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Exploring Lake Huron’s Coast from Alpena to the Presque Isle

by | Jul 2, 2023 | Beer, Michigan, Travel | 0 comments

Embark on an unforgettable adventure as you explore the captivating coast of Lake Huron, journeying from the historic Thunder Bay in Alpena to the timeless lighthouses of Presque Isle.

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Charting a Course from Alpena to Presque Isle

Get ready for a wild ride on Michigan’s sunrise side! We’ll start with a chat with local author Janet Young before launching into the 2023 Presque Isle Harbor Wooden Boat Show. Then we’ll take a break and sip a few pints at Alpena’s breweries. We’ll cap it off with the secrets of Thunder Bay’s underwater shipwrecks and visit the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center.  

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Big Bear Lodge 

Clearly, we were feeling right at home in Big Bear Lodge. Can you believe we went to bed with the door unlocked? Locks, who needs ’em? Not us, apparently!

On our first night, our adrenaline got an unscheduled workout, and we ended up auditioning for a real-life horror movie. As I drifted into dreamland, my primal instincts screamed, “Danger!” There was a shadowy figure looming in our doorway. It turns out I can scream as well as Janet Leigh in “Psycho.” In his best superhero impersonation, Chuck sprung from the bed and slammed the door shut with a death metal roar, “NOOOOOO!”  

The mystery intruder? A lady who had the wrong door. She was clearly scared, “They said the door would be unlocked… I’m sorry.” 

Alrighty then, I guess we will be careful about the locks going forward. 

Meeting Author Janet Young

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Author Janet Young was peddling her masterpieces at the Presque Isle Harbor Wooden Boat Show like a seasoned fishmonger, but instead of fish, she had books! As a bona fide bookworm, I was reeled in hook, line, and sinker.

Her treasures include Presque Isle’s Shipwreck Alley and A Place Called Presque Isle. Perfect, since our knowledge of the area was about as extensive as a goldfish’s memory. 

Curiosity piqued, I flipped open A Place Called Presque Isle and landed on the ‘Keepers of the Light’ section. Janet, ever the storyteller, leaned in and began to unravel the tale. “The only thing that I knew is that Henry Woolsey was the first lighthouse keeper,” she said. Her quest for information led her down the rabbit hole of Ancestry.com, where she stumbled upon one of Woolsey’s descendants in Iowa.

The plot twist? He had a stash of letters from Woolsey and didn’t even realize he was related to a lighthouse keeper. Addressed simply to “Henry Woolsey, Lake Huron,” these letters were the ultimate cryptic treasure.

In her book, Janet expertly stitches together the patchwork quilt of the lighthouse keepers’ lives, including the rather dramatic incident involving Woolsey’s leg. She uncovered a 1913 Detroit Free Press article that read like a thriller through her detective work: “The keeper was gored to death by an angry bull.”

So, if you’re a fan of history, lighthouses or just love a good story, Janet Young’s book is a must-read. It’s an intimate history and a great companion for our visit to Presque Isle

Presque Isle Harbor Wooden Boat Show

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Chuck has a romance with anything that shines and purrs – lacquer, car wax, motors, me. So, the moment the 2023 Presque Isle Harbor Wooden Boat Show blipped onto our radar, I knew it was a done deal. His excitement was contagious when he discovered that it wasn’t just boats on display but classic cars lining the harbor parking lot. As for me, I struck gold with an Arts & Crafts market.

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The wooden boats could easily have been the centerpiece of an art gallery. After feasting our eyes on these masterpieces, we ambled over to the Portage Store & Deli. The air was alive with the strumming of an acoustic guitar and the tantalizing aroma of BBQ sandwiches. Two little tykes happily slurped on ice cream cones while a charming lady wove through the crowd, offering cheese on a toothpick. Talk about great marketing; we soon returned to the store, walking out with two generous chunks of raclette from Leelanau Cheese.

