The history of West Michigan and the Great Lakes is rich with lighthouses. They have lit the way for boats on the Great Lakes for decades, and many still stand as historic landmarks, maintained by groups of dedicated lighthouse keepers. These keepers have made it possible for the public to still view these tremendous beacons, and even explore the interiors of some. Today, lighthouses continue to be a highlight for many West Michigan travelers. Here’s a taste of the lighthouses West Michigan has to offer:
The Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association (SPLKA) welcomes the public to climb and explore four iconic Western Michigan Lighthouses. SPLKA is the caretaker of the White River Light Station located in Whitehall, the Little Sable Point Lighthouse located in the Silver Lake State Park, the Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse located at the end of downtown Ludington and the Big Sable Lighthouse located in the Ludington State Park.
Visitors to the White River Light Station are able to explore the maritime museum, climb the short tower to view both Lake Michigan and White Lake, and even picnic on the beautiful grounds that surround the light station. The Little Sable Point Lighthouse is located on the beach at the halfway point between the Michigan/Indiana border and the Straits of Mackinac in Mears. The tower is 115 feet tall and 130 steps up to magnificent views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding sand dunes.
Ludington is home to two wonderful lighthouses, the North Breakwater Lighthouse and Big Sable Point Lighthouse. The North Breakwater Lighthouse is Ludington’s focal point, and a great place to watch the sunset and the S.S. Badger car ferry as it cruises out onto Lake Michigan. The breakwall leading out to the light is a popular venue for fishermen and those who enjoy walking the mile-long round trip. Travel seven miles north and you’ll find the Big Sable Point Lighthouse. This 112 foot lighthouse at the Ludington State Park stands proudly on the shores of Lake Michigan. There’s two more lighthouses to add to your ever-expanding list of beacons to check out!
Admission to each lighthouse of the Sable Point Lighthouse Keeper Associations’ lighthouses is $5 for adults and $2 for Children 12 and under. They offer an “All Access Pass” which entitles the holder to view all four of the lights for one low price. These passes sell for $15 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. They are available from the SPLKA office at 231-845-7417 or at any of their four lights.
Thanks to its location on the shores of Grand Traverse Bay near the once-bustling Manitou Passage (a time-saving but frequently hazardous route between the mainland and the mysterious Manitou Islands), Traverse City is a convenient base for exploring five historic lighthouses, all located in a relatively compact area. Best of all, four of the five can be easily visited: three are open for tours, and one even allows visitors to spend a week or two in residence as volunteer lighthouse keepers.
The most easily accessible of the Traverse City area’s lighthouses is the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. Located at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, near the village of Northport, it is one of the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes, guiding ships through the northern entrance to the Manitou Passage for 150 years. Some 45 miles to the south near the town of Frankfort, the Point Betsie Lighthouse, named “the second most photographed lighthouse in the United States,” marks the lower entrance of the Passage. Built in 1858, its brightly-colored buildings are clustered in a scenic dune area at the very edge of the surf. The picturesque Mission Point Lighthouse was built in 1870 to warn ships away from the dangerous shoals extending into Grand Traverse Bay at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, but was replaced by an offshore beacon in 1933. The lighthouse is open for tours (and also has a popular volunteer lighthouse-keeper program) and is the centerpiece of an attractive park with popular beaches, historical exhibits and extensive hiking and skiing trails, and is a popular destination with visitors and locals alike. Even more picturesque, but somewhat less accessible, the South Manitou Island Lighthouse can only be reached in summer, after a 1.5-hour ferryboat ride from the Lake Michigan port of Leland. Just a few miles away, is the North Manitou Island Shoal Lighthouse, which is unfortunately not open to visitors. Built in 1935 to mark an unusual and dangerous shoal, it stands by itself in the middle of the water. For 42 years this artificial island was home to a three-man Coast Guard crew who rotated on a three-week schedule (two weeks on and one week off) during the navigational season.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Sault Ste Marie has become one of Michigan’s most popular destinations in the cultural tourism industry, attracting over 75,000 visitors each season. The museum is open every day May 1st to October 31st, from 10am to 6pm. Museum patrons learn about the perils of maritime transport on the Great Lakes at the Whitefish Point Light Station, a Historic Site on the National Register of Historic Places.
Once owned by the United States Coast Guard, the Charlevoix South Pier Light Station is an iconic feature overlooking Lake Michigan. Visitors to the Charlevoix Area can access the lighthouse directly from the boardwalk along the Pine River Channel, accessed directly from downtown Charlevoix.
Muskegon has two lighthouses that need to be on your “must visit” list. The Muskegon South Pierhead Light is available for tour on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays in June as part of the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy. North of the Muskegon South Pierhead Light is the White River Light Station. Situated between White Lake and Lake Michigan, this light has its own museum where they preserve the rich, nautical history of Michigan! Browse the many 19th and early 20th century photographs and examine their collection of nautical artifacts. These two lighthouses in Muskegon are sure to be a hit for any enthusiast.
Lighthouses Near West Michigan
The Michigan City Historical Society invites you to visit the Old Lighthouse Museum. This is the oldest remaining lighthouse in Indiana. Located in Michigan City, Indiana, you can tour this historic 1858 lighthouse and even climb the tower into the lantern room. See the museum’s exhibits, including one about Lake Michigan shipwrecks. This collection of picture postcards commemorates the Eastland Disaster, the tragic sinking of a steamship bound for Michigan City’s Washington Park from Chicago in 1915. The Old Lighthouse Museums is easily worth the trip to see for yourself this piece of lighthouse history.
There are more than 100 other lighthouses that you can visit in West Michigan. Learn more about each one as well as the West Michigan Circle Tour through WMTA’s Lighthouse Map
2017 Lighthouse Information
The Big Sable Point Lighthouse is even celebrating a big birthday this year! The Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Ludington invites you to stay August 25th, 26th, and 27th, as they commemorate the Big Sable Point Lighthouse’s 150th Anniversary. In honor of this historic event, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites has offers so that you can book early and save, giving you more reason to travel north for Big Sable’s 150th year!