Two welcoming billboards greet travelers to the Sunrise Side of Michigan while they’re heading north on I-75 and U.S. 23.
Those invitations to enjoy the Lake Huron coast spotlight “Oscoda, Naturally” and “Oscoda, The Morning Show” because of the gorgeous sunrises.
The signs help promote the many outdoor adventures available near the 22-mile River Road National Scenic Byway surrounding Oscoda and Au Sable. The beautiful 138-mile-long river, which empties into Lake Huron, together with the vast Huron National Forest, play an important part in the area’s tourism appeal.
While there are other longer and more challenging trails nearby — such as the delightful 10,000-acre Hoist Lakes Foot Travel Area near M-65/M-72, or the peaceful Reid Lake Foot Travel Area off of M-72 — several Oscoda sites provide fun one- to two-hour outings for all enthusiasts.
Below are a few shorter favorites in the Au Sable River Valley that are great for fall colors, hiking, wildlife viewings, and bird migrations.
“Although there are many hiking and cross-country skiing trails along the Au Sable River, the Eagle Run trail system paralleling River Road is the farthest downriver. That means it’s the closest to Oscoda, providing easy access for those staying in the city,” says hiker and marathon runner Grant Garbinski, who enjoys the trails whenever he’s in town.
“This trail system boasts more than six miles of trails, with nearly half of them along the meandering Au Sable. With multiple access points and the ability to quickly hike to the river, the trails offer enjoyment and accessibility for all levels. The terrain changes along the way, from plantation pines to wetlands, which have more potential for wildlife sightings. I love the amazing songbird choruses and colorful wildflowers in the summer, and the spectacular changing foliage in the fall,” he says.
“A number of grassy embankments provide ample opportunity where you can relax and enjoy snacks, with views of the Au Sable. Don’t forget to wave to the people floating by in canoes or on tubes,” he adds.
From an observation deck about 300 feet above the water, visitors can venture some 294 steps down to the banks of the Au Sable River and elevated viewing platforms. Along the way, they’ll walk under a mature forested canopy and past a group of seven springs emerging from the side of this high bluff.
“Look up, look down — Iargo Springs is a hidden gem on Michigan’s east coast. It’s a delicate, tranquil habitat and special place for bird-watchers and plant-lovers. Listen to the soothing sound of water from the springs cascading into the river,” says Sue Rosiek, a nature explorer who has climbed the wooden staircase to the bottom and back several times and cautions first-timers, “It can be a bit of a workout.
“It’s a real treat and a great choice for a short day-hike adventure. We love ex-periencing it over and over again when visiting friends on the Sunrise Side. And, yes, we’ve been treated to a bald eagle floating above the treetops, entertaining us with its majesty. A stop here is Pure Michigan at its finest.”
The memorial — perched high on a sandy bluff overlooking the Au Sable River — with its centerpiece 14-foot-tall bronze statue of lumbermen was dedicated in 1932 to honor Michigan’s lumbering history. Its visitor’s center, along River Road, is open through October. The trails, outdoor displays, and 206-step walkway down to the river are open year-round.
“Over the past several years, a handful of my closest friends and I have created memories there that will last a lifetime. Northern Michigan’s most hidden gem is always at the top of our to-do list when we visit our family cottage,” says Will Garbinski, who says he also enjoys taking sunset photos at the site.
“Selfishly, I make it a priority because it’s the place where I feel most at peace. Watching my friends make the final turn of a short hike to my favorite spot, and seeing their jaws drop as they soak in the panoramic view of the majestic Au Sable River twisting through the beautiful Huron National Forest, never fails to put a smile on my face — especially when it’s accompanied by a picturesque sunset,” says Garbinski, who also loves to hike.
“Whether it’s the different combinations of friends I have the pleasure to be with when I visit (my favorite time to visit is autumn), or the infinite amount of cloud formations and sunset colors that Mother Nature blesses us with, Lumberman’s Monument provides a unique, historic, and magical experience that holds a special place in my heart.”
Three Mile Park
This Michigan Department of Transportation rest stop located along U.S. 23 a few miles north of downtown Oscoda’s River Road, usually surprises travelers. It’s right on the shores of Lake Huron and offers lots of rest-stop comforts.
“I love the boardwalk there. We’ve walked it so many times,” says Marcie Swanson, of Greenbush Township, north of the Three Mile Beach. Her son, a runner, often will run back and forth several times while she walks it.
“I spend a lot of time taking photos along the way,” she adds. “My walking is more about stopping and capturing photos of all the pretty pines, the superb sunrises over the expansive and beautiful Lake Huron beach, the little creek that empties into the big lake (pretty irises bloom in the spring!), and birds such as chickadees or other migrating or local species.
“The north-south walk extends quite a way along the sandy beach, where we often see swimmers taking a dip. There are two park sections and both have rest- rooms and parking lots. If you’re lucky, you can grab one of the parking slots with quick access to the beach on the north end, between the trees. Sadly, most travelers just speed past this stop without realizing its charms. But I’m OK with that, since it makes it less crowded.”
From stunning sunrises to mesmerizing sunsets and everything in between, these favorite stops showcase why the area is Oscoda, Naturally!
Oscoda Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
Huron National Forest/Iargo Springs/Lumberman’s Monument
fs.usda.gov/hmnf and search for specific destination