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    16 spots I want to take my grandkids on Michigan's sunrise coast

    michigan attractions for kids 

    I live in the mountains and my grandsons live in the desert. Which means neither they nor I have much opportunity to enjoy natural water features—lakes, rivers, and so forth—and the outdoor adventures related to them. It's so very dry here, so very dry there.

    Because of our similarly parched home states, when I recently toured gems of communities on the "sunrise coast" of Michigan—primarily the Tawases and Alpena (thanks, Pure Michigan!)—I couldn't help but consider how much my landlocked grandsons would be thrilled by ocean-like Lake Huron as well as the abundant inland lakes and rivers marking the area.

    In addition to the water wonders, though, the magical coast featured unexpected treasures my grandkids—and all kids—would find especially appealing. These sixteen top my list:

    Tawas Point State Park East Tawas, MI

    tawas point state park

    In addition to being home to Tawas Point Lighthouse (see below), the 183-acre park features campgrounds and shallow shore line with water warm enough to swim in. This spot is a must-see, according to Susan Elliot, resident of the Tawases and grandmother to Vivian, 3, and Jacob, 5 months. "There is nature galore to see," she says. "You can fish, hike and explore, picnic, or play on the beach." Plus, there are sailboat races to watch every Saturday in the summer.


    More than 155 historic lighthouses dot the shores of Michigan—more than any other state. I had the pleasure of climbing to the top of five of those when I visited Michigan and would love to have my grandsons climb with me up as many of the hundreds of stairs as their little legs will take them. As long as they hold my hands tightly when we reach the top and venture out the door to marvel at the endless views in every direction (and the long way down)!

    michigan lighthouses 

    Beaches and Parks

    tawas park

    Both the Tawases (above) and Alpena (below) boast several beaches. Some sandy, some more rocky, all exhilarating and ideal for splashing and such.

    alpena park

    Shoreline parks are a plus for the kids, and most of the beaches have play structures and picnic tables.

    shoreline park in Alpena
    Beachside fun in Alpena

    An old-fashioned main street East Tawas, MI

    An old-timey candy store, ice cream shoppe, Ben Franklin drugstore and more. A super spot for finding special eats and treats you won't find in the big city.

    Tawas main street

    Tuttle Marsh Wildlife Area Oscada, MI

    This 5,000-acre wetland project attracts birds galore, with 35 earthen nests, osprey landings and a Great Blue Heron rookery in addition to the natural habitat that attracts egrets, songbirds, Sand Cranes and more. Birds aren't the only wildlife enjoying the wetlands. Animal residents include  black bear, bobcat, white-tail deer, muskrat, beaver, mink, weasel, otter, fox, coyote, and other mammals (which is why enjoying the area from within motor vehicles rather than on foot is advised).

    tuttle marsh 

    River Road National Scenic Byway runs east/west between Oscada and M-65

    River Road National Scenic Byway

    A scenic drive may not seem all that thrilling to youngsters, but when the 22-mile-long byway along the AuSable River includes stops at the Eagles' Nest Lookout—officially the Canoe Memorial Scenic Overlook—where chances are high bald eagles and their babes will be spotted or the Lumberman's Monument, which was declared in 2006 the official home of Paul Bunyan, with features just for kids (log piles to climb!), kids will quickly appreciate the ride. Grandma Susan Elliott says just west of the monument is Iargo Springs, which has not only a lovely view but 294 steps "that take you down to a wonderful fairy-like spring near the river."

    Lumberman's Monument
    Lumberman's Monument

    Dinosaur Gardens Ossineke, MI

    This will be a tough one to top for my dinosaur-loving grandsons. The lush, 24-acre swamp has huge ferns, huge trees, and huger-than-huge dinosaurs. The life-size dinos line a half-mile walk that makes visitors feel they've traveled back in time. Way back. Once the trail has been traversed, there's mini golf with greens in the shape of dinosaurs and a frozen yogurt bar in the gift shop that houses more dino souvenirs than dino fans might imagine could even exist.

    dinosaur Gardens 

    Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Alpena, MI

    thunder bay marine sanctuary

    Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is the nation's only freshwater marine sanctuary and protects the significant number of shipwrecks at the bottom of Lake Huron. The visitor center educates and intrigues visitors who want to know all about the area's 100-year maritime history and the numerous ill-fated ships of "Shipwreck Alley." In the center, kids can man the wheel of a ship and get the feel of sailing on stormy seas. They can see artifacts and learn new facts, romp about the indoor marine-themed play area, and watch hi-tech presentations on state-of-the-art screens.

    Plus, the center's the spot to purchase tickets for the Alpena Shipwreck Tours—an unforgettable experience for adventurers of all ages as they board the glass-bottom Lady Michigan and scan the depths of Lake Huron for sunken ships.

    Alpena Shipwreck Tours

    Island Park and Duck Park Alpena, MI

    A gem hidden in the center of Alpena, Island Park is surrounded by a 500-acre wildlife sanctuary and accessible via a covered bridge originating in Duck Park, a 2.5 acre roadside park bordering the Thunder Bay River. What might kids enjoy in the tranquil space? The list is endless: They can hunt for frogs and snails; hike; birdwatch; enjoy a picnic; fish; watch for turtles and Great Blue Herons and beavers and more. Brave adults with kids in tow can join them on a tube or in a canoe to paddle along the Blue Heron Water Trail through the sanctuary.

    island park

    Knaebe's Mmmunchy, Krunchy Apple Farm Rogers City, MI

    Knaebe's Mmmunchy Krunchy Apple Farm 

    A 13-acre apple farm and cider mill, Knaebe's is a favorite fall destination for visitors and residents. With 30 varieties of dwarf and semi-dwarf apple trees, the baskets and crates are filled come harvest, and the farm bustles with rides, a petting zoo, games, and goodies galore from inside "Ma's Kitchen," including fresh cider, honey, and maple syrup plus the best apple donuts ever. 

    Cedar Panning Alpena, MI

    Youngsters get to step up to the sluice and pan for gems and crystals out of their bucket (provided) filled with sand or dirt. Using a shovel and screen, goodies are soon revealed. Those who pan get to keep any gems, fossils, or crystals they find. Gems and minerals found include garnet, topaz, crystals, quartz and more (including a guaranteed arrowhead in every bucket).

    Rockport State Park Recreation Area north of Alpena, MI

    This 4,237-acre retreat has unmatched variety of options for outdoor explorers of all ages. More than a dozen sinkholes to discover (but not climb into!), including one that's nearly 100 feet deep and has water and fish inside. A bat hibernaculum made from two conveyor tunnels from old mining operations where big bats, little bats, and tri-colored bats reside. A deep-water port and pier to walk out on and look for ancient dock pilings beneath the turquoise water, fish off the edge, or launch a canoe or kayak. A 300-acre abandoned limestone quarry that has fossils dating back to the Devonian Period (that's about 400 million years ago) as far as the eye can see—and fossil hunters can bring a bag and take home up to 25 pounds of the treasures. Plus some of the best stargazing in the country as the area is far from light pollution and officially designated "Dark Lands" where stars, meteors, planets and moons can be easily spotted.

    rockport state park 

    Besser Museum and Planetarium Alpena, MI

    Speaking of stargazing, Besser Museum, which focuses on history, art and science, has an amazing planetarium for viewing (and learning about) constellations and other cool stuff high in the sky. Plus, kids will appreciate the Foucault Pendulum which "gives visual proof that the Earth is rotating while demonstrating Newton's Law of Motion" as well as the numerous exhibits and activities meant just for kids.

    Bike trails

    Kids can ride bikes on trails throughout the country. But how many trails run alongside a body of water as large as Lake Huron? Not many. Unless you're on the sunrise coast of Michigan, where you can hop on the Alabaster Bike Path just south of Tawas and ride for four miles along the shore with only thickets of trees here and there interrupting the lake view. Or on the City of Alpena Bi-Path/River Walk 18-mile system that runs through the entire city, with spans long the Thunder Bay River. Those two options are far from the only ones, as paved and non-paved biking trails wend around and about the entire region. Bike-rental stores are nearly as easy to find as bike-riding trails.

    michigan bike trails

    Fishing  holes

    Holes being relative, as anywhere and everywhere throughout the eastern coast of Michigan is the perfect spot to fish. From Lake Huron piers to docks on inland lakes, from the edge of rivers—or in the rivers—fishing tops the list of outdoor activities for all ages.

    fly fishing in Michigan 

    Sites to set sail by kayak, canoe, paddleboard, windsurf, and tube

    Sports stores that rent out watercraft are as plentiful as bike rental places, making it easy as can be to choose the desired mode and request directions to nearby spots to drop into the water for hours of fun. I lean more toward drifting lazily down the river in an inner tube or canoe, but I bet my grandsons would opt more for paddleboarding. Or windsurfing. Or kayaking. Fortunately the Tawases and Alpena areas offer endless options for getting in and getting about the region's picturesque waterways in any way visitors might desire.

    tuttle marsh

    Full details on all sixteen spots I want to take my grandkiddos—plus many more destinations of interest to kids and adults—can be found on,, and (Michigan's official travel and tourism site).

