The picturesque shores of Michigan are where historic lighthouses stand tall, guiding ships for hundreds of years. Michigan has over 129 lighthouses that have withstood the test of time, embodying architectural marvels and cultural landmarks. Thousands of people around the globe have made hunting lighthouses a hobby, with vacationers looping the lake for generations. The official “Lake Michigan Circle Tour” is a route created in the 1980s with more than 100 lighthouses, countless islands, unique attractions, parks, and natural areas, miles of glorious beaches, quaint harbor towns, an internationally-recognized urban center, and one “modern marvel” – the Mackinac Bridge. The guidebook was transformed into a map in 2007, and the route can now be found online at Lake Michigan Circle Tour: Lighthouse Driving Itinerary.
For more aquatic fun in West Michigan, view our map of boating destinations here.
South West Michigan Lights and Specialty Ships
In St. Joseph, visitors can tour the remarkable North Pier Inner and Outer Lights Lighthouses! Have the unique opportunity to chat with the team of Lighthouse Docets and learn about the St.Joseph area’s rich maritime history. The tour includes an inside tour of the famous Inner Light that has been standing since and even explores the inside of the Inner Light, which was first lit in 1839.
One of the most charming aspects of Downtown South Haven is its proximity to the lakeshore. Visitors can enjoy food, shopping, and unique lodging options within a charming maritime district. In addition, the South Haven Lighthouse, built in 1872, is mere minutes from downtown and gives visitors an astounding view during sunset and any time of the day.
Central West Michigan Lights and Specialty Ships
Two iconic lighthouses welcome visitors to Ludington while keeping the harbor safe. Embark on a short pier walk to see the stunning North Breakwater Light up close at Stearns Park Beach. The historic Big Sable Lighthouse can be found at the Ludington State Park, where visitors can take a 1.8-mile walk to view it or take a bus on scheduled days. The Sable Point Lighthouse Keepers are an integral part of keeping the history of the lighthouses alive and have various educational and volunteer opportunities available, including tours.
Cross Lake Michigan on the SS Badger, a passenger steamship and car ferry offering daily crossings as well as monthly shoreline cruises from the Ludington port. Stretch your legs on the open-air deck, enjoy a meal on board, and don’t miss Badger BINGO in the lounge. Find recreational activities in Manitowoc upon your arrival in Wisconsin for a Midwest getaway. The S.S. Badger also features a Mini Cruise Special and one-night Shoreline Cruises!
Grand Haven’s beautiful beaches stretch along Lake Michigan and boast two lights on the south pier. Beautifully both painted red, the lighthouses are connected by a lighted catwalk. The picture-perfect pier is a well-known landmark and a stunning spot to watch the sunset from the beach, pier, or boat.
The S.S. Milwaukee Clipper in Muskegon is a national historic landmark that is the oldest remaining passenger ship on the Great Lakes. The Clipper hosts various events and tours throughout the summer as well as hosting numerous volunteer opportunities to restore the great ship.
The Aquastar is another specialty ship with a rich history in Muskegon of touring both Muskegon Lake and the Gold Coast of Lake Michigan. Go to Muskegon Lake and set sail around the lake and on into Lake Michigan for a number of delightful watery cruises throughout the summer. Cruises include enjoyable afternoon tours and stunning sunset cruises as well as themed cruises.
The USS Silversides Submarine Museum and the USS LST 393 Veterans Museum are both historic ships and museums in Muskegon that will leave visitors with a fresh perspective. The Submarine museum features a Gato-Class World War II Submarine. Visitors receive the opportunity to see what life is like in a sub as well as the history surrounding it. Groups can even stay in the sub overnight. The USS LST 393 museum gives visitors the opportunity to tour one of America’s last two LSTs (Landing Ship Tank) of the 1,051 built during World War II. Marvel at state-of-the-art technology circa 1942. See the uniforms, weapons, and equipment of the men who rode LST 393 to invasions of Sicily, Italy, and D-Day in France.
Big Red in Holland, Michigan, is a three-story square tower building standing sentinel over the channel connecting Lake Macatawa and Lake Michigan. The iconic lighthouse has a long and rich history dating back to the first wooden beacon light built on the site in 1870. The structure made many evolutions: from a steel tower to a fog signal building to its final form as the electric lighthouse locals know and love. The narrow channel that Big Red illuminates today would never have been a reality without the determination of Dutch settlers to create an agricultural port in Lake Macatawa. The settlers took up their own picks and shovels and dug a channel to Lake Michigan themselves. Visiting Big Red is a remarkable adventure, with a dune staircase carrying visitors 157 feet above sea level to a breathtaking panorama of the shoreline. A favorite stroll for visitors and locals alike is a path that skirts Lake Macatawa and the channel, ending at Holland State Park’s north pier is the best place to view Big Red.
North West Michigan Lights and Specialty Ships
Mission Point Lighthouse in Traverse City offers visitors a peek into what life was like around the turn of the century for lighthouse keepers and for others who lived and worked in the area at the time. Mission Point is open nearly every day from ten to five. Climb to the top of the lighthouse for a small fee and don’t forget to check out the second-floor museum.
Applesauce Inn B&B in Bellaire is partnering with Foxy’s Custom Cruises to offer their guests the package of their dreams! This special package includes a 2-night stay at a local B&B, excellent breakfasts each morning, and on Tuesday, a 2-hour evening river pontoon cruise including a charcuterie tray and a bottle of Torch Lake Cellars wine. This package is only available for select dates. Make sure to call the B&B to book your room today.
Viewing a lighthouse by boat is something on every Michigander’s bucket list. Although Harbor Springs Lighthouse in the Petoskey area is located in a private association, visitors can view this historic lighthouse when passing by water – boat, kayak, paddleboard, etc. Take a trip on the Little Traverse Bay Ferry, arriving or departing from Harbor Springs, and visitors will get a glimpse of the lighthouse. Little Traverse Bay offers many more fishing options, such as a fly float fishing trip on the Jordan River and more!
The historic 1931 car ferry, S.S. The City of Milwaukee is open for guided tours throughout the summer. The ferry features overnight stays aboard the ship, private events, and even a gift shop! The USCGC Acacia is also open for self-guided tours. Two beautiful museum ships in one spot, right on U.S. 31 in Manistee, MI.
Point Betsie Lighthouse in Frankfort has been operating continuously since 1858, safely guiding mariners on Lake Michigan. Visitors can tour the lighthouse, visit the gift shop, and can even reserve the Keepers Quarters and stay the night!
Upper Peninsula Lights
The Keweenaw Peninsula features eight lighthouses located on the Peninsula and seven in Isle Royale National Park off the shore of the Keweenaw. Take a self-guided tour of the region and admire historic lighthouses that continue to serve as critical navigational guides for freighters traveling through Lake Superior.
Get a breathtaking view of the Upper Peninsula and visit the five lighthouses Marquette County offers. From the Big Bay Point Lighthouse, situated between Marquette and the Keweenaw Portage Entry to the Stannard Rock Lighthouse dubbed the “loneliest place in America,” these historic monuments provide breathtaking views of Lake Superior and the U.P. Area.
Combine Michigan history with mystery by cracking open one of the riveting books – Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses and Death & Lighthouses on the Great Lakes are filled with colorful accounts dating back to the early 1800s. If you’re a paranormal and true crime fan, these titles are perfect! Order your autographed copies – and find out where Dianna from Promote Michigan will speak about these and other topics here.