Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Location: Alpeena, Michigan

Webpage: NOAA Marine Sanctuary

General Description: Located in northwestern Lake Huron, Thunder Bay is adjacent to one of the most treacherous stretches of water within the Great Lakes system. Unpredictable weather, murky fog banks, sudden gales, and rocky shoals earned the area the name “Shipwreck Alley.”  Today, the 4300-square-mile Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary protects one of America’s best-preserved and nationally-significant collections of shipwrecks. Fire, ice, collisions, and storms have claimed over 200 vessels in and around Thunder Bay. To date, nearly 100 shipwrecks have been discovered within the sanctuary. Although the sheer number of shipwrecks is impressive, it is the range of vessel types located in the sanctuary that makes the collection nationally significant. From an 1844 sidewheel steamer to a modern 500-foot-long German freighter, the shipwrecks of Thunder Bay represent a microcosm of maritime commerce and travel on the Great Lakes.


1) The museum in Lapeena is truly an impressive museum to the history of Shipwreck Alley.  Among the exhibits is a view of the restoration and preservation process used to stabilize artifacts recovered from the many shipwrecks, a reconstruction of a Great Lakes steamer in the throes of a storm, a large sample of the artifacts recovered from the SS Pewabic, descriptions of some of the shipwrecks that have been located, many hands-on exhibit for children, and short videos about the shipwrecks and history of the sanctuary for adults.

2) Along the inner shore of the harbor outside the museum is a riverwalk with many interpretive signs and murals on the sides of the old pulp mill.  This is a pleasant walk and should not be missed.


3) You can also purchase tickets for tours of some of the shipwrecks on a glass bottom boat at the museum.  Unfortunately, the weather forecast was for afternoon storms, so the boat was not operating while we were there.