Apparently, it’s the “year of Michigan” for us.  We camped in Nordhouse Dunes in July (review can be read here), and over labor day weekend, we visited a few places in Central Michigan.  We stayed in East Tawas, which is only a 5.5 hour drive from Columbus, and it turned out to be a gorgeous place.  I’ve been to Lake Erie many times, but it’s certainly not clean and clear like Lake Michigan or Lake Huron.  If you’re an Ohio person looking for a beach destination without having to pay for airfare or drive 14 hours, Michigan may be the place for you.

East Tawas is right on Lake Huron, and the scenery was amazing.  The sunrises and sunsets were gorgeous and the water was clean and warm enough to swim and kayak in.  The area had a variety of things to do, and plus the drive up had a bunch of cool stops.

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge

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This was en-route from Columbus to East Tawas (a slight detour, I guess).  For free, you can take a little auto through through the refuge (took about 45 minutes with stops) and you can see birds, water and beautiful trees.  There aren’t tons of animals around, and it’s not like a zoo, but it’s a welcome stop if you’ve been in the car for any length of time.  There weren’t a ton of cars there when we went, so we had the place relatively to ourselves.  There were spots to stop and look through view finders and overall, we found this a nice, free relaxing stop!  


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This was an interesting town.  We saw that there was a Castle Museum and thought it might be cool to look through.  As one who works in a local history museum, I find myself interested in the local history of other areas.  There are always claims to fame in every town; whether it’s that Abe Lincoln had lunch there or it was the leading manufacturer of Beanie Babies.  The museum cost $1 to go through, although we didn’t have any cash (oops) and they let us walk through for free.  The most interesting thing to me was that this was an old post office.  There is a secret balcony they let you walk up and see how they used to spy on their employees through these little slots.  The museum building itself was interesting, and the museum was well done. 

East Tawas

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We rented a home that was right on the water, which was a perfect way to enjoy this area.  The town itself was small, but we certainly made use out of the local grocery store, Neiman’s, and we visited the ice cream shop, Marion’s Dairy Bar, more than once.  Marion’s had homemade local ice cream that was fantastic, and even had multiple hand-dipped sugar-free options.  

As an outing, we chose to do the Au Sable River Queen Cruise.  Now, the river itself is beautiful, and the weather was perfect to enjoy it.  The river cruise, however, was extremely cheesy, touristy and way too long.  The information given by the captain was promoting campsites and places to go around the river, which was sort of like a giant commercial.  In between these commercials, a man with a guitar played some of the most annoying songs over the loudspeaker.  Of course they had overpriced snacks, and yes, we sampled them all.  It also had a bar on the top, which we didn’t partake in, but a lot of others did!  (They probably didn’t mind the music, either.)

We visited an art festival one day in the town square, which also meant you could walk up the boardwalk dock area and see the water.  It was a pleasant experience, and again, the water is gorgeous to view.  It’s hard to believe it’s a lake, it’s so big… it really looks like the ocean.

The home we stayed at gave us access to walk-able and swim-able beach area.  We walked down and collected some beautiful souvenirs (driftwood) and could also kayak over an old wooden shipwreck.  The water is shallow enough, you can actually walk on the ship.  (From what we learned, the ship was from the 1800s and carried lumber.)  Very eerie, but cool!

Overall, I’d recommend Central Michigan (especially the coast area) as a great beach destination for fun and relaxation in the sun.  It’s a great alternative for us Ohioans to the expensive and long drive to the southern beaches.  I actually can’t wait to visit again!

Nina Thomas

Travel lover and writer

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  • Abby Walters October 3, 2016 on 1:52 PM Reply

    I love Saginaw!

    I bet the winters are equally gorgeous in Michigan. Plus you could rent a snow mobile!

    • Nina Thomas Abby Walters October 3, 2016 on 2:48 PM Reply

      That’s a great idea! I’ll have to go back in the winter.