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Adapted from
Scenic Driving
by Kathy-Jo and Ed Wargin

Michigan Drives
You'll Survive

Scenic Drives: Part I

Port Huron
to Tawas City
This is a drive from Port Huron to Tawas City through small harbor towns, pretty roadside parks, and quaint villages with Victorian homes and antique shops. This 143-mile drive is unremarkable in terms of natural wonders, but it does offer the adventure of going from town-to-town along what was once an Indian foot path.

Attractions: Blue Water Bridge, Tawas Point Lighthouse and Tawas Point Beach.
Location: The east coast of the lower peninsula.
Route Numbers: Michigan Highway 25, Michigan Highway 13, Michigan Highway 53, Michigan Highway 247, and U.S. Highway 23.
Travel Season:Year-round
Camping: All the way
Services: Full services

Click here to see a map of this drive.

The Drive

Part of the Lake Huron Circle Tour, this drive follows the eastern coast of Michigan, next to Lake Huron.The drive begins in the town of Port Huron, which is located in St. Clair County. The St. Clair River, which links the upper and lower Great Lakes, runs through Port Huron. This waterway played an important part in the development of the area. A popular connecting route for fur traders and Indians, the St. Clair River saw a lot of birch bark canoes and explorers in the 1700s.

The city of Port Huron is also the location of an underwater railroad, the world's first, which connects Port Huron to Sarnia, Ontario. This 2,290-foot-long underwater tunnel was completed and operating by 1891.

Located south of John Street in Port Huron, the tunnel is still in active service. Railroad cars too large for the tunnel are escorted across the waterway on a large ferry.

Today, Port Huron has a population of about 34,000 people. This area was one of the first settled by the French in the 1600s. In 1686, the French constructed an early outpost, Fort St. Joseph, near here. Fort St. Joseph, the second white settlement in the area, existed to guard the waterway which connects Lake Erie and Lake Huron, and to keep the English out of the upper Great Lakes. In 1687, this fort was the mobilization center for the French and the Indians who had banded together to wage war on the English. Fort St. Joseph was abandoned by the French in 1688. In 1814, Americans built another fort, Fort Gratiot, on the former site of Fort Joseph, again to keep the British out of Lakes Superior and Huron.

Begin this drive on MI 25 proceeding north out of Port Huron. You will pass the Blue Water Bridge, which spans the St. Clair River at a height of 152 feet — tall enough to allow freighters to pass beneath it. Built in 1938, this bridge connects Port Huron to Sarnia, Ontario.

After 2.5 miles, on the right, you'll find a portion of Lake Port State Park. The trees are so thick here that you cannot see any of Lake Huron, which is just beyond the trees to the right.

As you continue northward on MI 25, you will notice signs designating this drive as a portion of the Lake Huron Circle Tour. This is a self-guided auto tour that follows the most scenic routes along the shores of Lake Huron. For many miles, however, you will not be able to see Lake Huron (still on your right) due to the collections of homes that block the view.

The terrain is fickle here — long, rolling pastures and orchards one moment; closed, thick forests of hardwoods the next. For the next several miles you travel in and out of small villages edged by apple orchards. Eventually, you arrive at Lexington County Park in Sanilac County. A very basic park, it offers simple rental cottages and a nice picnic area. Tall hardwood trees begin to line this portion of the drive.

Shortly after passing Lexington County Park, you begin to get vague glimpses of Lake Huron to your right as the area between the road and the shore opens up a bit. A few miles farther you are exposed to a wonderful view of Lake Huron.

Three more miles and you're in the village of Port Sanilac. Watch for a reduced speed limit in this area. Sanilac is home to both the Sanilac County Historical Museum and the Port Sanilac Light, built in 1886. Originally, a white light fueled by kerosene, the color of the light was changed to red in 1889. Eventually, it was replaced by a flashing electric light.

After passing through Sanilac, you break into wide open pastures on your left, while to your right homes dot the shoreline and obstruct the view of the lake. After five miles you come to Forester, and Forester County Park, which has a simple beach.

Past the park, the area is again graced with large open pastures, showing the agricultural mix of the area. Cornfields and contented cows can be spotted from this section of the drive. Not far beyond Forester County Park there is a scenic turnout with picnic table and restrooms. This is an overlook of Lake Huron and the small, simple beaches below. The road continues through an area filled with pine and cedar trees, interspersed with cornfields and pastures. It is at this point that you begin to break into consistently better views of Lake Huron.

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After 15 miles you approach the area of Harbor Beach, birthplace of Frank Murphy. Murphy was a Michigan governor who would not use the National Guard to put an end to a 1937 sit-down strike at the General Motors plant in Flint. His decision paved the way for the creation of the United Auto Workers Union of America. Here, you can visit the Murphy home, which remains much as it was in the 1920s when Murphy lived there.

