight all ages. No matter what your family is interested in, the Alpena area is an ideal destination that has it all!
Outdoor Things to Do in Alpena for Families
In Alpena and Northeast Michigan, the fall colors usually peak in the middle of October. Whether you visit in late September or late October, though, you’re sure to see the orange, red, and yellow hues in the trees. You also have many opportunities to enjoy recreational activities and unique adventures.
Knaebe’s Apple Farm & Ciderworks
One fantastic way to spend a fall day in Alpena is to explore Knaebe’s Apple Farm & Ciderworks. This local farm and apple orchard has a slew of fall activities and attractions for families — farm animals, a playground, cornhole and horseshoes, and the Mac ‘n’ Squasher apple slingshot.
Plus, kids love the barrel train ride, and wagon rides are pulled by a 1947 Farmall H tractor. You can even visit the pumpkin patch to pick your own pumpkins to decorate for Halloween.
In the main barn, you’ll find the Knaebe’s bakery, which makes fresh doughnuts, cookies, caramel apples, and homemade pies daily. In the adjacent barn, you can enjoy handcrafted, wood-fired pizza, for which gluten-free crust is available. Hard cider is available too.
Alpena Farmers’ Market
The Alpena Farmers’ Market at Mich-e-ke-wis Park is open year round. During the fall, it’s open on Saturdays and Wednesdays through October. For November, the market is open on Saturdays.
This farmer’s market is more than a place to get fresh produce and herbs, eggs, poultry, grass-fed beef, cut flowers, honey and maple syrup, arts and crafts, and baked goods. It hosts events throughout the year too.
On Sept. 17, 2022, the farmer’s market is hosting Kids Day, a free event with many activities, such as a petting zoo, a bounce house, face painting, hay rides, an ambulance and fire trucks, cider making, veggie tasting, balloon animals, a dunk tank, pumpkin decorating, and more.
Miles of Hiking Trails
The Alpena Bi-Path is an about 18-mile paved bicycle path that was built by the city. It’s almost totally flat, so it’s suitable for walking, running, and other trail activities for everyone.
The path consists of a loop and several spurs, and it connects several attractions — such as Bay View Park, Mich-e-ke-wis Park, and the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary. Additionally, the trail features nice scenery of Lake Huron and the Thunder Bay River.
North Eastern State Trail
Stretching for more than 70 miles along an old railroad grade, the North Eastern State Trail traverses Northeastern Michigan from Alpena to Cheboygan. The crushed limestone surface is mostly flat, making it great for cycling.
The Alpena Trailhead is located on the north side of the city on Woodward St with parking, restrooms, and a pavilion nearby. From there, you can follow the path for 16.6 miles to Posen. Along the way, you’ll pass the old lumber towns of Bolton and Cathro, as well as a sinkhole near Maple Lane Rd.
The North Eastern State Trail connects to the Alpena Bi-Path.
Norway Ridge Pathway
The Norway Ridge Pathway is one of the best trails for leaf peeping during the fall. Located off Werth Rd, the path features rolling hills and pine ridges with tons of colorful trees. There are 10 miles of trail loops, each with trail markers and easy terrain for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing.
Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary
Located on the Thunder Bay River, the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary is a 500-acre nature preserve with many low islands — resting and nesting spots for marshland birds, turtles, and mammals like otters and white-tailed deer.
Island Park is located within the sanctuary and maintains various diverse ecosystems, including meadows, woodlands, marshes, and sand dunes. This 17-acre island is accessible via a Hand-Hewn, wooden, covered bridge with a concrete footpath connecting Duck Park to the Island.
The nature trails throughout Island Park provide plenty of opportunities to see the distinctly unique ecosystems and the wildlife that each area nurtures. You can even go fishing along the water from various fishing platforms located around the island.
Duck Park, on the mainland, is 2.5 acres and offers even more recreational activities including an accessible kayak launch, free to the public, and trails linking to the Bi-Path.
Fossils & Sinkholes at Rockport State Recreation Area
If you’re looking for a truly unique experience, fall is a fantastic time to visit Rockport State Recreation Area and its fossils and sinkholes.
You can hunt for Devonian Period marine fossils, which are more than 400 million years old! There are plenty of them in the abandoned 300-acre limestone quarry at the park. You’re allowed to take up to 25 pounds of fossils with you each year.
You can expect to find fossils of brachiopods, bryozoans, corals, and crinoids. Fossils of the Dunkleosteus, a carnivorous placoderm fish, are rare.
The Rockport State Recreation Area has 13 sinkholes as a result of its topography. Actually, Alpena Michigan has the highest concentration of sinkholes in the United States.
