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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. UnrestingSea on November 5, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    You have the best Michigan adventures! Can you believe I’ve never been to the top of the thumb either?! (Shame!) What’s worse is that I was going to take my family there for a day trip (they even bought kayaks!) but it never happened. I guess there’s always next year? Thanks for inspiring, as usual!

    • ShaleeWanders on November 6, 2014 at 11:47 AM

      Thanks, Amanda! Next summer we might have to plan a trip up there so you can see it for yourself! 🙂

  2. Kristen on November 6, 2014 at 9:26 AM

    I love that you put your sleeping bags out and enjoy the night sleeping under the stars. How do you determine if an overnight stay on the beach is allowed? Do you research in advance or just find a spot during your travels that looks inviting? Have you ever encountered any problems with the locals…other than the curious wildlife 🙂 Thanks for sharing your travels!

    • ShaleeWanders on November 6, 2014 at 11:46 AM

      Hi Kristen, fantastic questions! For sleeping on the beach, we always choose a place with public access. If I’m being honest it’s not always a place where camping is “allowed”, however they are open trails and never private property. I usually plan ahead to the extent where we at least know the area we will be camping in. I have never had any problems with locals, any that we have seen have been curious of our adventure and overall thought it was pretty cool. If you want to sleep on the beach the most important thing is that you’re not spreading your stuff out in front of someone else’s property. Glad you liked the article, thank you!

  3. Susan Rubey on January 13, 2015 at 8:50 AM

    Visit Cass City next time….my hometown!

    • ShaleeWanders on January 22, 2015 at 9:57 AM

      Will do! Thanks for the suggestion

  4. Jerrid Blacker on January 13, 2015 at 10:22 AM

    Born and raised here in Port Hope. I am glad you enjoyed your visit to the thumb. In my opinion, it is a real hidden jewel in this great state.

    • ShaleeWanders on January 14, 2015 at 8:04 PM

      Agree 100%. Can’t believe it took me so long to explore it.

  5. Robert Fear on January 13, 2015 at 10:22 PM

    In reading you post, it says you entered the lighthouse….AKATrespassing?? That ladder is up for a reason. If you had permission, my apologies. However, it didn’t sound like it in your post.

    • ShaleeWanders on January 14, 2015 at 8:05 PM

      They have cameras for vandals and a log book for explorers.

  6. Eleanore Palesano on January 14, 2015 at 1:56 PM

    I grew up in the thumb and miss it. I live in Dallas now and during the hot summer dream about how beautiful it was back then!

    • ShaleeWanders on January 14, 2015 at 8:03 PM

      I can understand why you miss it, it’s absolutely beautiful!

  7. Rick Stokes on January 14, 2015 at 10:52 PM

    Don’t forget the Port Sanilac petroglyphs.

  8. Tom T. on January 15, 2015 at 7:05 PM

    Spent almost every Summer of my youth there – fantastic and beautiful area with so much history!

    • ShaleeWanders on January 22, 2015 at 9:59 AM

      Agreed! One of my new favorite places to visit.

  9. Jack Gordon on January 16, 2015 at 7:17 AM

    I lived in the “Thumbnail” for the first 17 years of my life and enjoy going back and now my kids love visiting too….

    • ShaleeWanders on January 22, 2015 at 10:00 AM

      What a great place to grow up, beautiful area!

  10. Lynne Mayes on January 17, 2015 at 10:13 PM

    what an inspiring article! I’m a native, but you had adventures I’ve never experienced! Please come back soon. Our Saturday morning Farmers Market is fantastic!

    • ShaleeWanders on January 22, 2015 at 9:55 AM

      Glad you enjoyed the article! I will definitely be back this summer and will put the farmers market on my “Must do” list! Thank you for the suggestion :).

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