Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary-Alpena
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Discover Alpena: A Beautiful Nature Paradise in Northeast Lower Michigan

If exploring the great outdoors is high on your itinerary when planning a vacation, you’ll love all the nature-centric things to do in Alpena, Michigan! Nestled on the shores of Lake Huron, Alpena is the perfect destination for citizen-scientists and nature enthusiasts looking to get away and enjoy an outdoor adventure in Northeast Lower Michigan.

Known as the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes, Alpena’s welcoming atmosphere and proximity to Lake Huron give it a unique appeal as a thriving modern community on nature’s doorstep.

Whether you’re looking forward to soaking up scenic views from a beach chair, hunting for fossils, gazing at the night sky at a dark sky preserve, or admiring local wildflowers, Alpena beckons you to come and explore.

Special thanks to Visit Alpena for partnering with Awesome Mitten to bring you this ad-free destination guide.

Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary-Alpena
Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary | photo via sg.captures

Wildlife & Wildflowers Abound in Alpena

Alpena is known for its abundant outdoor recreation areas, including several nature preserves where wildlife and wildflowers abound. These protected parks are perfect for bird-watching and enjoying scenic hikes with the opportunity to spot unique plants like Michigan’s state wildflower, the dwarf lake iris.

Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary

The Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary, spanning nearly 500 acres in the heart of Alpena, is a wonderland of outdoor activities amidst diverse ecosystems.

Peaceful Trails

Within this wildlife sanctuary lies Island Park, a 17-acre haven situated on the Thunder Bay River at the junction of US-23 and Long Rapids Road. The park features 4,400 feet of waterfront, providing a pristine setting for nature lovers to explore.

Accessible to foot traffic by a hand-hewn, wooden covered bridge, Island Park serves as a peaceful retreat, offering both paved and unpaved nature trails perfect for observing a variety of local flora and fauna. The island’s paved trail leads to a lookout platform which accommodates strollers and wheelchairs.

Island Park is believed to be the historic home of Sah-gon-ah-ka-to, Alpena’s last native chief, and continues to be a focal point for conservation and outdoor education. 

Rich Biodiversity

Botanical enthusiasts will find the island’s diverse plant life fascinating, with native species like Starry False Solomon’s Seal, Wild Sarsaparilla, and Queen Anne’s Lace flourishing in its prairie grasslands. On the island’s south shore, Oak Dunes reveal the island’s large sand dune and red osier dogwood, willow, and meadowsweet grow on the water’s edge.

Oak Dunes and nearby Blackbird Marsh provide habitats for a variety of wildlife, including beaver and muskrats, while Turtle Bar is known for its snapping turtle nests. The surrounding sanctuary’s varied habitats, including marshes, meadows, sand dunes, and woodlands, are home to diverse wildlife such as otters, beaver, an occasional white-tail deer, Least Bitterns, egrets, songbirds, and various waterfowl.

The sanctuary is one of several Alpena-area locations on the Sunrise Coast Birding Trail, a 145-mile trail extending along US-23 from the Au Sable River in Oscoda to Mackinaw City and showcasing the region’s avian diversity.

Serene Waters

The canoe and kayak launch at adjoining Duck Park enhances the opportunity for unique water-based exploration of the area.

Bring your own watercraft or reserve a paddleboard, kayak, or canoe from Alpena Pedal & Paddle Rental. Paddle along the serene waters of the wildlife sanctuary’s Blue Heron Water Trail and you just might spot a great blue heron on your journey.

Dog Sniffing Dwarf Purple Iris At Misery Bay In Alpena Michigan
Misery Bay, Alpena | photo via brandinn.moon

Misery Bay Nature Preserve

Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy this 133-acre land tract on Misery Bay in Alpena Township which includes more than 9,000 feet of scenic Lake Huron shoreline with coastal marshes, fens, and cobble beaches.

This public preserve is a stronghold for the elusive dwarf lake iris, Michigan’s state wildflower, that grows on the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, as well as over 100 other plant species. Visitors can typically see the purple dwarf lake iris around mid-May within the preserve.

About 25 miles north of Alpena, Thompson’s Harbor State Park is home to more than 5,000 acres and has one of the state’s largest populations of dwarf lake iris.

The preserve is also home to numerous trails where visitors can catch glimpses of nesting birds, including Black-throated Green Warblers and American Redstarts. Plant species include pitcher plants, Canada Mayflower, Indian Paintbrush, and Sticky False Asphodel.