Exploring Presque Isle Township Lighthouses

With cheese in the cooler, we headed north out of Presque Isle Harbor towards the lighthouse Major Henry Woosley built in 1840, affectionately known as the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

Janet’s books served as our personal lighthouse tour guides. One passage transported us back in time: “Major Woolsey entered lighthouse employment with little if any, official guidance. At sunrise, sunset, and every three hours throughout the night, Major Woolsey entered the musty tower carrying an oil lamp and cautiously ascended the tapered stone steps that spiraled to the lantern room at the crown of the lighthouse.” 

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Like Major Woosley, the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse had seen its fair share of drama. A photo in the gift shop showed it in its darkest hour, bereft of its crown, earning it the nickname “The Headless Horseman.” But fear not; this story has a happy ending! The lighthouse was restored, and the keeper’s house rebuilt, although the exact date is a mystery yet to be uncovered.

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Calling all ghosts busters, Old Presque Isle Lighthouse is said to be haunted. Dianna Higgs Stampfler, a Michigan Author, unravels the intriguing tale of George Parris a former caretaker, in her book “Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses.”

New Presque Isle Lighthouse 

After ringing the bell at the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse and trading tales with the museum keeper, we made our way to the point to explore the New Presque Isle Lighthouse. I couldn’t help chuckling as it was built in 1870 and still wears the moniker “The New Lighthouse.” After an impressive 153 years, it’s still a functioning lighthouse. 

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The gift shopkeeper was a lighthouse enthusiast, dishing out trivia as generously as she was selling sweatshirts.

“This one [the lighthouse lens],” she pointed out, “had a capacity of being seen 25 miles out.”  

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The lens was crafted by a chap named Fresnel, hence the name Fresnel lenses. It was made in Paris, France, no less. But alas, they were too costly to maintain. So, in 2003, the Coast Guard replaced it with an airport beacon. Less glamorous, but it’s easier on the wallet.

The gift shopkeeper continued, “It does the job but not as beautiful. I mean, the light from it [the old light] was so beautiful. I live right over here on Lake Huron, and when the light would come around.” she paused, I swear I could hear a sigh. “We always called it the ghost light. It would float right across the top of the water.” 

Range Lights

Next up on our Presque Isle adventure was the restored range light, standing guard at the entrance to the park like a sentry. It’s right next to the path to the beach. Erected in 1869, these range lights were the GPS of their time, guiding mariners into the harbor with the precision of a well-choreographed dance. There were two of them on the Presque Isle Harbor, a front and a rear range light. Mariners would line up these lights like crosshairs and sail smoothly into the harbor.

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Keeping company with the restored Range Light is a statue of Anna Garrity. We decided to play a quick round of “Who’s That Lady?” It took our friend Rick three guesses to get her name right. No, she’s not a rock star but just as legendary. Anna Garrity was the first and only lightkeeper of Presque Isle Harbor. Appointed in 1900, she held her post for twenty-three action-packed years. You can read all about her in Janet Young’s book, A Place Called Presque Isle, which dedicates a heartwarming section to this unsung heroine.

You can find Janet’s books at the Presque Isle gift shops, and they’re just a click away online. I can’t recommend them enough. They’re the perfect companions as you explore the sights and sounds of Presque Isle. So, what are you waiting for? Grab a copy, put on your explorer’s hat, and let the adventure begin!

Alpena’s Breweries 

Around Michigan, you can find outstanding craft beer, and Alpena is no exception. Both Austin Brothers Beer Company and Hopside Brewery call Alpena home. Of course, while exploring all that Alpena has to offer, we stopped into each for a visit.

Austin Brothers Brewing Company

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Austin Brothers Brewing Company has been brewing a wonderful selection of brews since 2015. They have a huge brewpub on the north end of town located at 821 W Miller St. A large enclosed patio wraps around the front of the pub, allowing seating inside and out. The sun was shining, and temps were comfortable, so we grabbed a picnic table on the patio.

