Michigan is full of natural beauty. Everywhere you turn are mountains, lakes, streams, and more. The Au Sable Scenic River Highbanks Overlook in the Huron-Manistee National Forest is gorgeous any time of the year. Here’s a look at my last trip to the overlook and Lumberman’s Monument in fall 2021.
Best Time to Visit Lumberman’s Monument
In the summer, the river is loaded with boats, and daring souls make the extremely steep walk up the sandy dune from the banks of the river. In the fall, it’s a beautiful overlook to gaze at the changing trees. In the winter, the river is partly frozen, and the sand is covered in snow.
Fall is one of my favorite times to visit this area. The hikes are beautiful, the air is clean, and there is so much to enjoy in this area of Tawas City and the Huron National Forest.
Grab a Latte Before You Go
One of my favorite things to do is get a delicious latte from Suzie’s Brews in downtown East Tawas on our way to the overlook. It’s about a 15-minute drive from the coffee shop to the overlook.
It sounds simple, but a Suzie’s barista recommended this to me one time and now it’s my favorite fall beverage: a vanilla latte with cinnamon. My husband loves the London Fog Tea Latte, so if you’re more of a tea person, you can try that!
About the Lumberman’s Monument
When you pull into the area, you’ll notice a giant statue of lumbermen. The name of this statue … wait for it … is Lumberman’s Monument. This part of the forest is dedicated to telling the story of moving logs from the forests to mills and the lumberjacks who made that happen!
There’s a visitor center and a small museum that tells the story of the area. In the museum, you’ll find beaver teeth, animal skeletons, and preserved monarch butterflies in museum cases. Also, there’s a mannequin dressed in a World War II uniform standing in front of a desk.
You can read the historic panels to learn about the lumber industry boom in the 1800s and its affect on the industrial development of Northern Michigan. The panels also talk about the many men out of work during the Depression who moved to the area for work. It was a big operation.
In addition, there’s a section of the museum dedicated to the firefighters in this area. With it being a large forest, there are some controlled burns. However, there have been wildfires that some men have lost their lives fighting as well.
Taking a Short Hike for the Amazing Views
There are many walking trails and beautiful overlooks near the Lumberman’s Monument. Some very serious hikers can spend days hiking through the forest. For a day tripper like myself, though, I like to hike the short hikes and enjoy the views.
The first short hike I would recommend is down the 272 steps to the bottom of the river. It sounds like a lot of steps, and it is! But, there are benches and small overlooks throughout the hike, which allow you to take breaks and still enjoy the view.
It takes us about 10-15 minutes to get down, and the same is true for the hike back up. Depending on your hiking stamina, it may take you longer. We’ve seen people of all skill levels and ages climbing the stairs. I’ve even seen 2-year-olds and 80-year-olds do it, so I have faith in you.
The gift shop near Lumberman’s Monument also sells mementos that you can buy saying you “survived the 272 steps.” So, you can prove to all your disbelieving friends that you did it!
Once you make it to the bottom, you can step onto the platform of the wanigan. The wanigan is a replica of a floating cook shack that followed the river drives.
Make sure to look down from the wanigan to see how clear the water is. Look up to see the giant sand hill that, if you walk to the overlook I recommend next, you’ll see from an entirely different vantage point.
Inside the cook shack are audio clips that tell the story of the lumbermen and loads of fake food that recreate the meals these men ate on the job. The audio clips come with music that definitely sets the mood for the time.
One thing I enjoyed in the cook shack display was reading “lumberjack lingo,” mostly because it’s always fascinating to me that we still use words or phrases that we don’t know the origin to. They’re just part of our vernacular now.
For example, “come and get it” was apparently a thing lumberjacks would say when it was time to eat. I still say it today!
Exploring the Forest Discovery Trail
After you’ve made your way back up the staircase (and you’re completely out of breath), I recommend walking down to the Forest Discovery Trail near Lumberman’s Monument. It’s a flat, short 20-minute loop through the forest with educational panels about forest growth and trees.
This simple walk lets you see some beautiful plants.
At the end of the loop, you’ll be right at the entrance to what I like to call the “grand finale” — the beautiful Au Sable River Overlook. If you’re here around sunset, you couldn’t have a better view of the sun setting over the river.
There’s a wooden platform that you can see the view from very well. You can also walk down the sandy path (and it’s very sandy!) for an unobstructed view of the river.
This spot is also where the brave and strong run down to the river and have to climb back up. It’s not an easy climb, and it’s not for the faint of heart! But from what I’ve seen, it’s sort of a rite of passage.
My husband says it’s like walking up an escalator. With every sandy step, you slide back down just a little.
There are other hikes and viewpoints, but these are all the major highlights — the top of the river, the bottom of the river, and a walk through the forest. I would recommend giving yourself at least two hours to do all these activities. You couldn’t ask for a better fall day trip in a beautiful part of Michigan.
More Scenic Places to Visit in Michigan
Lumberman’s Monument and the Au Sable Scenic River Highbanks Overlook is only one of the best areas in Michigan with magnificent views of fall colors. There are dozens of fall scenic overlooks. You could even take a fall scenic drive, such as the Tunnel of Trees or Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.