These fascinating locations are created when subsurface layers of gypsum and anhydrite dissolve, causing the layer of ground above to collapse into underground caverns. One of the sinkholes in Rockport is more than 100 feet deep. It’s called a wet sink because it’s full of water (and fish).
The Rockport sinkholes aren’t the only ones in the area, though. Another more than 100-foot deep sink in Alpena is the Bruski Sinkhole, a dry sink (no water). Other sinkholes in Alpena Michigan include:
- El Cajon Sinkhole
- Mystery Valley Sinkhole
- Middle Island Sinkhole
- Sunken Lake Campgrounds and County Park
- Stevens Twin Sinkholes
If your kids are interested in dinosaurs, there’s no better place to go than Dinosaur Gardens on Saturdays in October. Located in nearby Ossineke, this attraction offers a thrilling adventure walking among enormous life-like dinosaurs.
The self-guided walking tour is about 0.5 miles long, and each dinosaur exhibit has an information legend. In addition, you can take advantage of the property’s mini-golf course, miner’s sluice, and fossil dig site. There’s also a frozen yogurt bar and dinosaur-themed gift shop.
Family Indoor Activities in Alpena Michigan
While the fall is a beautiful season to spend outdoors, there may be times when you need indoor activities to keep busy. Fortunately, Alpena Michigan has a wonderful array of indoor things to do!
Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan
The Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan has it all — art, history, and science. The three art galleries feature pieces from the museum’s permanent collection, including artwork by Northeast Michigan artists. The museum hosts temporary exhibits each year as well.
The Besser Museum’s historical collection includes cultural artifacts that portray Northeast Michigan industries and life. For instance, you can walk through a historic village and replicas of 19th-century shops. You can also explore the area’s farming and lumbering history and much more.
Additionally, the museum features three permanent science exhibits that include anthropology, botany, geology, paleontology, physical science technology, and zoology specimens. If you’re interested in the constellations, head to the planetarium to learn about the night sky before going to any of Alpena’s Dark Sky Preserve Parks.
New Presque Isle Lighthouse
While you can explore the grounds around New Presque Isle Lighthouse, the tours are located indoors, giving you the opportunity to climb the tallest accessible light tower in Michigan. It’s the perfect way to get a view of the fall colors and Lake Huron before the tours close for the winter. On a clear day, you can see Duck Island, Canada from the top of this spectacular tower.
Also on the property, the 1905 keeper’s house is a museum. The building still has its original interior finish and is decorated with 1915 artifacts. Its exhibits highlight how the light keepers lived.
Just down the road 1 mile is the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, which is the oldest accessible lighthouse on the Great Lakes. There are 30 hand-carved steps leading to the top of the tower. This lighthouse also has a very believable ghost story!
Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center
You’ll get to experience the rich history of the Great Lakes at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. With more than 10,000 square feet, there are exhibits for everyone to enjoy here.
One unique feature, though, is the life-size schooner deck, where you can experience what a Lake Huron storm feels like. There are diving tubes, too, that simulate diving a shipwreck up close.
Thunder Bowl Lanes
For some friendly competition or a few hours of game fun, head to Thunder Bowl Lanes for regular and bumper bowling. The bowling center has a great selection of food and refreshments at The Burger Shack as well. Plus, Shooter’s Pub serves cold beers and cocktails from its full bar.
Laser Team Challenge
Open every Saturday, Laser Team Challenge offers a variety of games in its indoor/outdoor venue. Each game lasts three to six hours for 10 to 85 people depending on what you choose. What makes this attraction distinct is that it’s located in the old National Guard Armory in downtown Alpena.
The three floors and 45,000 square feet of space make every game super fun and challenging. The basement has a maze, the second floor is open with portable barriers, and the third floor features rooms and a balcony. In between are multiple stairwells. This activity is a favorite for groups, team-building exercise, or just an afternoon of fun.
Bob’s Bullpen Comic Shop
Families that love comics will be in heaven at Bob’s Bullpen Comic Shop. It’s owned by Bob LeFevre, a professional comic artist who has worked on projects for “Transformers,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and brands like Adidas.
This pop culture retail space has all things comics, toys, cards, retro video games, posters, and clothes. There’s also an arcade with over 26,000 games to play for free when you buy a value meal in the on-site, cafe-style gourmet hot dog restaurant.
Must-Go Fall Events in Alpena Michigan
Attending a festival or event is a fun way to spend a fall day in Alpena Michigan. And, there are a handful of family-friendly events that we recommend!
