Have an Old-Fashioned Family Vacation in the Alpena Area

If you’re looking for a quiet, friendly place to vacation with your family, the Alpena area has a lot to offer.

My husband and I recently took our two young daughters and wished we’d booked a few more days to explore. Here’s what we managed to see and do and a few bucket-list items for our next trip, because we will be back!

  • Photo credit: Julie Bitely

    Dinosaur Gardens: Go back in time to when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Large-scale reproductions of prehistoric favorites such as T-Rex, triceratops and brontosaurus can be viewed up close as you wind through a ½-mile wooded path. Located in Ossineke, about a 15-minute drive from Alpena, this unique park is fun for all ages. Play a round of mini golf, enjoy some frozen yogurt or mine for your own fossils to round out your visit.  

  • Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan: Learn about the area’s history, take in a planetarium show or dig for souvenir Devonian fossils in the Lafarge Fossil Park. Kids will love the natural wildlife exhibit and adults can marvel at the museum’s Foucault Pendulum, which provides visual proof that the Earth is indeed rotating. For art lovers, the museum’s permanent collection includes works by artists such as Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and more.    
  • Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary: The 4,300-square-mile sanctuary in northwestern Lake Huron “protects one of America’s best-preserved and nationally-significant collections of shipwrecks.” Everyone
    Photo credit: Julie Bitely

    we talked to asked if we’d been to the sanctuary yet, and when we finally made it, we were glad we went. You can visit the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center free of charge and learn all about the many ships that met their final fate in the sanctuary’s waters, as well as the historical, cultural and commercial confluences that combined to make the region such a heavily-traveled route. Sadly, the weather was too windy when we visited to take a tour of the sanctuary by glass-bottom boat, but it definitely seems like it would be worth checking out.    

  • Downtown Alpena: Take an evening to explore Alpena’s historic downtown, which has a genuine, relaxed vibe. We found some great antique shops and retail boutiques and loved Blue Phoenix Books’ wonderful children’s section. We also enjoyed wine tasting at Thunder Bay Winery, lunch at The Fresh Palate, dinner at Owl Restaurant and a coffee and smoothie break at Cabin Creek Coffee – all highly recommended!

The weather was cool when we went, so next time we’re in the area, we hope to spend a day at Lake Huron. The city’s Starlite Beach has play areas, a picnic area and beach. If we’re feeling more adventurous, Rockport State Recreation Area sounds amazing. Regardless of the beach, these West Michiganders would love to watch the sun come up on the Sunrise Side of the state.

We’d also love to seek out local lighthouses, ride our bikes on the Alpena Bi-Path and check out this wildlife sanctuary.

The view from our cabin’s dock.
Photo credit: Julie Bitely

One of the best decisions we made was to rent a cabin for our stay. With two small kids, having a full kitchen allowed us to make some healthy meals at our home base and provided more breathing room for necessary afternoon naps. While the kids snoozed, we were able to enjoy scenic views of Lake Winyah, part of the Thunder Bay River System, from our rental at Wes Point Shores Resort. We were also able to build campfires in the evening and tool around in the included row boat. We found the price extremely reasonable for the convenience (comparable to a hotel), but there are also lots of campgrounds and motels in the area.

Have you ever vacationed in or near Alpena? Tell us your favorite spots to visit in the comments.

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Photo credit (feature image): normanack

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