Destinations

Exploring Michigan Lighthouses – A Trip Into The Past

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Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state in the country. And no wonder, with almost 3300 miles of shoreline along the four of the Great Lakes, they were needed, and are still used, to keep the waters safe. Now, even though there are GPS and other electronic navigational aids, many of them are still active. The state has 129 lighthouses, out of over 200 on all of the Great Lakes. And they are scattered along the shorelines, or are placed on islands, or on shoals. They are all unique in shape and often have interesting history. And this is what make exploring Michigan lighthouses fun!

Exploring Michigan Lighthouses
Big Red – Holland Harbor Lighthouse in Holland on Lake Michigan

Michigan Lighthouses

These are the numbers of lighthouse in Michigan on each of the Great Lakes:

  • 12 on Lake Erie
  • 35 on Lake Huron
  • 44 on Lake Michigan
  • 38 on Lake Superior.

They come in different shapes and sizes depending on the time when they were built, and the requirements for its location. Some are in a form of traditional tall, round tower. Like for example the Little Sable Lighthouse at Silver Lake, or Big Sable Lighthouse in Ludington State Park. Others are short and squatty. Like the Ludington North Pierhead Lighthouse, or Old Presque Isle Light on Lake Huron north of Alpena. Yet others are in a form of a short tower on top of the building. Like Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinac City. The newer ones are mostly metal. Since they never needed an in-house attendant, they are smaller. Like, for example, the Muskegon South Breakwater Lighthouse.

Point Betsie Lighthouse
Point Betsie Lighthouse on Lake Michigan, north of Frankfort.

Decommissioned Lighthouses

While most of them are still active, several have been decommissioned. Most, but not all, of the inactive ones are located off shore, on the lakes. Some of the noteworthy decommissioned lighthouses are:

  • Waugoshance on Lake Michigan, few miles west of Wilderness State Park. It was built in 1851, and was the first of the lighthouses built off the shore and on a lake. If you would like to see it, the easiest way is to take Shepler’s westbound lighthouse cruise out of Mackinac City.
  • Old Presque Isle on Lake Huron, just several miles north of Alpena. This one is easily accessible by car.
  • Charity Island is another inactive lighthouse. The Charity Island is located in Saginaw Bay and can only be accessed by boat.
  • Grand Island Harbor lighthouse is another one of the decommissioned ones. Currently, privately owned is not open to public. Yet, its photo might look familiar. It is often featured in autumn images from the Upper Peninsula.

There are few more, especially in the Upper Peninsula.

Exploring Michigan Lighthouses
Old Presque Isle Lighthouse on Lake Huron, north of Alpena; one of the no longer active lighthouses.

A Little History

The oldest lighthouse in Michigan is Fort Gratiot, which has been in operation since 1825. It was the first lighthouse on Lake Huron. It is only three years younger than the Marblehead Lighthouse in Ohio, which is the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes. However, the lighthouse that stands today is not the original one. The one that was built in 1825 collapsed in 1828 after a severe storm. Then it was rebuilt in 1829, in a new location. Originally, it was 65 ft tall, but it was later, in 1860s, extended to its present height of 82 ft.

The Robert Manning Lighthouse, located in Empire, MI, was established in 1991, and is the youngest of Michigan lighthouses. It was privately built by the family of Robert, after his death.

The Whitefish Point Light Station is the oldest on Lake Superior. It was built in 1861.

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse
Eagle Harbor Lighthouse on Lake Superior in Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Peninsula

Exploring Michigan Lighthouses – Accessibility

Many of the Michigan lighthouses are accessible only by boat. I counted over forty. So, seeing all of them would be difficult, unless you have access to a boat that can run on the Great Lakes. However, in few places there are tour boats that provide tours to see some of these lighthouses. As I mentioned above, there are tours by Shepler’s from Mackinac City, that allow you to see some of the Lake Michigan lighthouses located off the shore. Additionally, there is a Pictured Rocks tour during which you can view the Grand Island Harbor lighthouse. And, you can also view the North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse from a tour boat to South and North Manitou Islands out of Charlevoix.

However, the access to most of the lighthouses is a lot easier. You can get to them by car. And many of them are opened in the warm season for visitation and tours. You need to check if they are opened though. Especially, if you plan on visiting them early or late in the season. Unfortunately, they are all managed by different entities, and open for the season and close after, at different times.

Explore Michigan Lighthouses
One of these lighthouses that can be accessed only by boat – North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse on Lake Michigan near North Manitou Island.

