The tip of The Thumb is often overlooked as a Michigan destination, but its little resort towns and loads of sandy beaches make it the perfect summer getaway. It’s often less crowded than the more popular tourist spots on the west side of the state and you’ll find plenty of things to do in Caseville and Port Austin for the whole family. So, pack your bags – and your swimsuits – and get ready for some fun and relaxation on the shores of Lake Huron.
Beaches around the tip of the Thumb
I’d be lying if I said that the beaches weren’t the biggest draw to this area. Parts of the Lake Huron shoreline are a bit rocky, but this part of the thumb has that perfect Great Lakes sand and refreshing water to splash in. Prime swimming season starts in the second half of the summer once the water has had time to warm up a bit, but I’ve hit the beaches here in early June and found it quite pleasant.
Port Crescent State Park
This state park a short drive west of Port Austin has a dreamy stretch of sand along Lake Huron with lots of shallow water for splashing around in. The gentle waves splashing along the shoreline are as Pure Michigan as it gets. To get to the beach, follow a pathway up and over some small, scrub-covered dunes. I prefer it to nearby Sleeper State Park because it’s a little less crowded as most of the crowds tend to stay closer to Caseville. The park also features hiking trails, a BBQ area, dog friendly swimming, and a campground.
Sleeper State Park
This state park just a few minutes east of Caseville also has that dreamy Great Lakes shoreline. With perfect sand and lots of shallow water to play in, it’s another perfect beach. The bathhouse area is a bit more substantial here, which is convenient, but it’s also one of the reasons it tends to draw more crowds than Port Crescent. Visitors can also hike a couple of trails. Sleeper has a decently sized campground that features a bridge over M-25 so you don’t have to cross the road to go to the beach.
Caseville County Park
Perhaps the most crowded of the beaches, this sandy beach tops the list of things to do in Caseville as it draws in visitors from around the state. With a wide stretch of sand to lounge on and plenty of room for swimming, you can spend a whole day relaxing and soaking up the sun. Since it’s right in town, you also have easy access to restaurants and shops for food or any forgotten essentials. There’s even a small one right on the beach. If you’re staying in town, it’s within walking distance from the park’s campground as well as several local hotels.
Other things to do in Caseville
If you need a break from the water, check out one of these other fun things to do in Caseville.
Take a boat tour out to Charity Island
Charity Island is a little dot of land out in the middle of Saginaw Bay, and during the summer, boat tours depart from the Caseville marina to take visitors out to view its lighthouse. Four hour tours on a 50-foot boat take visitors out to see and photograph the classically-styled Charity Island Lighthouse as well as the less-substantial Gravelly Shoals Light. The boat is BYOB so you can pack a cooler of drinks and bring your own snacks along for the ride. Shorter sunset cruises are also offered that take guests out onto the water for a perfect Great Lakes sunset.
Enjoy the Key North Family Fun Center
This small family fun park features a few different ways to spend your break from the beach. For some fast-paced fun, hit the go-kart track and zip around the curves. Get your competitive juices flowing on their recently redone mini golf course or for a bit of a splash, check out their bumper boats. If you need some indoor time – whether it’s an escape from a rainy day or just some much-needed time in the A/C – head in to their arcade and game room.
Have a tropical time at the Cheeseburger in Caseville festival
Every summer, Parrotheads (aka Jimmy Buffet fans) head to the tip of the thumb for Cheeseburger in Caseville, a 10-day festival that turns the area into “Key North.” With tropical-themed music and events – and, yes, cheeseburgers – it’s a fun getaway for everyone. Parades and musical performances highlight the event, with participants going all out in decorating their floats. Other events include a 5k fun run and golf outings. There is, of course, a cooking contest to crown the best cheeseburger chef as well.
Check out local history at the Caseville Museum
If you like to learn about local history when you travel, pop into the Caseville Museum. It’s located just off Main Street, so it’s an easy spot to visit. The museum seeks to preserve local history and features a couple of small galleries with exhibits that routinely rotate. The museum is open during the afternoon on select days of the week.
Things to do in Port Austin
Port Austin is lesser known than neighboring Caseville, but it has just as many fun activities available. I personally love that it’s a little more laid back and relaxing while still serving as a great getaway spot.
