outdoor things to do on Michigan's Thumbcoast this summer
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45+ Outdoor Things to Do Along Michigan’s Thumbcoast This Summer

Nature-lovers rejoice! With 140 miles of shoreline, Michigan’s Thumbcoast has tons of beaches, parks, and trails of all kinds to explore. Whether you’re interested in hiking, biking, paddle boating, motorboating, fishing, swimming, or all of the above, the Blue Water area is the place to be during the summer.

As you’re enjoying all the fun outdoor activities, you can fuel up at unique restaurants and rest up at comfortable hotels and inns. Let’s take a detailed look at some of the best outdoor things to do in the Thumb of Michigan this summer!

Thanks to the Blue Water Area CVB for being 2022 #MIAwesomeList Summer Bucket List partners.

Bridge to Bay Trail - Port Huron
Bridge to Bay Trail // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Best Port Huron MI Outdoor Things to Do in the Summer

Dubbed the “Maritime Capital of the Great Lakes,” Port Huron features one-of-a-kind sites and fulfilling outdoor activities. From walking along the waterfront to cruising on Lake Huron, this harbor city is a nature enthusiast’s dream!

Bridge to Bay Trail

Stretching along 50 miles of St. Clair County shoreline from Port Huron to Algonac, the Bridge to Bay Trail is a diverse system of bike paths, boardwalks, rail trails, and river walks.

The Port Huron section features picturesque views of the Blue Water Bridge, Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, and freighters on the water. You’ll pass several public beaches, riverfront parks, and downtown shops along the way too.

Blue Water River Walk

Extending along nearly 1 mile of the St. Clair River shoreline, the Blue Water River Walk starts just south of the Great Lakes Maritime Center. You can visit the free museum before you start to learn about Great Lakes history, listen to a live narration about a ship, and more.

While walking the paved path, you’ll pass informational kiosks, freshwater reefs, pebble beaches, benches, and an observation dock. You’ll also see a variety of public art and a fishing pier, and you can learn about the area’s ecosystem in the Outdoor Classroom.

Eventually, you’ll come to the 4-acre Wetland County Park, a recreated wetland with native plants that attract aquatic life and migratory birds. If you continue walking, it leads through a tunnel that features 30 to 40 murals.

Blueways Water Trails

The Blueways of St. Clair Water Trails includes 17 trails throughout the county, and five of them are in Port Huron — Black River Urban Paddle, Fort Gratiot Sojourn, Lake Huron Paddle, The Island Loop Route National Water Trail, and Wadhams Bridge Run.

Intermediate paddleboarders will love The Island Loop Route National Water Trail. At 10 miles long, this route features slow and calm waterways, except when getting close to the Blue Water Bridges.

In any case, all of these trails offer opportunities to go canoeing or kayaking, fishing, freighter-watching, kiteboarding, sailing, scuba diving, and swimming.

Boating on Lake Huron

Do you want to experience Lake Huron in leisure? You can rent a pontoon boat from Jay’s Marine Boat Rentals. This way, you can see the area at your own pace and soak up some sun while you’re at it.

Port Huron Sailing Class

Sailing is one of Port Huron’s favorite pastimes, and you can learn how to do it by taking a class at the Port Huron Yacht Club. This eight-week course includes four sessions in the club ballroom and four sessions on the water — all on Thursdays. You’ll learn sailing terms, weather fundamentals, basic knots, and more!

Huron Lady II Cruise

Another way to relax while you enjoy the sights is to take a guided cruise. The iconic Huron Lady II offers daily sightseeing cruises in the summer to many places, including Fort Gratiot Lighthouse and the Blue Water Bridges. You can even book dinner cruises and private charters.

Port Huron - Huron Lady II Cruise
Huron Lady II Cruise // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Free Port Huron Museums

If a rainy summer day keeps you indoors while you’re in Port Huron, you can check out four museums for free:

  • Thomas Edison Depot Museum — See exhibits that portray Edison’s creativity, adversity, determination, and ultimate success as one of the most admirable inventors of all time.
  • Carnegie Center — Learn about the Thumbcoast’s pre-history, history, and culture from displays of more than 45,000 artifacts. There’s a fee for Discover City.
  • Huron Lightship — Look at the last operating lightship (floating lighthouse) on the Great Lakes and an extensive collection of maritime items.
  • Fort Gratiot Lighthouse — Visit the grounds of a fort from the War of 1812 and its lighthouse, the first in the area when it was originally built in 1825. Guided tower tours have a fee.

Port Huron Summer Events

Beach Yoga

At Lakeside Beach, you’re welcome to join the Beach Yoga event from early June to early September. Each yoga session lasts from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Don’t forget your yoga mat, beach towel, and water bottle!

