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.
There are more than 100 lighthouses that you can visit in West Michigan. Learn more about each one, as well as the West Michigan Circle Tour, with WMTA’s Lighthouse Map. The 2018 edition of the map will be out in April, and you can request one here.
Here’s a taste of the lighthouses West Michigan has to offer:
Lighthouses in Southern West Michigan
The Heritage Museum & Cultural Center in St. Joseph runs tours of the St. Joe Lighthouse. This will be only the third season of tours, following an award-winning restoration of the North Pier Range Lights in St. Joseph. This spring, the center is also installing a new interpretive exhibit inside the lighthouse, with lots of great historic images, made possible by grants.
Also, the Heritage Museum & Cultural Center will feature a couple displays related to lighthouses, included with the free admission. Visitors can always stop by to see both of the original Fresnel lenses from St. Joe’s 1907 Lighthouses. The 2018 feature exhibition is Michigan Lighthouses: An Aerial Photographic Perspective, featuring the work of pilot and photographer John Wagner, opening on April 3rd.
For over 100 years, the historic South Haven lighthouse has guarded the entrance of the Black River. Thousands of South Haven lighthouse fan photos have circled the globe! Nearly 3,000 alone are posted on the photo-sharing website, Flickr.com. They have also been published in hundreds of other places around the world.
While visiting South Haven, make sure to check out the Michigan Maritime Museum! Experience the rich maritime heritage of the Great Lakes by visiting Michigan’s most distinguished institution of maritime research, preservation, and education.
Lighthouses in Central West Michigan
The Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association maintain four iconic Michigan Lighthouses here in West Michigan. The White River Light Station is located in Whitehall. Built in 1875 to direct boat traffic between Lake Michigan and White Lake, the lighthouse includes a small tower to climb, and exhibits detailing the lighthouse keepers and their families, along with regional maritime displays.
Alone on the eastern side of Lake Michigan, the light tower of the Little Point Sable appears out of place, almost surreal. Visitors are encouraged to climb the 130 stairs of the 115-foot tower, built in 1874. Those who climb will be able to see the original third-order Fresnel lens, which is still in operation today.
The Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse is situated at the end of the main street of Ludington. Located half a mile out on the north breakwater, this four-sided pyramidal tower has four round portholes on each of the three decks. Built in 1924, the lighthouse is accessible to visitors, who can shop in the gift shop located on the ground floor and climb up the tower to see Ludington’s million-dollar harbor.
The Big Sable Lighthouse is located in the Ludington State Park, just nine miles north of downtown Ludington. Visitors will walk the 1.8 miles through the dunes to visit the lighthouse, which was built in 1867. The 112-foot tower stands tall along with the four-bedroom keepers quarters. Visitors can stop by the gift shop, watch a historic video, enjoy the maritime displays, and then climb the tower. Many summer guests hike out and bring their lunch, as you can enjoy the wonderful beaches surrounding the lighthouse.
Located in Muskegon, the South Pierhead Light is 48 feet tall and gives visitors the unique feeling of traveling back in time. By going up two spiral staircases and a shipman’s ladder, this ironclad tower built in 1903 boasts unparalleled views from the lantern room at the tower top. Knowledgeable, passionate volunteer lighthouse keeper docents share the history of Muskegon’s lighthouses and other facets of the area’s maritime importance.
The Holland Harbor Lighthouse is an integral part of the history of Holland. Also known as the Big Red Lighthouse, it was built in 1872 and rebuilt in 1907. The first lighthouse keeper was Melgert van Regenmorter, appointed to service December 3rd, 1870, at an annual salary of $540. Pedestrian access is available from Memorial Day through Labor Day: Local residents are welcome on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and out-of-state travelers can visit Monday through Friday from 11am until sunset.
The Manistee North Pierhead Lighthouse is located in Manistee County on the west end of the north pier. The light was replaced in 1873 when the new structure was augmented with a combination fog signal and light tower at the end of the wooden north pier. To make access to the light safer during stormy weather, this new light was outfitted with an elevated wooden catwalk running from the shore to the light.
Established in 1839, two lights on the Grand Haven‘s south pier, both painted red, are connected by a lighted catwalk that also connects them to the shore and the Grand Haven Boardwalk. The inner light is cylindrical, and the foghouse outer light stands on a huge concrete foundation. People often enjoy a stroll along the boardwalk that borders the Grand River channel and the pier, making the Grand Haven lighthouses one of the most photographed lighthouses in the Midwest. The Grand Haven pier is also a popular spot for fishing and catching the sunset.