Rockport State Recreation Area-Alpena
Rockport State Recreation Area | photo via greatlakes1986

Alpena Offers Unique Rock & Fossil Hunting Opportunities

Rockport State Recreation Area

Located just north of Alpena, Rockport State Recreation Area is the perfect place to discover the rugged beauty of Lake Huron’s coastline in a 4,237-acre park that includes a diverse mix of recreational and natural offerings. 

Rockport’s natural attractions include a nearly 300-acre former limestone quarry, secluded sandy beaches, a bat hibernaculum, a deep water fishing port, a fascinating series of sinkholes, a unique range of habitats, and the Besser Natural Area.

Rockhound Along the Lake Huron

Residents and visitors alike enjoy Rockport’s big lake coastline. Rockhounds can comb for Petoskey stones, agates, pudding stones, and other rocks along the park’s coastline.

Fossil Hunt in the Limestone Quarry

Within Rockport, the limestone quarry provides a unique opportunity for fossil hunting in Michigan. Adventurers can search for Devonian Period fossils such as brachiopods, crinoids, bryozoans, and corals.

Wear sturdy shoes to safely navigate the rocky terrain in the quarry and bring a bucket to carry all your treasures home. Up to 25 pounds of fossils are allowed to be collected and taken home.

Rockport State Recreation Area - Alpena, Michigan
Rockport State Recreation Area | photo via @sg.captures

Majestic Dark Sky Preserves in Alpena Are Perfect for Stargazing

The Alpena region is one of Michigan’s most majestic spots to enjoy the night sky. Of the six dark sky preserves in Michigan, three are located near Alpena in Northeast Lower Michigan and boast awe-inspiring displays of constellations, stars, meteor showers, the Milky Way Galaxy, and even the Northern Lights.

Rockport State Recreation Area is the closest dark sky preserve to Alpena. Rockport’s location on the Lake Huron shoreline makes it the perfect spot for night sky viewing.

A half-hour north of Rockport, Thompson’s Harbor State Park is a dark sky preserve in Presque Isle County and includes six miles of rustic trails to explore.

To the south of Alpena in Alcona County, Negwegon State Park is a popular spot for hikers, birdwatchers, campers, and those who love stargazing.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Alpena’s Shipwreck Alley Shows the Power of the Great Lakes

Alpena is one of the best places in Michigan to not only experience the Great Lakes but to learn about and respect their awesome power. Known as “Shipwreck Alley,” the waters along the region’s coast are home to over 200 shipwrecks.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, located in Lake Huron off the coast of Alpena, Michigan, protects a collection of 100 documented historic shipwrecks. These shipwrecks span a range of eras from wooden schooners to steel-hulled freighters, reflecting the evolution of maritime technology and the rich history of the Great Lakes shipping industry.

Unforgettable Glass Bottom Boat Tours

Visitors who want an up-close look at these underwater wonders can climb aboard the Lady Michigan for an unforgettable tour of Lake Huron’s Shipwreck Alley.

The Lady Michigan offers a guided, narrated tour with two decks. The lower deck features glass bottom viewing wells to see the remains of shipwrecks. The upper deck allows passengers to enjoy the elements during the tour.

For those more adventurous, diving and snorkeling provide up-close experiences with these underwater treasures. Additionally, kayaking and paddleboarding offer unique perspectives of the shallow shipwrecks and the scenic coastline.

Alpena Shipwreck Tours - Alpena, Michigan - Lake Huron
Alpena Shipwreck Tours | photo via Leah Tennant

Make the Most of Your Alpena Getaway

When exploring Michigan’s Sanctuary of the Great Lakes, you’ll want to be sure to allow several hours or even several days to make the most of your adventures. Eating and staying locally is a great way to expand your itinerary.

Eat Local in Alpena

As one of Northeast Lower Michigan’s biggest cities, Alpena is home to many unique restaurants that satisfy every tastebud.

A few Alpena restaurant recommendations to try:

Where to Stay in Alpena

As a nature lover’s wonderland on Lake Huron, Alpena is a popular vacation destination for those who want to bask in the beauty of the Great Lakes. It’s no surprise then that there are numerous lodging options for those wanting to get away. 

Some great places to stay in Alpena include:

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

Visit Alpena, Michigan’s Sanctuary of the Great Lakes

Exploring the outdoors is the best way to experience the natural beauty of northern Michigan, and the Alpena region offers numerous opportunities to connect with nature.

The Sanctuary of the Great Lakes welcomes visitors of all ages. As a top family-friendly destination, it’s an adventurous place to enjoy some of the most scenic natural spaces in Michigan and protect them for future generations.

From its friendly local atmosphere and scenic beaches to its sprawling natural spaces and dark sky preserves, Alpena is truly a sanctuary – the perfect escape to find relaxation, rejuvenation, and recreation on the shores of Lake Huron.

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