Free Concerts at McMorran Plaza Park

From the beginning of June through August, you can watch free concerts at McMorran Plaza Park — a new downtown area with a fire pit, beer garden, and splash pad. The concerts are held every Thursday through Sunday.

CityFloats - Port Huron
CityFloats // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Unique Restaurants in Port Huron

There are a lot of restaurants in Port Huron, but the CityFlatsHotel restaurants are some of the best in the city.

The Kitchen

Inside the hotel, The Kitchen is a cafe-style restaurant that serves bagels, bowls, sandwiches, scones, and other baked goods for breakfast. You can order wood-grilled flatbreads as well. You get a wonderful view of the Black River when you eat on the patio in the summer.

Fair Weather Grill

Serving savory grilled dishes, the Fair Weather Grill is located outside of the hotel. Lounge seating next to the Black River creates a relaxing dining experience.

CityFloats

Touted as the hottest bar in Port Huron, CityFloats is a floating barge that has been transformed into a dining spot with standing tables and picnic tables. It’s the perfect place to grab a beer, cocktail, or glass of wine. You can order food from the  Fair Weather Grill menu.

Port Huron Lodging Options

CityFlatsHotel

During your visit to Port Huron, consider staying at one of the most exciting boutique hotels in the city. CityFlatsHotel features modern and unique rooms with custom-made mattresses. Every room has a view of either the city or the river.

Port Huron KOA Resort

For a slightly more rustic stay, book one of the 160 cabins at the Port Huron KOA Resort. The resort also has 20 tent sites and 260 RV sites for more rustic experiences. Resort amenities include three pools, an arcade, sports courts, and several amusement park-like attractions.

Bridge to Bay Trail - St Clair
Bridge to Bay Trail // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Best Outdoor Things to Do in Port Austin & Harbor Beach

At the tip of Michigan’s Thumbcoast, Port Austin is known for its expansive sandy beaches, paddling adventures, and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. With the biggest man-made freshwater harbor in the world, Harbor Beach offers many chances to go fishing, paddling, boating, swimming, and more.

Parks & Trails for Hiking & Biking in Port Austin & Harbor Beach

Huron County Nature Center & Wilderness Arboretum | Port Austin

For a refreshing walk among the trees and wildlife, head to Huron County Nature Center & Wilderness Arboretum. The 280 acres feature a trail system with boardwalks that are open all year. Special events are held on weekends during the summer, and the Visitor’s Center is open.

Downtown Biking | Port Austin

Port Austin has a bike-friendly downtown area. A leisurely bike ride will get you almost anywhere downtown in just a few minutes. Or, you could ride on the wide shoulder of M-25 W for stunning water views. Pak’s Garage offers beach cruiser and e-bike rentals.

Historical Walking Tour | Harbor Beach

You have a chance to learn about Harbor Beach’s history while enjoying the great outdoors on the Historical Walking Tour. The self-guided trail stretches for 1.5 miles and includes more than 20 points of interest with informative signs at each.

Harbor View Trail | Harbor Beach

The Harbor View Trail is an approximately  2-mile lighted path (as of 2022) that connects to the beach, marina, a few parks, and more. The trail meanders through Harbor Beach and along Lake Huron. If you prefer to ride on the path, Harbor Beach Kayak offers bike rentals.

Judge James H. Lincoln Memorial Park | Harbor Beach

On the east side of Trescott St, the Judge James H. Lincoln Memorial Park connects to the Harbor View Trail not far from downtown. It has a huge grassy area, sandy swimming beach, picnic shelter, and tables with grills.

On top of that, you can walk to the end of the 1,015-foot Trescott Street Pier, from which you can see the offshore Harbor Beach Lighthouse and passing freighters. Fishing is allowed from the pier too.

Fort Gratiot Lighthouse
Fort Gratiot Lighthouse // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Port Austin & Harbor Beach Lighthouses

Port Austin Reef Light

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the Port Austin Reef Light is open for tours. Built in 1878, the tower is located about 2.5 miles north of the harbor and was decommissioned in 1984. It was scheduled to be torn down but was saved and restored.

Harbor Beach Lighthouse

The Harbor Beach Lighthouse is a spark plug-style, offshore tower that’s open for tours during the summer season. Built in 1885, the cast-iron lighthouse has six decks, all of which have rooms. Tours include a short boat ride and lead through the living quarters to the top for panoramic views.

Boating & Kayaking in Port Austin & Harbor Beach

Tip of the Thumb Heritage Water Trail

Extending for 103 miles, the Tip of the Thumb Heritage Water Trail winds around the Thumbcoast from Lexington to Saginaw Bay. Several of the 44 access points along the trail are located in Port Austin and Harbor Beach, so you can choose how much you want to kayak.