Lighthouses in Northern West Michigan
Journey out to Point Iroquois Lighthouse, which is approximately 20 minutes west of Sault Ste. Marie on the Lake Superior Shoreline. Lake Superior, the deepest and coldest of the Great Lakes, was especially hazardous in this area because of bad weather conditions and the numerous ships leaving and approaching the Sault Ste. Marie locks. The purpose of Point Iroquois Light Station was to guide freighters safely between the open waters of Whitefish Bay and the St. Mary’s River. From birch bark canoes to giant ore freighters, this unique point of land has influenced travel for centuries.
Lighthouse lovers will find plenty to see in Cheboygan. The historic Front Range Light, owned and operated by the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers, is open for tours as it undergoes restoration. This represents a unique opportunity for lighthouse lovers to view the restoration in progress. The lighthouse also features a gift shop stocked with a large assortment of Great Lakes lighthouse-related books, apparel, and gifts, with all proceeds to be applied directly to the restoration of the lighthouse. Arrangements can also be made to visit and enter the Cheboygan Crib Light with volunteers working at the lighthouse.
Two other lighthouses, Fourteen Foot Shoal and Poe Reef Light, can be seen from Cheboygan at Gordon Turner Park. In nearby Cheboygan State Park, a quick hike can take the curious to see the remains of the Cheboygan Main Light and some beautiful views of Duncan Bay and the Straits of Mackinac.
Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state in the United States, and the Traverse City area has several of them! Thanks to its history as a major port and its location on Grand Traverse Bay near the once-bustling Manitou Passage, Traverse City is a convenient base for exploring five historic lighthouses: Mission Point, Grand Traverse, South Manitou, North Manitou and Point Betsie. Best of all, four of the five can be easily visited and are open for tours, and two even allow visitors to try their hands at being volunteer lighthouse keepers.
Mission Point Lighthouse has been a Traverse City and Old Mission Peninsula icon for decades. Located at the end of a picturesque drive along M-37 through cherry orchards and vineyards, Mission Point Lighthouse stands as a classic piece of Michigan history. While it no longer guides mariners through West Grand Traverse Bay as it did from September 10th, 1870 until it was decommissioned in 1933, Mission Point Lighthouse now offers visitors a peek into what life was like around the turn of the century for lighthouse keepers
A visit to the Grand Traverse Lighthouse in Northport should be on your lighthouse bucket list. Enjoy a walk through the restored keeper’s dwelling, and climb the tower for a spectacular view of Lake Michigan, Cathead Bay, Grand Traverse Bay, and the Manitou Passage. You can tour the Fog Signal Building and new Shipwreck Exhibition, drive the Remote Operated Vehicle, and listen to the Fog Horn on Saturdays in the summer.
Whitefish Point is located at the extreme southeastern end of Lake Superior as part of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. It is a critical turning point for all vessel traffic entering and leaving this largest of all the Great Lakes. The Whitefish Point Light Station was established by Congress in 1849. Since then, the life-saving beacon has illuminated these dangerous waters for mariners continuously. Today, the Whitefish Point Light is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior. The present light tower was constructed in 1861, during Abraham Lincoln’s administration.
Michigan has more lighthouse than any other state, and the Straits of Mackinac area is home to more than a dozen of these historic navigational aids. In addition to Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse (1892) and McGulpin Point Lighthouse (1869), noted beacons include Round Island Light (1895) and St. Helena Island Light (1873). Shepler’s Ferry offers several ferry cruises to the offshore lights. With so many lighthouses, you’ll certainly need to block out time to see them all. Makes plans for an overnight stay in Mackinaw City, and begin mapping out your historic tour of the Straits area’s historic beacons.
Visit the Charlevoix South Pier Lighthouse in Charlevoix, built in 1948. The lighthouse is owned by the City of Charlevoix and maintained and preserved by the Charlevoix Historical Society, while the United States Coast Guard is responsible for the operation of the light itself.
Beaver Island offers some of the most remote lighthouses in Lake Michigan. Dating back to the mid-1800’s, these hidden gems are full of history and charm. The Beaver Island Boat Company, based out of Charlevoix, has your lighthouse adventure covered! With their 2018 season starting in mid-April, let them ferry you away to this former kingdom and explore unique island life. You’ll even catch a glimpse of the Whiskey Point Harbor Lighthouse as you make your way into St. James Harbor. The U.S. Lighthouse Association Passport Stamps are available for both of the lighthouses in their tour office as well.
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. Their 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