Saginaw Bay has been a settlement for centuries, starting with indigenous people and then European settlers, who both appreciated the area for its access to water, pristine beauty, and abundant resources.
This driving tour begins on the southeast side of the bay just past the crook of the thumb and curves west and north along the Lake Huron shoreline. You should continue your driving tour by following this Thumb Driving Tour.
Mileage: 130 miles
Driving Time: 2 hours, 55 minutes (plus a 55-minute boat ride)
Stop #1: Vanderbilt County Park
Also the location of a campground, Vanderbilt County Park is considered a hidden gem on the Saginaw Bay shoreline. It consists of 18 acres of natural scenic beauty. It’s a short drive from Saginaw, Bay City, Frankenmuth, and Detroit. There’s a picnic area, volleyball courts, and plenty of space to roam around.
Stop #2: Saginaw Valley Rail Trail
Bikers, walkers, runners, and even horseback riders can experience rail trails that crisscross Michigan and in the former trails forged by locomotives during the height of train travel and transportation. One of the nicest trails is the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail, which is 11 miles (one way) of wide asphalt that runs from S. Center Road and Stroebel Road in Saginaw to Lumberjack Park at E. Water St. and N. Miami St. in nearby St. Charles. The route incorporates many natural features as well as takes travelers over eight bridges, including a beautifully restored rail bridge over the Bad River. It’s a pleasant way to spend a few hours, whether you take the whole trail or only part of it.
Stop #3: Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum
Dedicated to documenting the history of the United States Navy. The star is the USS Edson, a U.S. Navy destroyer from the Vietnam era, which is open for self-guided tours and houses the museum itself. Tour prices are a modest $14 per adult, $12 for Veterans, $10 for kids 4-17, and $7 for active-duty servicemen and women. The museum is closed during the months of December, January, and February, opening for spring hours in March and then opening in full April through mid-September.
Stop #4: Bay County Pinconning Park
Get out and stretch your legs in the open air. If you’re a bird watcher, you’ll enjoy observing the wide variety of waterfowl across the area’s 206 acres. There are wildflowers in the spring, three observation towers, two observation decks, five miles of trails, and a floating fishing dock. It’s a truly beautiful place to visit in any season, and you can find something to do and see in each season as the park is open year-round. On a clear day, one can see Pt. Au Gres, across the bay to “Michigan’s Thumb”, the mouth of the Saginaw River at Bay City and everything in between. During the late spring and summer months, there are kayak rentals located on a maintained sandy beach, which is perfect for a little exercise and an up-close look at Saginaw Bay. Watch this aerial video for a better look.
Stop #5: Charity Island, from Tawas
From Brown’s Landing in Tawas, you can catch the 55-minute ferry for a day trip to Charity Island, a wilderness destination. Day trips to the largest island in Saginaw Bay have the ferry leaving at 11 a.m. and returning around 2 p.m., giving island hoppers about an hour to experience the island and visit the historic lighthouse. There are sunset dinner cruises throughout the summer months, which includes food and beverages and a tour of the lighthouse. You can stay on the island if you make a reservation in advance at Charity Island Lodge. Note: There have been departures from Caseville, across the bay, in the past. They may launch there again in the future.