Paddle out to Turnip Rock
Turnip Rock is one of most famous landmarks in the area. It’s a little spot of land sticking up out of Lake Huron along the coastline east of Port Austin. Over the centuries, erosion from waves on the lake have worn away the bottom portion of the rock formation so it’s narrower than the top, giving it the shape of a turnip if you have the right kind of imagination – hence the name. You’ll need to be out on the water to view it, so if you don’t have your own boat, book a boat tour or check out one of the outfits in town that rents kayaks for a fun day trip out on the water.
Browse the Port Austin Farmers Market
As one of the largest farmers markets in the region, the Port Austin Farmers Market is well worth a stop if you’re in the area on a summer Saturday. Each weekend from late May through mid-October, more than fifty vendors gather in the downtown area to sell all kinds of foods, desserts, antiques, crafts, and souvenirs. It’s the perfect spot to stroll for breakfast or lunch or (like I did) to grab some baked goods for dessert later.
View the Port Austin Lighthouse
Located 2.5 miles offshore on a rocky shoal, the Port Austin Reef Light is still an active (though automated) navigational aid warning boat traffic of the dangerous shallows. After falling into disrepair, a local preservation society restored it and took over maintenance. Visitors can take boat tours out to the lighthouse on limited dates during the summer months to learn about its history. Note that exiting the boat at the dock and climbing over 100 stairs to the top of the tower are required, so the tour isn’t for everyone. The lighthouse can also be viewed at the end of a breakwater boardwalk that can be accessed from the marina downtown.
Play mini golf
You have multiple options for playing mini golf in Port Austin with two courses – Kooky Golf and Tip of the Thumb Mini Golf – located right in the heart of town. My personal favorite is called Sandy Dunes Adventure Golf, located close to Port Crescent State Park. The course is beautiful and when we played it we were convinced that it was brand new. When we asked one of the employees, we found out that it had been there for almost 30 years and it was just beautifully maintained by the owner. It’s got your classic putt putt course waterfall (it claims to be the largest waterfall in the area) cascading through the center and plenty of challenging holes so it’s definitely worth the drive from town.
Zip around the track at Family Go Karts
Port Austin also has a go kart track for family fun. This one is a little wider and larger so you get more of a true race feel as you zip around the course. The site also has other attractions you can experience like trampoline jumps with harnesses and a paintball target range for even more fun. Family Go Karts is located just south of town.
Visit the Port Austin Butterfly House
This small, city owned butterfly garden is located in a park right near downtown. You can find it by spotting the water tower and heading that direction. Open on weekends, the butterfly house has a variety of colorful species as well as opportunities to learn about their life cycles.
Learn about the area at the Port Austin, MI History Center
Located just east of town, this small museum features artifacts and genealogical information about the Port Austin area. Exhibits include info about the local lighthouses, farming, and historic towns, and a former Air Force base. It’s open daily during the summer months and on weekends during the spring and fall. Admission to the History Center is free.
Other things to do in the Port Austin and Caseville area
If you want to venture out of the cities themselves, you’ll find some other great attractions in the area with just a short drive.
Visit the Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse in Port Hope
Located a short drive east of Port Austin, the small town of Port Hope has its own historic lighthouse. It’s beautifully maintained and still in active use as a navigational aid. The lighthouse park has a picnic area and a small campground near the shore as well as a gift shop and museum. During certain special events, visitors can also climb to the top of the lighthouse’s tower to learn about its workings and enjoy the views. Check the operating hours and schedule here.
Have giant ice cream cones in Grindstone City
Between Port Austin and Port Hope, you’ll find the small town of Grindstone City. It’s a popular stop for ice cream – you’ll see signs advertising the giant cones at the Grindstone City General Store – and visitors (like me) with a sweet tooth will drool over their desserts. You can sit out on the porch and enjoy the summer air while you feast on your sugary treats.
Explore the Huron County Nature Center & Wilderness Arboretum
Located between Port Austin and Caseville, this nature center is set on a large expanse of undeveloped land. Visitors can walk some of the trails for a mini nature getaway. The center also hosts programs throughout the summer months focusing on local plants and animals. The park is open year round and admission is free.