Turnip Rock Tours & Port Austin Kayak | Port Austin

The natural phenomenon called Turnip Rock near Port Austin is truly a sight to behold. As the name implies, this limestone structure looks like a turnip and rests a short distance from shore. You can take 7-mile boat and kayak tours to the rock with Turnip Rock Tours and Port Austin Kayak.

Kayaking the Pinnebog River | Port Austin

With sandy and lush green shorelines, the Pinnebog River is a 39-mile river in the Michigan Thumb area that flows through Port Crescent State Park. During a canoeing or kayaking excursion, you’ll likely see lots of local wildlife.

Shallow Water Shipwrecks | Harbor Beach

If you walk to the end of Trescott Street Pier, you might notice the three shallow-water shipwrecks within the breakwall. You can get a closer look by renting a kayak from Harbor Beach Kayak or a Jet Ski from HB Jet Ski.

Blue Water River Walk - Farmers Market - Port Huron
Blue Water River Walk – Farmer Market // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Port Austin & Harbor Beach Summer Events

Porch Fest | Port Austin

In June, Port Austin comes alive with music during Porch Fest. This community festival is held at various venues throughout downtown. You can take picnic blankets and lawn chairs to make yourself comfortable on the lawn.

Maritime Festival | Harbor Beach

For a long weekend in July, Harbor Beach hosts the Maritime Festival on the waterfront. This event is full of free music and a variety of activities — bocce on the beach, cornhole tournament, lighted boat parade, sandcastle building, craft show, fireworks display, and more.

BiYakAthon | Harbor Beach

The Harbor Beach BiYakAthon in August is a local triathlon — a 5-mile bike ride through downtown and countryside, a 2-mile kayak journey through the harbor, and a 5k run along the shoreline and to the breakwall. All proceeds go to local organizations.

Delicious Restaurants in Port Austin & Harbor Beach

Pak’s Backyard Restaurant & Beer Garden | Port Austin

Located on the waterfront with indoor and outdoor seating, Pak’s Backyard Restaurant & Beer Garden is a great place to relax after a day of exploring Port Austin. The lunch and dinner menus feature burgers, sandwiches, chicken tenders, and seafood tacos.

Pak’s also has a high-quality coffee bar in the mornings and serves espresso, specialty drinks, and cold brews.

Bird Creek Farms Restaurant & Tap Room | Port Austin

With a wraparound porch, Bird Creek Farms Restaurant & Tap Room is the perfect place to eat while watching the sunset in Port Austin. Along with farm-to-table dishes and site-brewed beer, the restaurant has lawn games — bocce, cornhole, and Kan Jam.

Hook’s Waterfront Resort Bar & Restaurant | Harbor Beach

Featuring a fishing, nautical theme, the Hook’s Waterfront Resort Bar & Restaurant has 400 feet of lake frontage. The menu includes burgers, seafood, steaks, pasta, and more.

Port Austin & Harbor Beach Lodging

85ten | Port Austin

Passionate about creating an intimate lodging experience, 85ten in Port Austin is a luxury boutique hotel. The professionally designed rooms feature upscale amenities, including king-size beds, blackout-lined curtains, and luxurious toiletries. You get easy beach access as well!

Hook’s Waterfront Resort | Harbor Beach

The lodging portion of Hooks Waterfront Resort offers fantastic views of Lake Huron and sailing freighters from every room. The building housed the Hopson Motel in the 1960s and the Train Station Motel in the 1990s. Since then, it has been completely renovated with comfortable accommodations.

Blue Water River Walk map - Port Huron
Blue Water River Walk map // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

Best St. Clair & Marine City Outdoor Things to Do in Summer

On the U.S./Canada border of the Thumbcoast, St. Clair is a historic city with streets that are lined with trees and numerous outdoor activities for nature lovers to do. Just a 10-minute drive south, Marine City is a shipbuilding center for the Great Lakes and full of grand architecture.

Bridge to Bay Trail

Since the Bridge to Bay Trail runs for about 50 miles of St. Clair County shoreline, it passes through both St. Clair and Marine City. Between these two cities, the trail winds through East China Township Park, which features 81 acres of grass, sports fields, a paved bike path, and other walking trails.

  • On the St. Clair section of the Bridge to Bay Trail, you’ll see the St. Clair River, vintage homes, historic churches, and the St. Clair Historical Museum.
  • On the Marine City section, you’ll see five waterfront parks — including Marine City Beach & Park — several museums, two live theaters — including Riverbank Theatre — and exceptional architecture.

Blueways Water Trails

Consisting of 17 trails, the Blueways of St. Clair Water Trails have two great trails in St. Clair and Marine City. Along these trails, you can enjoy canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and freighter-watching.

The Pine River Paddle trail in St. Clair is 8.4 miles round trip. The Belle River Route runs through St. Clair & Marine City and is 7.5 miles long.

St. Clair Boat Harbor | St. Clair

As a top recreational harbor in Michigan, St. Clair Boat Harbor is an excellent place to rent canoes and kayaks. The harbor even has a launch ramp for a peaceful start on the Pine River Paddle trail.

Palmer Park & Boardwalk | St. Clair

The centerpiece of downtown St. Clair, Palmer Park is 5.9 acres of greenery, gardens, seating areas, and art sculptures.

What makes it unique, though, is that it’s home to the longest freshwater boardwalk in the world — nearly 2,000 feet! Plus, the sandbar in the middle of the river means that freighters get so close that you can almost touch them.

Hook One Charters | Marine City

If you’re interested in fishing during your visit to Marine City, book with Hook One Charters. It offers morning and evening trips, and the charters include all the bait and tackle for catching walleye and sturgeon. Best of all, fish cleaning and packaging are part of the price.

Marine City Beach | Marine City

Featuring barbecue grills and picnic tables, a barrier-free sidewalk, and shady grassy areas, Marine City Beach is one of the best places to spend a summer day. You can enjoy birding, fishing, swimming, and freighter-watching.

Lighthouse Park & Peche Island Rear Range Light | Marine City

Highlights of downtown Marine City are Lighthouse Park and the Peche Island Rear Range Light. The park is a green space with a lighted, paved path around it. It has sand volleyball courts and picnic tables. The lighthouse is a relocated and restored 1908 tower that stands 60 feet tall in the park.

St Clair Inn
St Clair Inn // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

St. Clair Summer Events

Riverview Plaza Park | St. Clair

Across the street from the St. Clair River and Palmer Park in St. Clair, Riverview Plaza Park is a great shopping mall with an open-air courtyard for events. During Summer 2022, it will host more than 100 free concerts for all ages.

St. Clair Classic | St. Clair

In late July, the St. Clair Classic offshore powerboat race will be held at Palmer Park. The boardwalk offers outstanding viewpoints for the race. After each day of racing, you can listen and dance to live music at Riverview Plaza Park across the street.

Yummy Restaurants in St. Clair & Marine City

Black & Blue BBQ | St. Clair

A small-town smokehouse, Black & Blue BBQ offers a new type of menu and atmosphere from the typical barbecue joint. Everything is made with locally sourced ingredients.

You can order brisket, chicken, and pork in multiple ways. And, the menu includes pretzel bun sandwiches and specialty nachos too.

River Crab at Blue Water Inn | St. Clair

Whether you want brunch, lunch, happy hour, or dinner, the River Crab at Blue Water Inn is ready to serve. This casual restaurant offers upscale dining on the water’s edge with seafood, steak, and pasta specialties on the menu.

Marine City Fish Company | Marine City

Specializing in local fresh fish, Marine City Fish Company is open for lunch and dinner. Also on the menu are homemade pasta, gourmet sandwiches and burgers, handcrafted desserts, and assorted jerky.

St. Clair & Marine City Lodging

St. Clair Inn | St. Clair

Established in 1926, the St. Clair Inn has become a destination for locals and visitors alike. The 42 guest rooms and suites and three cottages were fully renovated in 2019, combining the best of modern comfort and early 20th-century elegance. It has more than five bars and restaurants as well.

Inn on Water Street | Marine City

Celebrating the agricultural and shipbuilding heritage of Marine City, the Inn on Water Street is a boutique hotel with a restaurant. The hotel is decorated like a charming modern farmhouse, and the 25 guest rooms have unique floor plans.

Port Huron Yacht Club
Port Huron Yacht Club // photo provided by the Blue Water Area CVB

A Destination Eatery Along Michigan’s Thumbcoast

No matter where you decide to spend most of your time during your Thumbcoast trip, 3 North Vine is worth the journey. It has two locations — one in Croswell and the other in Lexington.

The vineyard and tasting room are in Croswell, serving tasting flights of hard cider, wine, and sangria. The taphouse and eatery are in Lexington, serving the same hard ciders and wines alongside a menu of locally sourced salads and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.

Additional Options for Thumbcoast Lodging in Port Huron

If you’re planning to visit Port Huron this summer, you have a wide selection of lodging options. For instance, Baymont by Wyndham, Doubletree by Hilton, Fairfield Inn by Marriott, and Hampton Inn offer accommodations in the city. You can find these and even more lodging options here.

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