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I've lived in Michigan my entire life. How many times do you think I've been to Michigan’s thumb before September?

If you guessed none you're correct and I'm ashamed.

I’m not sure why I had never made my way there. Maybe because every time I thought of getting away for the weekend I thought of “Up North”.

My main reason for wanting to go to the thumb was to visit Michigan’s Turnip Rock, which is all the way in Port Austin. So when the weather cooperated and we were blessed with a gorgeous 70-degree streak on a fall September weekend, we hit the high road with little plans and a giant bag of pretzels.

The fantastic thing about this mini-vacation getaway is that it can be done all on an extremely tight budget. There are numerous places for camping, cheap motels and you can get GIANT ice cream cones for around $2.00 in Grindstone. The area is also much quieter than the west coast of Michigan.


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So for my personal budget trip to the area, it went a little something like this:

Friday night, we made it to a trailhead just southwest of Port Austin after dusk. The plan consisted of hiking to the beach with our sleeping bags and pillows to sleep under the stars. This turned out perfect with creepily calm waters and so little light pollution the Milky Way was easily seen with the naked eye. A few hours after making camp on the beach a friendly fox staggered out of the woods to investigate the strange humans invading his neighborhood. He hung out all night, walking around and getting within a few feet of us. I swear I thought I would wake up in the middle of the night to the animal licking my face, but fortunately he wasn't that friendly.

On Saturday, Port Austin was our town for the day. We rose with the sun and headed to town after eating some muffins we had packed. Our destination for the day, Turnip Rock, is actually located 1.5 miles from the village and can only be accessed by kayaks. Thankfully Port Austin Kayak is located right on the water to get the adventure started with rentals.

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Also located offshore 3 miles is the Port Austin Lighthouse. You can see the massive island from shore and usually paddling out to it is forbidden if renting kayaks. However, the owner is super cool and if you ask nicely on a calm day he may allow it.

The rock is absolutely beautiful and a perfect photo-op. If you head that way don't forget to paddle past the rock a little further and you'll find some sea caves. The shoreline has a rocky landscape and reminds me of something I'd find in Marquette.

Now the lighthouse is also a true adventure, if you paddle all the way out there (which is a massive workout, by the way), you will be greeted with a small platform. Above the platform, about 10 feet is ladder that gets you up to the actual lighthouse. It’s really hard to climb. However, we maneuvered our way to the top and found the lighthouse open with a logbook on the inside. The island is monitored by security cameras to make sure vandals don’t ruin the beautiful structure, but it is perfect for the curious explorer.

By the end of the day, 9 miles were kayaked and I was one pooped girl. There are a few cheap bars in the town that are perfect to fill your stomach after a long day. One even serves chicken gizzards, which tasted...interesting. But if you're looking for fast food, I'm sad to say you'll have to drive a while.

We made time to hit a small roadside park to catch the sunset and I must say it was probably one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever witnessed. Highly, highly recommended to anyone going to the area. I'll post a picture below so you can see for yourself:


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Sunday we rose with the sun once again to catch the sunrise at Pointe Aux Barques lighthouse. Also highly recommended. If you visit during the day you can climb to the top for $2.00.

This day was about visiting all the small towns down the east coast of The Thumb. This included: Port Hope, Harbor Beach, Port Sanilac, and Lexington. All of which were extremely beautiful and had piers to venture out onto for free. At the end of the weekend, going home and back to reality was exactly what I didn't want to do. Cue heavy sigh.

For the remainder of this post, I'll let some of my photos do the talking as to how beautiful an area was. I really look forward to getting back there.

All in all, we spent very small amounts of money for the entire trip and this adventure is perfect for budget college students, newlyweds or retirees. It has a little something special for everyone...and lots of good Kodak opportunities!


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  1. Stacey on January 23, 2015 at 9:36 AM

    Love your article! I grew up in the Thumb and my family still lives and works there. It was a great place to live. Very safe. It doesn’t surprise me that you were able to sleep on the beach and not be bothered. I have found that people pretty much leave you alone there so long as you aren’t causing any trouble. The festivals in all of the little towns are my favorite. The Sanilac Petroglyph Park is very cool and is a hidden secret that is worth a trip the next time you visit!

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  6. Michael B Hardy on April 13, 2019 at 6:46 AM

    A great post. You describe a pretty typical experience. Come up again and visit the Bay Port Fish Company, the Port Austin Farmers Market and take a hike at the Huron Nature Center. Then you can freshen up this great post with new material.

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