Ready for a road trip? M-25 between Bay City and Port Huron is calling

Still feeling cooped up as the pandemic restrictions lift? M-25 is calling.

The Michigan state highway stretching 150 miles around the Thumb between Bay City and Port Huron is the perfect summer road trip, with sandy beaches, unique adventures, and quaint towns along the way.

The shoreline path from Port Huron to Bay City is one segment of the Lake Huron Circle Tour route. The full Lake Huron Circle Tour includes portions of the Upper Peninsula and Canada. (Photo Credit: Ashley Brown)“I've done the M-25 drive more times than I can count and it's always enjoyable,” said Katie Stepp of Blue Water Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I think it's an underrated scenic highway that is a fantastic rural/beach road trip.”

From burgers to sushi, you’ll find a dining experience for everyone in one of Bay City’s business districts. This year, outdoor dining is available downtown and along Midland Street. (Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Area CVB)Starting in Bay City running east into the Thumb, the highway passes through Unionville and heads north along the Lake Huron coastline through Sebewaing, Caseville, Port Austin, Harbor Beach, Port Sanilac, Lexington and Lakeport, and ending in Port Huron 150 miles later.

Part of the Lake Huron Circle Tour, M-25 was once designated as US-25 before the interstate highway system was created, said Andrew Kercher of the Port Huron Museums.

“It’s kind of neat when you think about your grandparents driving the same way 100 years ago,” Kercher said.

Dozens of villages, towns and small cities line M-25 – or within spitting distance of it. Each has its own special flair and worth checking out.

Here are just a few suggestions to get your road trip started:

don’t have to own a power boat to get on the water. Float Paddle Center in Bay City lets you rent a kayak or paddle board. These kayakers were watching the Tall Ship Celebration in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay.)BAY CITY

Summer is the perfect time to enjoy Bay City. The city’s events calendar is packed with outdoor festivals, outdoor dining, unique shops, parks, pubs – and the beautiful Saginaw River waterfront.

The Sunshine Pedal Trolley offers a view of Bay City’s popular eateries and nightspots. (Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay Area CVB)Stroll or bike the waterfront on the Riverwalk or tour the Saginaw River aboard the Princess Wenonah or Islander (don’t miss the free weekday morning history tours in July). Head downtown for shopping and lunch … and then stick around for the nightlife.

Bay City’s well-known fireworks festival returns in 2021. One of the best viewing spots for the show is from a boat in the Saginaw River. (Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Bay CVB)Looking for some history? One of Bay City’s jewels is the Center Avenue Historic District, an “architectural legacy” created by the lumbermen, shipbuilders and industrialists who made their fortunes in Bay City in the mid-1800s.Be sure to set aside an hour for a walking tour of the neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

When you’re driving along M-25 in Michigan’s Thumb, take notice of the little details, such as backyard gardens and porches decorated with flower baskets and flags. (Photo Credit: Ashley Brown)CASEVILLE

If you’re looking for a fun time, Caseville is your spot. Known for its annual Cheeseburger in Caseville Festival (Aug. 13-22), the city is a popular Thumb destination – especially in the summer.

Hungry? Stop for an icy cold craft beer and a juicy burger at the Thumb Brewery in Caseville. The brewery is inside what was once an historic home. (Photo courtesy of Thumb Brewery.)M-25 winds through the heart of the city, which offers a wide range of restaurants, shopping and clear views of Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. Be sure to try the bumper boats or go-karts at the newly renovated Key North Mini Golf & Family Center, a family favorite for 62 years. If you’re in the mood for craft beer and burgers, Thumb Brewery offers 28 beers on tap, a full menu, and a spacious patio historic outside the historic-home-turned-brewery.

Pickle & Shelly’s Good Time Saloon in Unionville may not look like much on the outside, but it’s worth a stop. Inside, you’ll find beer, burgers, and, of course, good times. (Photo Credit: Ashley Brown)When it comes to beach time, you’ve got some great options. In town, Caseville Park offers sandy beach and great swimming, as well as 230 modern campsites and a nearby fishing pier.

Sleeper State Park is five miles northeast of Caseville on M-25 and includes a huge stretch of sandy coastline and dunes, as well as hiking trails, camping and paddling. Take the pedestrian bridge connecting the day use area and campground to experience M-25 from a whole new perspective.

From Port Crescent State Park, you can catch a sunrise and a sunset on the same day. (Photo courtesy of Blue Water Area CVB))PORT CRESCENT STATE PARK

Just 10 minutes from Sleeper State Park is another state treasure: Port Crescent State Park. “This is a wonderful spot with sand dunes overlooking the blue waters at the tip of the Thumb where you can catch a sunrise and sunset on the same day,” said Stepp of the Blue Water CVB.

Picturesque churches, featuring everything from traditional to modern architecture, dot the M-25 highway.There are many trails that lead to a beach shoreline for a day of sunbathing, bird watching at the observation deck, biking or paddling the Pinnebog River.