The inside of Austin Brothers pub is wide open and gives you the feel of an up north pub. A beautiful wood bar offers seating near the taps, or you can check out the kitchen crew hard at work putting together some amazing food. While we did not end up eating there, we did see a few plates roll by with gigantic burgers. I’m sure no one would go hungry here.

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Austin Brothers Beers

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You may have seen some of their flagship beers, such as “45er” IPA, “Woody” Wheat, or “Parralyzer” double IPA, in your favorite craft beer store. These were all super beers, but since we were exploring, I decided to go off the beaten track. The first stop was the “Terp Nasty” cold IPA. You may ask, what the hell is a terp, and aren’t all beers supposed to be “cold”? First off, “Cold” IPA refers to an India Pale Ale (IPA) brewed with lager yeast which does its busy work at a colder temperature than the usual ale yeast. This typically makes the beer more crisp and dry. 

The “terp” refers to terpenes. These are the compounds found in many plants that give them their aroma. Hops and cannabis get much of their aroma from the terpenes in the plant. When people talk about super dank weed (cannabis), they are referring to the unique terpenes that create that smell. In the case of “Terp Nasty,” Austin Brothers use Gelato terpenes to give their brew its sweet and almost berry-like aroma. Don’t worry, there isn’t any cannabis in the beer, but you get the slight smell of a mellow bag of weed. By the way, this beer tastes great. It is light, refreshing, and very smooth.

Hopside Brewery

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The new kid on the block in downtown Alpena is Hopside Brewery. They opened in 2021 and recently became members of the Michigan Brewers Guild. You can find them downtown at 129 W Chisholm St. Parking is easy. Snag a spot out front of their elegant brick street-side entrance, or swing around back to the public lot and come in through their beautiful outdoor patio.

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The inside of Hopside Brewery is open and bright. There is a circle bar, booths, as well as high and low-top tables providing lots of seating options. The outdoor patio is festooned with greenery and hops running up stringers. A corn-hole board is set up just in case you are itching for a game.

Hopside Beers

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The beers at Hopside Brewery are intriguing and delicious. Perusing the beer menu is an adventure in beer styles and countries of origin. On top of standards such as IPA, hazy IPA, and brown ale, you can find a gose, an ESB, a Mexican lager, a smoked Polish wheat ale (called a Grodziskie), a scotch ale, and more. With so many choices, I had to go with a flight that included the Mexican lager, the smoked wheat, gose, ESB, and their IPA and double IPA.

The Grodziskie (smoked wheat ale) was outstanding. Just a hint of smoke in this very light and refreshing brew. The Margarita gose is a gem and perfect for a hot summer day. The winner in terms of overall refreshment and taste was the Mexican lager called “Dos Chicas.” You can’t go wrong with any of the beers. 

While I didn’t get a full size, I did try a sample of the highly intriguing “JR” wheat. Hopside puts a unique spin on this beer by adding a ton of raspberry and a bit of jalapeno. The pepper is subtle and amazing. I didn’t think raspberry and jalapeno would be a great combo, but this beer proves me wrong. For a bit of fun, Hopside offers the “JR” Wheat with lemonade as one of their beer mixers. 

Hopside Spirits

Not only does Hopside Brewery offer up a bevy of beautiful beers, but they also distill their own spirits. Using their own gin, vodka, corn whiskey, rum, and agave spirits, Hopside has crafted a tantalizing array of cocktails. Hopside’s spirits and beers are available to go.

Hopside Food 

The food menu at Hopside is quite unique. The menu heading reads “What are you feeling today?” and underneath, they have 12 sets of ingredient options (including build your own). These flavor options can be whipped up into a pizza, a sandwich, a wrap, a salad, and something they call a “Zacho,” which is nachos featuring homemade tortilla chips. If one of these offerings won’t work, Hopside has six different burger options (including black bean) to choose from.