Northern Michigan Fiber Festival
Sept. 24 & 25, 2022
The annual Northern Michigan Fiber Festival is a celebration of creativity. A variety of vendors set up shops in the Alpena Events Complex with local apparel, crafts, home decor, yarn, and all things fiber related. You can also watch free crafting and spinning demos, or take a crafting class.
Thunder Bay Folk Festival
Sept. 23 & 24
Held at the Alpena Antique Tractor Showgrounds, the Thunder Bay Folk Festival is a family-friendly weekend event with live music by popular bands from around Maine and even as far as Chicago. The event features the talents of local artists as well.
The musical genres vary from bluegrass and blues to country, faux-grass, and ’60s folk/rock. You always have great tunes for dancing! On top of that, you can peruse arts and craft vendors, and grab something to eat from the amazing food vendors.
Fall Harvest Fossil Fest
Every year, the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan hosts the Fall Harvest Fossil Fest. This event is a favorite among locals and offers a range of activities, historic building tours, demonstrations, planetarium shows, and, of course, digging for fossils.
Flannel Fun Night
The Alpena Downtown Development Authority has started organizing Flannel Fun Night to kick off the fall season in October. This event is just a fun night when the family can wear their flannel best and peruse the downtown stores, restaurants, and other businesses.
Some of the participating businesses offer giveaways, promotions, sales, and more during Flannel Fun Night.
Where to Eat in the Alpena Area
Alpena Michigan is home to dozens of local restaurants where families can stay fueled up for their autumn adventures. Here are a few of our favorites.
Nick’s Southside Diner
When it comes to breakfast, Nick’s Southside Diner is among the best. The authentic 1950s boxcar diner serves delicious pancakes. You can even order them in fun shapes, like tractors or bunnies.
Nowicki’s Sausage Shoppe
If you’re planning a day of outdoor fun, consider getting some sausage at Nowicki’s Sausage Shoppe to grill for a picnic. This family business makes more than 80 specialties — from smoked meats to old-world sausage. The self-serve counter lets you make your own “Brat in a Bun.”
Cabin Creek Coffee
Family-owned Cabin Creek Coffee is a great place for morning coffee and made-to-order breakfast sandwiches. It has a full espresso bar and serves cappuccinos, specialty coffees, blended iced coffees, smoothies, and more. Alongside sandwiches, its food menu includes salads, soups, flatbread pizzas, and strata.
For more than 30 years, Connie’s Cafe has been making deliciously fresh dishes for every time of day. The breakfast menu features breakfast sandwiches and wraps, sweet entrees, omelets, skillets, and more. The lunch and dinner menu has everything from salads to burgers, sandwiches, and melts.
Connie’s has a bakery too, so you can get something for your sweet tooth — cinnamon bread, jumbo cinnamon rolls, homemade cookies, and old-fashioned, homemade pies. Also, its rock garden is a beautiful touch that features unique art and a peaceful setting.
The Fresh Palate Gourmet
Featuring an energetic atmosphere, The Fresh Palate serves fresh, creative, and organic dishes. On the lunch menu, you’ll find a range of burgers, sandwiches, wraps, and panini, as well as burritos, rice bowls, and pizzas — all of which have gluten-free options. You can order small and large entrees as well.
Red Brick Tap & Barrel
Families who love to try new foods will really enjoy Red Brick Tap & Barrel, a community-centered restaurant that makes upscale, uniquely inspired food and cocktails. For instance, the menu includes wagyu beef burgers, seafood mac and cheese, and chipotle salmon tacos. Along with cocktails, the bar serves craft beer and whiskey.
Whether it’s midday or evening, the best place in Alpena Michigan to get ice cream is Downtown Scoops. This downtown shop features 24 flavors of hand-dipped ice cream. It makes waffle cones and custom sundaes, shakes, and malts as well. You can also purchase gift baskets of gourmet treats.
Galley Sweet Shop
If you prefer to treat yourself to baked goods, Galley Sweet Shop is the place to go. An official Cops & Doughnuts Sub-Station, it makes fresh bread, doughnuts, and pastries every day. Plus, fresh pies and cookies are available on Fridays.
Also, you can purchase products made by Alpine Chocolate Haus, Cherry Republic, and Great Lakes Olive Company. Artworks by local artists are available to buy too.
Where to Stay in Alpena Michigan
The Greater Alpena Michigan area offers a wide array of lodging options — from motels to bed and breakfasts to campsites and cabins. Some of our favorites include Big Bear Lodge, Ramada By Wyndham, and Presque Isle Lodge. You can find even more lodging options here when you plan your fall family trip.