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Take a Trip to Michigan’s Sunrise Side from Tawas to Cheboygan

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Click on image to see edited/printed version.

The northern Lake Huron shoreline boasts water, forests, wetlands, lighthouses, parks, trails, museums, small towns, culture, attractions, golf, dining, and many other hidden treasures! 

The casual towns of Michigan’s “Sunrise Side” are part of the larger 200-mile U.S.-23 Heritage Route — a state-designated Pure Michigan Byway. The stretch of Lake Huron shoreline between Tawas and Cheboygan is rich with maritime treasures — including a dozen lighthouses and hundreds of shipwrecks — scenic vistas, and historic sites worthy of summer exploration.


The highlight of the summer is the community’s Independence Bay Celebration — the largest in the region featuring a 100-unit parade and Light Up the Bay fireworks display.

Tawas Point Lighthouse:  Reopening this summer after being closed last season for renovations, this beacon sits within the Tawas Point State Park. Tours are offered mid-May through mid-October and include access to the 85-foot tower where the original 4th Order Fresnel Lens is on display.

Sunrise Coast Birding Trail: More than 200 species of migratory birds — including the Kirtland’s Warbler, endangered Great Lakes Piping Plover, and others identified by local Audubon chapters — flock to the Tuttle Marsh Wildlife Area and other nearby sites each year.

The Village Chocolatier: Stock up on the sweetest souvenirs with tasty treats like chocolate-covered raspberries, peanut butter buckeyes, pecan Turtles, and seafoam honeycomb sponge candy from this long-time family-run East Tawas shop.

Tawas Uncork’d: Join the more than one thousand locals and visitors at East Tawas Harbor Park on the first Saturday of August to sample Michigan-crafted wine, cider, and beer from more than two dozen local establishments while soaking up waterfront views during this annual fundraiser for the East Tawas Library.

Social Oak Chophouse & Wine Bar: Don’t let the unassuming look of the building turn you away from a memorable dining experience right along the waterfront. Appetizers, shared plates, and mouth-watering entrees, along with an extensive beverage list, are best enjoyed on the seasonal deck.

Side Trip: Six miles west of downtown Oscoda along the 22-mile River Road National Scenic Byway, the double-decker AuSable River Queen — the only paddlewheel riverboat running in northern Michigan — offers two-hour excursions throughout the summer and fall.


Called the “Sanctuary of the Great Lakes,” the region’s largest city features an abundance of natural attractions on land, under water, and in the sky.

 Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary: Float over one of the area’s many shipwrecks in a kayak or glass-bottom boat, or grab scuba gear and dive in for a closer look at these submerged vessels. The onsite Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center is open year-round, free of charge.

Dark Sky Preserve Parks: Watch a meteor shower, discover the Milky Way, or catch the Aurora Borealis at one of the three dark sky sites in Alpena County: Negwegon State Park, Rockport State Recreation Area, and Thompson’s Harbor State Park.

Island Park: Explore the hiking trails that traverse this 17-acre island, or cast a line from one of the fishing platforms along the water’s edge. The park contains a quaint covered bridge, along with access to the adjacent 500-acre Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary. 

Mural Trail: Be on the lookout for one of the dozen-plus murals painted around the downtown area in recent years, thanks to the Fresh Waves arts initiative.

Austin Brothers Beer Co.: Family-owned and operated since opening in 2015, this microbrewery is known for its distinctive craft beers, beer cocktails, and a mouth-watering menu with signature items like brisket burnt-end nachos.

Parallel 45 Books & Gifts: A highlight of the downtown shopping district, this independent bookstore offers a selection of titles from Michigan authors and national writers, plus unique gifts and souvenirs.

Ghost Village of Bell: Tucked a mile inside the 134-acre Besser Natural Area, 14 miles north of Alpena in Presque Isle County, you’ll find the remnants of the town of Bell — including a long-forgotten cemetery. The town was established in the 1880s around the Presque Isle Brick & Lumber Co. operations, which closed in 1911.

Side Trip: Fourteen miles west of Roger’s City is the tiered rapids known as Ocqueoc Falls. This popular swimming hole is the largest waterfall in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and the country’s only universally accessible waterfall.


Given the entire county has 270 crisscrossing miles of trails — more than any other in the state — it’s no wonder Cheboygan was named one of Pure Michigan’s Trail Towns in 2020, with plenty of opportunities for exploring by bike, foot, kayak, and more.

Puddingstones: With its glacial history, Michigan is a rock hunter’s paradise with Petoskey stones and Leland Bluestones widely found in the area. Another favorite is the puddingstone, a conglomerate of smaller, contrasting-colored pebbles that can be found in the northern Lake Huron waters near Cheboygan.

Nicholas Black River Vineyard & Winery: Tour the area’s only vineyard and winery — open daily, year-round — followed by free samples including chardonnay, Riesling, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot, as well as ice wine and fruit wines.

Cheboygan Historic Walking Tour: Take a trip back in time to some of the most significant sites in the city’s history, including the 1877 Opera House, 1913 Carnegie Library (now a community center), and 1920 art-deco Kingston Theatre, among a half dozen others.

Inland Waterway: At nearly 40 miles long, this chain of rivers and lakes slowly meanders from Petoskey to the Cheboygan River, emptying into Lake Huron. As the water flows through winding channels, it passes by charming generational cottages and even a handful of boat-up eateries.

Hack-Ma-Tack Inn & Restaurant: Built in 1894, this iconic seasonal restaurant once served as a hunting and fishing lodge on the northern shore of Mullett Lake along the Inland Waterway. Today, boaters will find plenty of parking along the 400-foot dock outside with mouth-watering specialties inside, including fresh Great Lakes whitefish and slow-roasted prime rib, along with an extensive wine list.

Side Trip: Hop aboard the ferry for a nine-mile ride to the remote 31,000-acre island of Bois Blanc in the Straits of Mackinac, where camping, fishing, and hiking offer a relaxed, off-grid escape. While there, be on the lookout for the ruins of Chicago gangster John Dillinger’s northern hideaway.






US-23 Heritage Route

Pure Michigan


Reprinted from the Summer 2024 issue of SEEN magazine.