Just out of Harbor Beach the road begins to straighten and is lined with hardwood trees such as maple and elm. After 6.4 miles you will arrive at Port Hope, a lovely Victorian town known for its antique shops and quaint churches. Just out of Port Hope the area spreads into an open rural scene on the right as MI 25 begins to veer away from the Lake Huron shore.

Proceeding north, you pass Bald Eagle Point on your right and within a few minutes come to Huron City at the eastern tip of Michigan's "thumb." The lower peninsula of Michigan is shaped like a mitten; Huron City, in Huron County, and Sanilac County are located in the thumb area of the mitten. These two counties suffered from a severe forest fire in 1881. The three-day inferno burned more than one million acres and killed at least 125 people.

Passing through Huron City, MI 25 continues to veer from the shore and takes you about 2.3 miles northwest, then about 6 miles due west to Port Austin, where MI 25 intersects with MI 53. At the intersection, turn right and take MI 53 into the heart of Port Austin, situated at the western tip of the "thumb." After a 1-mile drive into the middle of town, turn left on MI 25 and proceed along the shore. Shortly thereafter, you will pass Port Crescent State Park, situated four miles southwest of Port Austin.

Several miles later, traveling south now, you pass through the Rush Lake State Game Area on your left, while you can view Lake Huron to your right. Only two miles later, you come to Albert Sleeper State Park, located on your left. Sleeper State Park is filled with dense trees and offers swimming and a boat launch.

Continue along MI 25 now for a spell as you make your way around to the base of Saginaw Bay. The road will again veer away from the shore for several miles and will eventually take you into the large town of Bay City, located about three miles south of the bay.

Bay City was once an Ojibwe Indian camp. More than one hundred years ago, a man named Leon Tromble, who was in the area on assignment for the federal government, built a small log home on the banks of the Saginaw River. His homesteading made way for Bay City, which eventually became a successful lumber town.

The Sage Mill, Bay City's first lumber mill, was erected in 1865. At the height of the lumber boom in the late 1880s, there were more than fifty mills in Bay City. By 1888, more than four billion board feet of lumber had been cut in Bay City. Ten years later, a salt basin lying beneath Bay City's soil was tapped, and a new industry was born.

As you make your way into Bay City you will cross the Saginaw River. The East Michigan Tourist Association is located at the riverside. This is a recommended stop for anyone vacationing along Michigan's east side. You will find brochures and information about the area's highlights and its roads. City Hall is to the left of MI 25 (at 301 Washington Avenue) at the bank of the river. It houses the Chmielewska Tapestry. This tapestry, which measures nine by 30 feet, was woven by a Polish born artist and portrays city landmarks. The city hall is, itself, a beautiful sight. It is a romanesque style building built in the late 1800s, boasting a 125-foot-tall clock tower, intricate woodwork, and metal pillars. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Next to the city hall is the Kantzler Memorial Arboretum, which holds native trees and bushes as well as wonderful historic displays.

As you cross the river, you will pass Veteran's Memorial Park to your right. Shortly after, you will come to MI 13. Turn right on MI 13 and proceed north to Bay City State Park, which is located on the shore of the bay. In a few miles, there is a fork in the road. MI 13 continues on the left fork; the right fork is MI 247. You should bear right on MI 247. This leads directly to the state park. There are several good swimming beaches at this state park. At the park the road veers left to head north along the upper edge of the bay. To return to the main drive route, on MI 13, head west on Beaver Road out of the park. Turn north on MI 13. The next 20 miles or so are unremarkable, except for some random views of the lake.

Once you are back on MI 13, continue heading north toward the town of Au Gres. Shortly after entering Arenac County, US 23 joins MI 13 from the left. (From this point on, the road is referred to as US 23.) Arenac County was named by a man named Henry Schoolcraft in 1840. The word arenac is derived from Latin and means "a sandy place." Before reaching Au Gres, you reach the village of Omer, which is 8 miles inland. Here, the road takes a sharp turn to the right and heads directly toward the shore and the town of Au Gres. From there, the road curves gently to the north, mirroring the shoreline all the way to Tawas.

From Au Gres to Tawas Point, an area of about 20 miles, you pass more than ten beaches and parks, all on the shore of Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay, which is on your right. As you enter Tawas City, the end of this drive, you will round the curve of Tawas Bay to find Tawas Point State Park. The state park is located off US 23, 2.5 miles south of East Tawas on Tawas Beach Road. This park offers a modern campground and picnic area on the shore of Lake Huron. The Tawas Point Lighthouse is located in the park. It is open to the public by appointment only because Coast Guard personnel live there. This tower was built in 1876 and towers 70 feet above the shore of Lake Huron.

Go to Lumberman's Monument auto tour.

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