It’s no secret that Michigan has a rich history, even predating when the Mitten State was admitted to the Union as the 26th state in 1837.
The Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park in Michigan’s Thumb is one spot where that history is preserved and invites visitors to travel to a time when the land was occupied by various Native American tribes over centuries.
Nestled in the heart of the Thumb region, the park is one of the most unique state parks in Michigan. In fact, it’s one of the only places in the state where visitors can see ancient Native American stone carvings.
If you’ve visited any of Michigan’s wonderful history museums, then you’ve likely seen ancient stone tools, pottery, and arrowheads preserved behind glass cases. At the Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park, you get to see some incredible Native American history up close!
So if you love learning about Michigan’s history, don’t delay. Make your way to see these incredible ancient rock carvings.
About the Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park
The Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park can be found in Cass City — a small village located in Tuscola County — at 8251 Germania Road, right in the middle of Michigan’s thumb.
The park gets thousands of visitors each year and was established in 1971. Today, it’s co-managed by the Saginaw Chippewa Nation and Michigan’s DNR.
Hours, Admission, & Tours
While the state park itself is open 365 days per year, there is an enclosure that protects the historic carvings. That enclosure is only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day each summer.
Admission to the park is free, and a Michigan Recreation Passport is not required for entry. When you visit the park, you can take a guided tour to gain access to the enclosure and see the carvings for yourself.
It’s important to note that all guided tours are available on a first-come, first-served basis. We recommend that visitors allow a couple of hours to explore the park, including the petroglyphs, a self-guided walking trail, and so much more.
Seeing the Historic Petroglyphs Up Close
The park — called ezhibiigadek asin (written in stone) in Objibwe — contains Michigan’s largest collection of Native American petroglyphs, which date back to the pre-Columbian era.
It is unknown exactly when the Sanilac petroglyphs were created, but experts have estimated that they are anywhere from 300 to 1,400 years old.
They were discovered in 1881 when the Thumb Fire — also called the Huron Fire or Great Thumb Fire — killed about 300 people and burned over 1 million acres of land in less than one day.
In all, there are 165 petroglyphs on a 1,000-square-foot sandstone outcrop. These fascinating depictions of cultural and religious Native American tribes that once lived in Michigan include lines, swirls, handprints, and even humans. Some of the most prominent carvings include:
- Migizi Inini, the Eagle Man, is said to be flying over to make sure Native American traditions are being followed. He is looking to the east, said to symbolize the dawn of a new day.
- Mishibizhew is said to be a protector of the Great Lakes.
- The archer Ebmodaakowet is said to shoot knowledge into the future with his arrows.
- Birds — including eagles, hawks, and owls — are said to symbolize wisdom and strength.
- Shapes — including squares, zigzag lines, circles, and much more — don’t have a clear meaning but are thought to represent balance or harmony.
- Snakes, which were drawn in coiled positions, are thought to symbolize healing or transformation because, in some Native American cultures, snakes were said to have medicinal properties.
- Turtles are said to represent longevity or even fertility since they are drawn with their heads and legs extended.
The Park Trail
After you have learned more about the Native people who once called the Thumb region home and have seen the petroglyphs for yourself, you can embark on a mile-long hike on a trail that winds through the park’s forests.
Along this walking trail, you will be able to see what’s left of a 19th-century logging camp. In addition, there is a 110-year-old white pine tree that can be seen from the trail.
The trail circles a branch of the Little Cass River twice. While the trail is open to anyone and everyone who wishes to walk it, please note that the trail is uneven and can become impassible at times.
More to Explore in The Thumb
No trip to the Michigan Thumb is complete without traveling to the water’s edge, where you can enjoy panoramic views of Lake Huron.
If you are looking to get close to the tip of the Thumb, Caseville Michigan is a great town to check out. Located just a quick 30-minute drive from Cass City, this town has miles of beaches and endless things to do.
Sleeper State Park
Sleeper State Park is a beachfront park in Caseville where you can truly experience what it means to be at the tip of the Thumb. Since it is located on Saginaw Bay, you can actually watch the sunrise over Lake Huron in the east and catch pretty pink sunsets over the lake in the evening to the west.
Sunrises and sunsets are famous all over Michigan, but in most places, you are only going to get one or the other over the water. Here, you get the best of both worlds.
In addition to spending your day playing in the sand and cooling off in the crystal blue waters of this magnificent Great Lake, you can hike the trails in the park that lead you into the dune forests.
Restaurants Near the Sanilac Petroglyphs
When you are ready for a meal, you will find no shortage of options in Caseville.
The Thumb Brewery
One of the newest restaurants in town has quickly become a local favorite. The Thumb Brewery is a microbrewery that brews its own craft beers on-site while also featuring nearly 20 other guest taps from breweries around Michigan.
Even if you don’t drink craft beer, you will be pleased by the menu at this restaurant. With plenty of outdoor seating, it’s one of the best places to end a summer day in Michigan.
Shakers Ice Cream Parlor
If you would rather go for a sweet, frozen treat instead of a frothy brew, you should head over to Shakers Ice Cream Parlor. This unassuming Northern Michigan ice cream spot is filled with dozens of ice cream flavors, making it the kind of place where everyone will find something that they love.
Lodging Near the Sanilac Petroglyphs
There is so much to explore this summer in Michigan’s thumb region! Add an overnight stay to your Michigan bucket list adventure at Woodyzzz Motel, Kingsway Inn, or Sanilac County Evergreen Park — the latter of which is less than a 15-minute drive from the Sanilac Petroglyphs.
We've included local campgrounds in most of the #MIAwesomeList posts to help you get the most out of your Michigan summer bucket list adventures!
No RV? No worries. You can save up to 25% on your travel costs this summer by renting an RV through RVshare!
Whether you want to pull it behind you or have it all set up at your destination, renting an RV is the best way to enjoy all your summer adventures in Michigan!
Visit the Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park Today
The ancient rock carvings that make up the Sanilac petroglyphs are a sight to behold and a wonderful reminder of our state’s Native American history.
Michigan’s Thumb region can be a wonderous place to explore, and there’s no better spot to start than in Cass City at the Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park. Bring your camera and your sense of wonder with you. Once you see these carvings up close, you’ll be in awe of their detail and the stories they tell.
Point your vehicle toward Michigan’s Thumb, and make plans to visit the Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park today!