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Take Me There Tuesday: Michigan Thumb Tip

Updated: Apr 13

The tip of the thumb can often be a forgotten little area of Michigan. It's off the beaten path and a bit out of the way, but trust me when I say it's worth the country road drive! Today, we'll highlight a few of MichiganScapes favorite places around Port Austin, Port Hope, Kinde and the surrounding areas the Michigan's thumb tip has to offer.


Port Austin


With a population of just over 660, Port Austin is a quaint village. It’s nestled right into the very tip of the mitten’s thumb and allows for viewing of sunrises and sunsets over Lake Huron from one of many parks, beaches and trail systems.


The village itself contains four parks in its one square mile. You can find another half dozen parks within ten minutes of downtown. My favorite is the Port Crescent State Park which is designated as one of Michigan’s six dark sky preserves.


This location is excellent for star gazers and night sky phenomenon watchers hoping to catch a glimpse of aurora dancing or comets blazing. It has a designated parking lot located where headlights will not interfere with photographers and watchers just over the dunes near the water. If night skies are not your thing, you can hike or bike the miles of trails or swim in the fresh beach water. 




Several lighthouses shine bright in the tip of the thumb. The Port Austin Reef Light is 25 miles offshore and is an operational lighthouse that warns boaters of shallow waters. Originally built in 1877, the structure was recently restored and is seasonally open for tours.





Point Aux Barques Lighthouse


A favorite lighthouse of mine is the Point Aux Barques Lighthouse. This is located just south of Port Austin in the Port Hope area. The lighthouse ranks as one of the ten oldest lighthouses in the state of Michigan.


While I enjoy visiting lighthouses during the day to take in their architectural beauty and history, my first experience with this structure was at night during a very strong geomagnetic storm that produced a display of Aurora Borealis, or northern lights as seen pictured.


The original keepers house has recently been returned to the lighthouse grounds from the museum just up the road. It’s worth the short drive to view the older structures and contents. 

Just a short drive from this area you will find the historic area of Grindstone. This area is known to be a ghost town, but I just so happened to see real people there.


The little historic district was put on the map by Captain Aaron G. Peer who started a grindstone quarry business. By 1888, Grindstone City had a population of 1500. It was thriving. You can drive through and still see some original buildings. 



I have always been drawn to old, historic schoolhouses, and the Grindstone City Schoolhouse does NOT disappoint! This was never a one room schoolhouse, as the city need something bigger. It was originally built in 1906 for a total cost of $7,000. When the industry of the town was destroyed, it’s citizens began to relocate. The school eventually closed and sat mostly abandoned until 1985. It is now restored and repurposed as a vacation rental that can accommodate more than 20 guests. 




There are various places to stay if you find yourself wanting to explore this area more. A campground is connected to the grounds of the Point Aux Barques Lighthouse if camping is an activity you enjoy. The facility is fit for RVs, tents and has some cabins for rent as well. If you are looking for other places to stay, MichiganScapes highly recommends the Lightkeepers Cottages just up the road.


These cozy cottages sit along the water and allow for views of the sunrise. The main cabin provides an excellent view of the lighthouse as well. Your host, Candace, is absolutely delightful and wonderful to work with! If you are looking to be near the dark sky preserve, check out the Dark Sky Lodge & Tavern. 


If you’re going to stay and play, you’ll need somewhere to eat. MichiganScapes loves to take a little side trip for ice cream, so I’m going to start with sending you to Grindstone City’s General Store. You will find some of the largest ice cream cones that you have ever seen! Some say the scoops are as big as your head! 


If you’re looking for an upscale meal, head into The Bank 1884. This restaurant is serving up some of Port Austin’s finest right out of the old bank. You’ll find yourself taking in the beautiful architecture of the building the entire time you are seated! Want something more laid back? The Landing Tavern could be your place! The Detroit style pizza is delicious, and that’s coming from a person who’s not a big fan of pizza. 


We’ve mentioned a few places that are always great photo opportunities, but let’s mention a few more. Turnip Rock is a popular attraction to see in the Port Austin area. This vegetable shaped rock juts out of the water with trees growing out of the top. It is a natural phenomenon that draws crowds. The land surrounding it is owned by the Point Aux Barques community.


There are a few ways that you can get to the the rock viewing area. For the best experience, we recommend contacting a touring service that can assist you with boating or kayaking to the site. Please follow all rules of etiquette, and remember to treat the land respectfully.


“Take only photographs, leave only footprints.”




Secret Sky Barn


The Secret Sky Barn is no longer a secret and happens to be a favorite photo opportunity of mine. The barn, in Kinde, is part of an art project turned tourist attraction where aging farming barns were made into beautiful displays.


This particular barn was nearly 100 years old when architect, Katie Newell took a 45 degree slice out of the barn creating a passage for light. In addition, the barn illuminates from the inside out during dark hours of the night allowing for leading lines that photographers often aspire to capture. 





If you continue to drive around the Port Austin area you will find other barn art installations such as the Hygienic Dress League or the Celestial Ship of the North. There are plans for this project to continue growing. 




The Port Austin area is full of beautiful areas for you to come play, stay, eat, sleep, explore, photograph, and more. Let us know if you have a favorite place that we may have missed.


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Guest
Mar 21
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Thanks for all the great information!

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Guest
Mar 20
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

What a great and informative article. Great pictures!!! SW

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Guest
Mar 20
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Outstanding Article! Love the mentions of local places.

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Unknown member
Mar 20

Grindstone General Store is a must stop for ice cream lovers. 🍦

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Guest
Mar 20
Replying to

I will definitely be trying them on our April trip for sure! - Ryan

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