We went with “The Capsizer” in zacho form, which features red sauce with pepperoni, ham, sausage, bacon, and ground burger. This was fantastic. It is like combining a pizza and nachos into one stupidly delicious meal. It was a tough choice, but I would pair this zacho selection with the “Thunder Bay” IPA for a dynamite combo.

Thunder Bay’s Shipwrecks

On the recommendation of a trusted friend, we embarked on a nautical adventure with Alpena Shipwreck Tours. The day dawned bright and clear as if Mother Nature had polished the sky just for us. The lake, smooth as a mirror, transformed into a transparent portal into the secrets below.

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As we embarked on our two-hour voyage, the theme song from Gilligan’s Island played like an adventurous soundtrack in my mind: “Just sit right back, and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.”

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Wrecks

Our first stop was the ghostly wreck of the Bay City, a vessel that met its watery end in 1902 after an unfortunate encounter with a dock. Next, we marveled at the Shamrock, with our guide sharing the boat’s quirky motto: “To sail on Shamrock is to bail on Shamrock.” A schooner dressed up as a propeller ship, its new look didn’t quite take – it sank in the Black River, becoming a permanent part of the underwater scenery.

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We then set a course for Thunder Bay to meet the Harltiner Barge. This wreck was a dredge barge in its past life, and we had a chance to see remnants of its crane, winch, boiler, decking, and anchor, all frozen in their final resting place.

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Our tour concluded with the pièce de résistance, the William P. Rend. Known as the ‘hoodoo ship,’ it earned its nickname by sinking not once, not twice, but three times! Its third and final descent was here in Thunder Bay, right in front of the cement plant, forever becoming a part of Thunder Bay’s history.

Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center 

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The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center is a must-visit destination for anyone who wants to delve into the rich history of the Great Lakes. We immersed ourselves in exhibits. Yes, we walked on the deck of a life-size schooner, but we skipped the dive tubes. It was free too. A perfect place to hang out while waiting for our Shipwreck Tour to start. 

Alpena Art

“Is that Paul Bunyan, or am I seeing things?” I squealed from the backseat. On cue, heads swiveled toward the towering 30-foot statue, and we made a quick U-turn for our mandatory selfie session.

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But hold onto your hats, folks! Alpena has got another statue in the running for ‘most selfie-worthy.’ The Besser Museum is home to a 14-foot bald eagle that looks like it just swooped in from a blockbuster movie set. It’s giving good ol’ Paul a run for his money in the ‘Best Alpena Statue’ stakes. Naturally, we had to get a selfie with this feathery superstar.  

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The Parker House

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In pursuit of breakfast, we stumbled upon The Parker House on US23, a stone’s throw south of Presque Isle. Spotting several State Trooper cars in the parking lot, we took it as a culinary bat signal – this place must serve some seriously good chow. Our foodie instincts didn’t let us down – the meals were a feast for the taste buds!

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We couldn’t help but earmark this spot in Google Maps as a potential future overnight pit stop. Its picture-perfect cabins and beachfront kissing Long Lake’s shores make it an ideal blend of cozy and scenic. A hidden gem waiting to be discovered on our next Michigan escapade!

Good Bye For Now

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Reflecting on our journey from Alpena to Presque Isle, we were filled with a profound sense of awe and gratitude. The enchanting tales of lighthouses, the mystery of the shipwrecks, and the vibrant local life had etched an indelible mark on our hearts. The echoes of our adventure will resonate within us, beckoning us back to Michigan’s Sunrise Side. Until then, we’ll carry with us not just souvenirs but treasured memories of a place where history, nature, and culture intertwine in an unforgettable tapestry.

More Pictures 

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We’ve got more shots from our adventure exploring Lake Huron’s Coast from Alpena to the Presque Isle in our galleries:

Please take a peek and let us know what you think. Leave a comment and show some love by sharing this post. 

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