In points just north of Detroit, many people gravitate to the bigger bodies of water like Lake St. Clair (Anchor Bay) and Lake Huron for their version of coastline fun. What sometimes gets overlooked is the 40 miles in-between.
Here, you will find the St. Clair River, which flows between the two bodies of water, narrowly separating the US from Canada. Along this stretch, you’ll find some small-town charm, great riverside views, and a whole lot more.
Getting to Know the Saint Clair River
The Saint Clair River, which is 40.5 miles long, flows from the southern end of Lake Huron into the northern part of Lake St. Clair, which forms part of the boundary between the United States and Canada.
Near the mouth of Lake St. Clair, it breaks off into several different channels, which has created a region known as the St. Clair Flats, lighthouse structures located on Harsens Island on the lake.
While Michigan’s five Great Lakes are important for shipping, the St. Clair River forms an important part of the Great Lakes Waterway too, helping cargo ships pass between the upper and lower Great Lakes.
Did you know that the St. Clair River is also home to all kinds of fish species? In fact, the river as a whole is a dream for anglers. You can try your luck catching trout, walleye, panfish, musky, pike, and many other species. The river is also home to the largest threatened Lake Sturgeon population in the Great Lakes.
The river flows along M-29 and runs through Algonac, Marine City, East China Township, St Clair, and Marysville, before flowing into Canada.
There are also several islands along the St. Clair River, including Stag Island between Marysville and Corunna, Ontario, Fawn Island between Marine City and Port Lambton, Ontario, and the Walpole, Seaway, Bassett, Squirrel, Pottowatamie, St. Anne, Dickinson, Russell and Harsens islands, which are all part of the St. Clair Flats.
My Fun-Filled St. Clair River Adventure Begins
Starting my day in Port Huron, I headed a few miles south where I caught up with M-29 in Marysville. It’s the highway I would spend the rest of the day getting to know as I went from one town to the next, all along the Saint Clair River.
It was time for some more Michigan small-town fun!
An Adventure Through Scenic St. Clair Parks
As I entered the town known as “A Gateway From the Everyday,” trees lined both sides of M-29.
Now in downtown St. Clair, I started craving something to warm up with, and Sue’s Coffee House with their hot chocolate did the trick on a cold, windy and drizzly autumn day. The local hangout offered a cozy, friendly coffee shop atmosphere up front and a cigar bar, micro-winery, and brewery in the back.
Editor’s Note: Sue’s Coffee House has permanently closed.
Now, all warmed up, I headed across the street to Palmer Park, known as the world’s longest freshwater boardwalk. I walked amongst numerous commissioned statues and trees along the St. Clair River.
A popular activity no matter where I stopped along the river on this trip was definitely freighter watching. I was lucky enough to spot a big one go by here.
In the heart of town, I also found the Pine River and Rotary Centennial Park. This would be a great opportunity to grab a picnic table amongst the flower gardens and watch boats leave the harbor heading towards the St. Clair River.
Just outside of downtown, folks can experience nature and the scenic, wooded walking trails of Greig Park. After a leisurely stroll, I recommend getting an onion bagel from the Bagel Shop at Neiman’s Family Market.
As you are exiting town, if you are traveling with kids, stop at the random riverside park in East China Township. The kids can go down the slide, while you are on the lookout for freighters and photo opportunities.
Lighthouses, Beaches, and History in Marine City
As I entered the heart of town, sitting on the right-hand side at Holland Street, the expansive Heather House bed and breakfast immediately caught my eye. The historic, colorful, picture-friendly Queen Anne Victorian-style home was built in the 1800s and self-guided tours are available.
Make sure to venture off M-29 onto Water Street to experience downtown. I grabbed a “Perk Me Cup” coffee from Roasted With Perks to help wash down the freshly made pastries from Paul’s Bakery a few doors down. I recommend trying an apple turnover.
Editor’s Note: Roasted With Perks has permanently closed.
Across the street, amongst the riverside park, sits the Peche Island Rear Range Light, a decommissioned lighthouse that originally came from Ontario. Guess what? More freighter opportunities await if you are lucky.
A block north of the downtown, I spent some time on the only public sand beach along the St. Clair River. I wasn’t going to let the weather stop me. Before continuing on my journey, I walked around Marine City City Hall which was built in the 1800s and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tip: It was recommended by a local following my road trip to check out Gar’s Lounge for burgers. Something to look forward to next time I’m in the area!
Camping, Museums, and Wildlife in Algonac
Continuing south down M-29, before arriving in the heart of Algonac, travelers will come up to Algonac State Park.
Beyond the campground, folks will find a day-use area to the right and a small parking area with riverfront access to the left. The half-mile-long riverfront side is a great spot to hang out and, surprise, surprise, hopefully, catch a freighter or two moving down the St. Clair River.
Like the towns before, downtown Algonac offers a lengthy boardwalk to relax and soak in the sights. If you are into history or museums and are visiting on the weekend, make a stop inside the Algonac Clay Historical Museum.
As you exit town, on the right-hand side, is a fun park for the family with swings, rides, and a large picnic area and pavilion.
Ending this adventure, I stopped at the Wildlife Viewing Area at St. John’s Marsh. I walked the trails through the marsh and lake plain prairie and had the relaxing feeling of being completed isolated from civilization.
Take Your Own Trip Along the St. Clair River
With miles of riverfront, plenty of scenery and so much to do, you can expect to see a lot when road tripping along the St. Clair River.
Whether you want to stop and have some fun at one of the route’s public parks, take a relaxing stroll along the boardwalk, visit a museum, stop in or a bite to eat at a local restaurant, or simply go for a scenic drive, this route along the St. Clair River offers something for everyone.
So hop in your car and take your time exploring this awesome driving route along M-29. It’s the perfect excuse to get you and your family out of the house, let the wind blow through your hair, and discover something new and wonderful in southeast Michigan!
What other sights, towns, and coffee/food options would you recommend looking into along or near the St. Clair River?