Situated at the very tip of Michigan’s Thumb on the shores of Lake Huron (or Saginaw Bay, technically) sits Port Crescent State Park.
The park’s 640 acres includes a campground and a day-use area that also has the distinction of being one of the state’s Dark Sky Preserves.
Port Crescent State Park is named for the town of Port Crescent that once stood on that location. A prosperous lumber town, it was essentially wiped off the map in 1881. A forest fire burned millions of acres across the whole Thumb region and destroyed all the timber. Businesses closed and the residents moved away. Today, only a small portion of the town’s sawmill chimney still stands in the park.
A fun history fact is that after the fire, but before it became a state park, a sand mining operation was conducted on the property. Henry Ford used the sand to build the windshields of his Ford Motor Company vehicles. Today, all that is left is a cement slab that held one of the metal platforms.
Located a few miles away is the town of Port Austin. It boasts a large marina, restaurants, gift shops, and a well-known weekly farmers market. Visiting town is a must if you’re in the area. I can’t recommend enough the Grindstone City General Store for their ginormous ice cream cones (get the baby-sized, trust me!)
The campground at Port Crescent State Park is right by the water, with good views of the lake from many of the sites. The campground is built in two sections, with one section sitting on top of a hill more in the trees. The other is at the base of the hill at water level. Two modern restrooms are available, one at each end of the campground.
No matter which section you’re in, there is a wide combination of site sizes and layouts with a mix of paved, grass, and sand. They crammed 140 sites wherever they could fit them, including some very narrow ones that back right up to the dunes and the lake, and other large sprawling ones tucked more in the woods.
The roads through Port Crescent State Park are extremely narrow and electrical boxes (20 and 30 amp only) are in some odd locations, though each site does have its own.
We noticed trailers, tents, and vehicles parked every which way on sites in an effort to not spill over onto neighboring sites or the road. With campsites on both sides of the road, this will make maneuvering a larger rig in and out of your site a bit more difficult.
Keep an eye out for the sites that used to sit right along the lake. If you look closely, you’ll see the very tops of electrical boxes sticking out of the sand – once prime sites for a view of the lake have been overrun by the dunes.
Beach access is provided throughout the campground via short access trails between campsites. During the summer of 2019, the beach was essentially non-existent due to high water levels, but the water’s edge provided a fantastic view of the sunset.
There also are two cabins, a small mini cabin that holds six, and a larger cabin that holds 10-15, perfect for a family gathering.
Situated in the middle of the campground is a modern playscape for the kids, and the camp host offers free coffee and hot chocolate on the weekends, as well as children’s activities. Stop by the host site for a calendar of events and to learn about local attractions to visit.
Dark Sky Preserve
Six Michigan state parks are designated Dark Sky Preserves, meaning they are protected against light pollution and excellent locations for stargazing. The day-use section of Port Crescent State Park is one such location.
They have built a nice platform with benches for stargazing near the parking lot, or you can wander the trails and find a bench closer to the water and enjoy the view over the lake. The park offers nighttime interpretive programs throughout the year based on celestial events.
A set of stationary binoculars is also provided on the platform for close-ups of the many birds and animals that inhabit the surrounding woodland.
Trails and beach
The day-use area at Port Crescent State Park is located two miles down the road from the campground. A couple of picnic tables and grills are located next to the parking lot, and a small covered shelter is available for rent. The majority of the day-use section is dedicated to the dark sky area and a few trails through the dunes.
The sandy beach is non-existent (summer 2019), but the water is still accessible via a hike up and over the dunes from the parking lot. It’s not a place I’d be hauling a wagon or lots of beach supplies.
A mile-long interpretive trail and boardwalk loops close by the parking lot, and a couple of miles of trails extend further down the dunes for walking or cross-country skiing. Since sand dunes shift constantly, sand covered much of the wooden boardwalk when we visited.
Port Crescent State Park has a rustic feel with modern amenities. It may be crowded at times, but if you get the right site, you’ll have some space and close access to the beach. It’s the perfect park for stargazing or watching the sunset, and is conveniently located near a cute town for food or non-camping activities. There is even the Point Aux Barques lighthouse not too far away, which includes a free museum.
Plan a week or a weekend and check out all that Port Crescent State Park and the surrounding area has to offer.
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