When the sun sets, turn your eyes to the heavens. Port Crescent offers exceptional stargazing and is one of only six Michigan state parks designated as a dark sky preserve. The best viewing is near the day-use parking lot, where a viewing platform is available, according to the DNR.

In Port Austin’s Village Green, you’ll find seasonal pop-up shops housed in rows of tiny houses. (Photo courtesy of Blue Water Area CVB))PORT AUSTIN

The village of Port Austin is at the “tip” of Michigan’s Thumb. Whether you’re looking for shopping, paddling, diving, fishing, golf or relaxing in a beachside park, there’s plenty to choose from.

If you want to get closer to Lake Huron, then make a stop in Sebewaing, home to charter fishing operations, the Cornerstone Venture & Sportsman’s Haven Museum, and a marina. (Photo Credit: Ashley Brown)The kids will love the new Port Austin Splash Pad at Bird Creek Park. The shoreline park includes a sandy beach, picnic shelters, wooden boardwalk, beach volleyball, and playground.

If you count the animal population, Sebewaing gets a lot bigger. From inside one of the community’s parks in Huron County, you may see nesting eagles, blue herons, deer, and more. (Photo Credit: Ashley Brown)If you like adventure, explore the Lake Huron shoreline with a kayak or stand-up paddleboard rental from Port Austin Kayak. Head out to Turnip Rock, one of the most unique rock formations in the state and only accessible by water.

Prefer dry land? Visit nearby Veterans Waterfront Park and stroll along the half-mile breakwater for a great view of Port Austin Reef Light and the shoreline.

In town, you’ll find unique restaurants and plenty of shopping throughout town. The Village Green is where you’ll find seasonal pop-up shops housed in rows of tiny houses. The shops are next to the Port Austin Farmers Market, one of the largest in the state. The market is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through mid-October.  

“Port Austin is a great beach town with lots of fun to last for days,” Stepp said.

Boaters and kayakers take advantage of the Sebewaing River, which flows through the downtown in the Huron County community and out to the Saginaw Bay. (Photo Credit: Ashley Brown)GRINDSTONE CITY

The Grindstone area is a popular fishing port for anglers in search of salmon, lake trout, steelhead and small-mouth bass. Take a short detour off M-25 to the 135-year-old Grindstone General Store for the biggest hand-dipped ice cream cones in the Thumb. Grab plenty of napkins!

Walk, run or bike through the city on the non-motorized Harbor View Trail that winds through Harbor Beach’s parks, downtown and waterfront areas. (photo courtesy of Blue Water Area CVB)HARBOR BEACH

A lakeside community that prides itself on a “small-town feel,” Harbor Beach is home to the largest man-made freshwater harbor in the world. Its rich maritime history, abundance of water sports, and scenic parks and trails make this stop worth your while. The harbor offers excellent fishing from aboard a boat or along the extensive breakwall. Make time for a guided boat tour to the lighthouse in the summer months.

Sebewaing may be best known for its annual Sugar Festival. But it’s also home to the Luckhard Museum, Charles W. Liken House, and Bay Shore Camp. (Photo Credit: Ashley Brown)Walk, run or bike through the city on the non-motorized Harbor View Trail that winds through Harbor Beach’s parks, downtown and waterfront areas. The city offers a  historic walking tour with many points of interest to stretch your legs a bit. If you feel like exploring, kayak out into the harbor to see shallow-water shipwreck remains and the Harbor Beach Lighthouse.

Port Huron’s social district includes a barge bar called CityFloats, which meanders the Black River at the Military Street Bridge. (Photo courtesy of Blue Water Area CVB)PORT HURON

Known as the Maritime Capital of the Great Lakes, Port Huron gives you unique ways to explore maritime lore and Great Lakes history. Consider a 10-cent tour on the Blue Water Trolley to view local points of interest through the heart of city and along the riverfront for a glimpse of the Blue Water Bridge to Canada, the Thomas Edison Depot Museum and statue.

Downtown Port Huron has a social district so you can stroll the unique shops and have a cocktail. A newer summer favorite is a barge bar called CityFloats that meanders the Black River at the Military Street Bridge outside the CityFlats Hotel.

Known as the Maritime Capital of the Great Lakes, Port Huron gives you unique ways to explore maritime lore and Great Lakes history. (Photo courtesy of Blue Water Area CVB)Get some fresh air on Blue Water River Walk or take a spin along the Bridge to Bay Trail, a nonmotorized trail system connecting 14 Great Lakes public beaches.

“The trail hugs M-25 along the shoreline and offers exceptional experiences through very scenic waterfront communities – not to mention the chance to see Canada while you’re riding your bike,” said Sheri Faust, president of the Friends of the St. Clair River.

Port Huron hosts several large events, including the popular Blue Water Festival prior to the annual Port Huron-to-Mackinac Sailboat Race on July 24.