    I imagine a top takeaway for my grandsons and other kids visiting these super spots will be the realization that outdoor adventure and activities are far more exhilarating—and worth pursuing—than the electronic entertainment they've grown accustomed to experiencing on screens of all sizes.

    That, as well as lifelong memories of the wonderland on Michigan's sunrise coast, too, of course.

    Disclosure: My press trip to Michigan was sponsored by Pure Michigan.

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    Reader Comments (12)

    When do we leave? :-) My husband went to school in Wisconsin and keeps up many friendships in the WI/Michigan area. We've been to WI many times and I want to visit Michigan. Now, after reading your post and seeing these beautiful and interesting places, more than ever!

    I'm so glad you had a wonderful time and hope you someday can take your grandkids with you. xo

    October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Chester

    You are so kind to assemble all this information in one spot for people to benefit from. They all look interesting and fun, but I am the most drawn to the lighthouses. What a great place to live. I have only been to Michigan once in the 1990s. I should try to get myself back there sometime soon. Thanks again for making the state (well, this specific region of the state) come alive!

    October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Austin

    Wow, these all sound like great places to visit. Can you change your title to 16 spots I want to take my grandkids and my friend Lois ...?!

    October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLois Alter Mark

    Wonderful. However there are soooo many more places to be seen, you'll need to plan to come back.
    Mackinaw Island is amazing, no cars allowed on the island.

    October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLynn

    Michigan does, indeed, have a lot to offer visitors, thank you for showing us some of he interesting spots! I've had friends from there, though, and don't think I'd like to go there during COLD months! It can get pretty frosty I understand.

    October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

    This was fun to read as I know so little about that side of the state. Most of my time was spent on the other coast or mid state. Michigan really is beautiful - but boy does it get cold!

    October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Kc

    I've been lucky to spend a lot of time in MIchigan and my favorite place is Mackinac Island. Where no motorized vehicles of any kind are allowed. They deliver supplies with horse and wagon and they have an amazing bike route around the island. We used to go every single year, but haven't gotten to go recently!

    October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRena McDaniel

    There's something about water - probably that it's so life giving - that even just looking at it gives me a feeling of contentment. Loved your post and its beautiful pictures.

    October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterToni McCloe

    I lived in Michigan for 5 years and I loved all those lakes! Great vacation places.

    October 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJanie Emaus

    Hi....I really enjoyed reading your post about my home state of Michigan. I have lived in this beautiful state my whole life and enjoy all aspects of it (except maybe the longggg winters!!). I have spent time in many of the areas you listed, but feel you should look beyond the east side of our state. Lake Huron is pretty, BUT in my opinion, the west side of Michigan (Lake Michigan coast) is absolutely beautiful and offers many many opportunities for outdoor nature/water activities for you and yours. Starting from the South in South Haven all the way up the coast through Holland, Grand Haven, Ludington, Traverse City (amazing area with Sleeping Bear Dunes, wineries, lakes, rivers and streams), Petoskey, Harbor Springs (tunnel of trees through Cross Village/Legs Restaurant), Mackinac City and then of course the Mac. Bridge. These are just a few places to check out in the coastal areas....haven't even mentioned rivers/streams/campgrounds/festivals etc....Oh, and of course, my home town of Grand Rapids in west Michigan which is a must stop! Then there's the UP....but that's a different trip full of many adventures. Definitely plan some time soon to discover Michigan with your family. It's a beautiful place to call home!

    November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterValarie

    Great post! You picked some wonderful places to visit! I lived in Oscoda when I was a young girl so I am familiar with that side of the state. My husband and I made our first trip to the Marine Sanctuary this summer and loved it! Wish it had been around when our kids were younger, but as new grandparents, we'll plan on taking our grands there one day! :-)

    We currently live outside Detroit, but have a vacation home in Ludington on Lake Michigan (another place you should visit!) I totally agree with Valerie's comment above - West Michigan is spectacular, too!

    It was because the Marine Sanctuary shared your post on Facebook that I discovered your blog. I look forward to reading much more!

    November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLori

    I grew up in Alpena! AWESOME place to visit!

    November 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle
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