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Spotlight: Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Michigan

Spotlight: Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Michigan

Sunken treasures and jewels of maritime history await you in the Great Lakes

EB Allen Wreck Divers explore the E.B. Allen wreck. The nineteenth-century schooner sunk in 1871 after a collision with another ship while in a dense fog on Lake Huron. (NOAA)

What You'll Find

One of America's best-preserved and nationally significant collections of shipwrecks scattered across the 448-square-miles of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Visitors can boat, paddle, snorkel and dive to explore the dozens of sunken vessels within the Sanctuary. The clear fresh waters of Lake Huron allow excellent views of the sunken ships once doomed by past storms and rocky shoals. These protected treasures allow viewers a glimpse of Great Lakes history in a hauntingly beautiful setting.

Start your visit at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center and explore exhibits about Thunder Bay’s shipwreck and maritime history by walking the deck of a life-size 19th-century schooner in the midst of a raging storm, or view NOAA's "Science-on-a-Sphere,” a huge globe animated with images of earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land. Budding explorers will enjoy learning about marine archaeology and what it takes to find and protect yet undiscovered shipwrecks.

Getting There

The Sanctuary is located in Lake Huron, along the northeastern coastline of Michigan. The town of Alpena, also known as the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes, is the best access point. This pleasant lake-front community began in 1840 as a lumber town, and today Alpena provides a diverse suite of cultural and recreational opportunities for visitors and locals alike. Take a road trip along the scenic Heritage Route 23 or fly into the Alpena County Regional Airport to reach the area and visit the Sanctuary.

Make Sure You

Bring the whole family to Thunder Bay’s annual Maritime Festival each 4th of July and join in the celebration of all things nautical! Tour tall ships, research vessels and fishing boats docked along the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Trail. Enjoy live music, watch the Cardboard Boat Regatta, have fun with kids’ games and crafts, explore shipwreck exhibits and do it all FREE!

Don't Forget

The Sanctuary is a great place to fish! Book a charter or head out on your own to catch salmon, lake trout, bass, lake whitefish, walleye, bluegill and more. Snap a few pictures and enter them in the summer-long National Marine Sanctuary Classic fishing photo contest!

When planning your visit, read up on some of the fascinating shipwrecks in the area to pick out your must-see list. Wrecks are found at depths ranging from 12 to 180 feet that appeal to a variety of diver skill levels, and wrecks in shallow waters can also be viewed from a kayak, glass-bottom boat tour or while snorkeling. Wreck divers will also enjoy our Underwater Graveyards Go List featuring other Great Lakes wreck diving sites and locations from around the country.

Get Started

Visit the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary website for more details about the variety of adventures to experience, things to learn and sights to see in the Sanctuary and the surrounding area of northeast Michigan.

Did You Know?

The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, also the Sanctuary’s visitor center, is the recipient of the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED)’s “Gold Level” green building certification.