Great Lakes Direct

Alpena, Michigan

Where is Alpena?

Alpena is a city in northern Michigan located at the confluence of the Thunder Bay river and Lake Huron.

The town is the county seat of Alpena County and is known as the "Sanctuary of the Great Lakes" due to its proximity to Lake Huron and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

With a population of just over 10,000, Alpena is the third largest settlement in the northern Michigan region and also the third biggest American town on Lake Huron.

The Alpena drawbridge opening to allow access from the Thunder Bay river to Lake Huron
The Alpena drawbridge opening to allow access from the Thunder Bay river to Lake Huron

The Alpena area is a popular tourist destination for those who love outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, and hiking.

How to get to Alpena

Nearest airport to Alpena

Daily flights to Detroit are available from Alpena County Regional Airport, seven miles to the west of downtown Alpena.

Chippewa County International Airport in the Upper Peninsula offers both Detroit Metro and Minneapolis-St. Paul as destinations, while Cherry Capital Airport near Traverse City has the largest number of airlines.

Distance to Alpena County Regional Airport: 7 miles
Distance to Pellston Regional Airport: 98 miles
Distance to Cherry Capital Airport (Traverse City): 125 miles
Distance to Chippewa County International Airport (Sault Ste Marie): 136 miles

Those looking to drive from a major international airport will find that Detroit Metro Airport (253 miles) is the closest option.

Driving to Alpena

The US-23 from Alpena heads north along the Lake Huron shore towards Mackinaw City and south to Tawas City in the direction of Bay City.

The M-32 highway leads west from Alpena towards the junction with I-75 at Gaylord.

Bus service to Alpena

A single daily service connecting St Ignace on the Upper Peninsula with Flint and Detroit runs through Alpena.

History of Alpena

Alpena was not incorporated as a city until 1871, although lumber camps had been active in the area for decades before that. It was also a commercial fishing center for Thunder Bay, and for a time was one of the largest fishing ports on Lake Huron.

The city also took advantage of the lumber boom in northeast Michigan as the lumber supply from southern Michigan began to dry up.

Short promotional video from Visit Alpena

The lumber boom lasted until the early 20th century. The businessmen who had profited from the trade were forced to look elsewhere and found opportunity in cement and limestone quarrying.

The Lafarge-Holcim plant in the Alpena area is still the second largest cement plant in the world, while the limestone quarry operated by Michigan Limestone near neighboring Rogers City is the largest in the world.

Alpena is an important tourism hub for northeast Michigan, with easy access to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and other outdoor activities on the inland waterways and in the surrounding woodland.

Things to see and do in Alpena

Visitors to Alpena should first make a stop at the Alpena Visitor Center, which is open every weekday morning and afternoon. It is located next to the Thunder Bay Theater on N. 2nd Avenue.

Besser Museum

Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan, to give it its full title, is located a little way outside downtown Alpena near the Community College and Medical Center.

Besser Museum collates exhibits covering the history, culture and life of the Alpena area. The Museum also houses a planetarium with regular shows about astronomy and related topics.

Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center

The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center is a visitor center for the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. It is located on Thunder Bay river near the Rotary Island Mill Park bridge connecting the two banks of the river.

The Center includes information about the shipwrecks in the Sanctuary as well as a replica wooden Great Lakes schooner.

The Alpena Shipwreck Tour available on the Lady Michigan
The Alpena Shipwreck Tour available on the Lady Michigan

Tickets for the Alpena Shipwreck Tour can be purchased here and the tour leaves from just behind the Center.

It takes place on the Lady Michigan, a glass-bottomed boat which visits some of the 200 or so shipwrecks with commentary. It runs up to three times a day during peak summer season and is often fully booked.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

The Sanctuary is also popular with scuba divers who want to explore the wrecks in the clear waters. It has fixed moorings over many of the wrecks to increase safety and prevent damage to the underwater remains.

Snorkeling is possible at some of the shipwrecks in shallow waters, while paddling in its various forms can also reveal much of interest under the water.

Rockport State Park Recreation Area

Rockport State Park, north of Alpena, offers a variety of outdoor activities. It was Michigan's 100th state park and has also been designated a Dark Sky Preserve (along with Negwegon State Park across Thunder Bay).

The park has access to the lake and some of the shipwrecks, and includes a former limestone quarry that is now filled with water. It is a popular destination for kayakers and stand-up paddlers.

Those who prefer to stay on land will find sinkholes, fossils, and several hiking trails throughout the park.

Other Lake Huron Towns in Michigan

Mackinaw City, MI

Mackinaw City

Mackinaw City is a popular tourist destination located at the northern tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula and is a gateway to the Upper Peninsula as well as nearby Mackinac Island. Visitors can also explore the nearby Colonial Michilimackinac State Park, which offers historic sites and reenactments.

Port Austin, MI

Port Austin

Port Austin is located on the tip of the 'Thumb' of Michigan's 'Mitten'. It is known for its beautiful sand beaches, which are perfect for swimming, boating, and relaxing in the sun. Visitors can also explore the nearby Port Crescent State Park, which offers hiking trails and a beach. The much-photographed Turnip Rock is just a few miles to the east.

Port Sanilac, MI

Port Sanilac

Once a lumber settlement, Port Sanilac is said to have been named in honor of a Wyandotte chief, Sanilac. The town is home to the Port Sanilac Lighthouse, which has been in operation since 1886, and an 1850 Victorian mansion that now serves as a museum. A number of shipwrecks lie off the coast of Port Sanilac.

Port Huron, MI

Port Huron

Located at the southern end of Lake Huron, Port Huron is a charming city with many activities for visitors. The Blue Water Bridge connects Port Huron to Canada, making it an international gateway. Visitors can enjoy a stroll along the boardwalk, visit the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse or explore the Huron Lightship Museum.

Alpena Links

Visit Alpena :
Besser Museum
Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary: