On the road again: Grayling

By Steve Ellis

Michael Sloat Hartwick was Grayling’s first settler and built a log hotel near the railroad tracks. The railroad company platted out 40 acres near the hotel. Grayling had various names through the years. It was called “AuSable”, “Forest”, “Crawford Station”, and during the lumbering era, “Milltown.”

Fish in the nearby rivers were identified as grayling fish. Residents preferred the name Grayling to the others and renamed the area after the fish.

Grayling’s proximity to the Au Sable and Manistee Rivers and the vast forests around it made it important in the lumber era.

The Grayling Fish Hatchery was founded in 1914 by timber baron Rasmus Hanson. His goal was to restore the grayling fish to the Au Sable river system; ironically its disappearance was caused, in part, by the massive destruction caused by logging. Sadly, the grayling became extinct in Michigan. The hatchery is now privately owned but is still open to the public and is a popular tourist attraction.

In 1916, Hanson donated 13,826 acres of cut-over land in Crawford County to the state of Michigan for use as a forest game preserve and military reservation. This land became the first state-owned game preserve. The area south of Lake Margrethe (named after Hanson’s wife) continues to be used as a National Guard base.

With its lakes, rivers and forests, Grayling became a popular tourist destination for the multitudes of Detroit area folks heading up north for year-round recreation.

Since 1947, Grayling has been the starting point of the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon which is held every year on the last weekend of July. This is the longest nonstop canoe race in North America.

This past September, I headed up to Grayling for a couple great days of hiking, golf, disc golf and kayaking with old friends.

On the way into town, we stopped at Wimpy’s for lunch on M-72. It is hard to miss the large, colorful barn-shaped building that has been serving up great burgers, hot dogs and ice cream treats since 1976.

We stayed at Finley’s Riverside Cabins right on the Au Sable River, just a short walk to downtown Grayling. The large rooms were clean and modern, and Phil and Brenda were great hosts.

We enjoyed our visit to Hartwick Pines State Park, just north of town, hiking the moderate 3.2-mile AuSable River Trail, through rows of ancient pines. On our next visit we plan to add the 1.2-mile Old Growth Forest Trail to our plans.

A local friend of ours met us for dinner, suggesting the famous Spike’s Keg ’O’ Nails. Owner Harold “Spike“ MacNevin opened Spike’s the day after prohibition ended in 1933 and it has been serving up great food and drinks ever since. They are known for their burgers, and we were not disappointed.

The Rolling Oak Brewing Co. was recommended for good local beer, which we enjoyed over games of corn hole. The brewery is located in a century-old building that was once an icehouse that kept ice packed in sawdust from Lake Margrethe. The beer and corn hole enticed us back the following night.

Across from the brewery we noticed Goodale’s Bakery, one of the largest and most popular bakeries in the state. We struggled to make our sweet tooth choices because of their huge selection of donuts, pastries and breads. We stopped every morning for donuts and one day even returned for lunch to feast on a chicken pasty, smothered with homemade gravy. The Rolling Oak Brewery supports the bakery with their special Donut Beer.

Downtown Grayling offers some interesting and unique businesses including the classic Rialto Theatre, Rotten Princess Records and Tip’n the Mitten with great Michigan items.

We enjoyed omelettes at the Grayling Restaurant on Main Street, where they’ve been serving up great meals since 1937. Another morning, we chose the nearby Westside Diner, which was very good.

The Harrison Hills Recreation Area, near downtown, sports a fun 18-hole disc golf course and the challenging Treetops Resort in Gaylord kept us on searching for our balls on the tough course that is one of the best in Michigan.

If you enjoy kayaking, Carlisle Canoe Livery offers a scenic, leisurely 2 1/2-hour kayak ride down the AuSable River. We rented kayaks for $30 each and peacefully floated down the slow river.

Grayling proved to be the perfect place to enjoy our favorite pastimes, golf, kayaking, good food, craft beer and more!

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