Worth Exploring Michigan Lighthouses on Lake Huron

  • Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse – located at the eastern tip of the Thumb area, it is one of the tall, round lighthouses. When open, you can climb the stairs to the top and enjoy the extensive view of Lake Huron and shoreline. There is also a small museum and gift shop there… Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse
  • Tawas Point – located in northern Michigan just east of East Tawas, on Lake Huron. The lighthouse is another one in the typical round, tall lighthouses. There is also a keeper’s house connected to it. When open, you can climb to the top for an amazing view of Tawas Bay and Lake Huron. Michigan History Center – Tawas Point Lighthouse Visitor Information
  • Sturgeon Point – yet another one of the tall, round lighthouses with the keeper’s house attached, located on Lake Huron, few miles north of Harrisville. The lighthouse is open to the public in season. Visit Alpena – Sturgeon Point Lighthouse
  • Old Presque Isle – is located on southern end of Presque Isle in Northern Michigan. It is round, but not tall, at only 30 feet. Old Presque Isle Light is one of the older lighthouses. It was built in 1840. However, when open, you can climb the stair to the top. Additionally, there are few other attractions on the grounds, like the Lansing old city hall bell. Presque Isle Township Museum Society – The Lighthouses at Presque Isle
  • New Presque Isle – located in the northern part of Presque Isle. The lighthouse it s typical tall, round structure with the attached keeper’s house. In season, you can climb to the top. There is also a museum. Presque Isle Township Museum Society – The Lighthouses at Presque Isle
  • Old Mackinac Point – is located at the tip of Lower Peninsula in Mackinaw City, just east of Mackinac Bridge. This lighthouse is not in a typical form. It is a stocky, short tower and a relatively big building next to it. You can visit the tower and museum, in season. Mackinac State Historic Parks – Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
Tawas Point Lighthouse
Tawas Point Lighthouse on Lake Huron in Tawas Point State Park

Worth Exploring Michigan Lighthouses on Lake Michigan

  • McGulpin Point – located in Mackinaw City, 3 miles west of Fort Michilimackinac. It is not a typical tall tower lighthouse, instead, it is a short, hexagonal tower extending out of a keeper’s house. It is open to public in warm season. McGulpin Point
  • Mission Point – located at the tip of Mission Peninsula, north of Traverse City. This is another of the small lighthouses. This one is barely extending from the roof of the keeper’s house. Mission Point Lighthouse
  • Grand Traverse – located at the tip of Leelanau Peninsula. It is again a building with a little tower, barely extending from the roof. There is also a museum and a gift shop there. Open in season. Grand Traverse Lighthouse
  • Point Betsie Lighthouse – located few miles north of Frankfort. This lighthouse is a stocky, round tower with a building next to it, and few more nearby. The lighthouse can be toured in season. You can also stay in the keeper’s quarters overnight, but it’s NOT cheap! Point Betsie Lighthouse
  • Big Sable Point – located few miles north of Ludington in Ludington State Park. You cannot get to the lighthouse by car. Instead, you need to hike for about 2 miles. The lighthouse is open to public in season. S.P.L.K.A. – Big Sable Point Lighthouse
  • Ludington North Breakwater Light – is located in Ludington. It is a short, stocky steel plated lighthouse located at the end of the a concrete pier that you can walk on. The lighthouse can be visited in season. S.P.L.K.A. – Ludington North Breakwater Light
  • Little Sable Point – located just south of Silver Lake State Park, it is a typical tall, round tower lighthouse, seated at the edge of beautiful beach. Open to visitors during warm season. S.P.L.K.A. – Little Sable Point Lighthouse
  • White River – located on a little peninsula between White Lake and Lake Michigan, southwest of Whitehall. It is a keeper’s house with a small hexagonal tower. S.P.L.K.A. – White River Light Station
  • Grand Haven – located in Grand Haven. There are two lights on the south pier, both painted red. They are connected by a lighted catwalk that also connects them to the shore. The lighthouses, themselves, are not open for touring, but you can walk the pier, and enjoy the beach. It is one of the most photographed lighthouses in Great Lakes region. Grand Haven Area – Lighthouses & Pier
  • Big Red Lighthouse – located in Holland, MI. Officially, known as Holland Harbor lighthouse. This is a unique, red rectangular building with a square red tower extending. It seats on the south side of the channel connecting Lake Macatawa with Lake Michigan. It is another one of the most photographed lighthouses. It is surrounded by private land, and therefore parking lot is about a mile away. Big Red – Holland Historic Lighthouse
  • South Haven – located in South Haven at the end of a long pier, at the entrance to Black River. It is open to visitors during the warm season. You can walk the pier at anytime, when the lake is not too rough. There is also a great beach right there. South Haven Light
  • St. Joseph North Pier and Outer lighthouses – located in Saint Joseph on the north pier at the entrance to St. Joseph River. There are two lighthouses. The lighthouse building can be only visited with a tour. Southwest Michigan – St. Joseph Lighthouse
South Haven Light
South Haven Lighthouse and pier on Lake Michigan in South Haven in southwestern Michigan

Worth Exploring Michigan Lighthouses on Lake Superior

  • Point Iroquois – located in the eastern Upper Peninsula, about 20 miles west of Sault Ste Marie. It is a typical tall, round tower with an extensive building next to it. In short summer season, you can climb the tower and visit a museum. USDA Forest Service – Point Iroquois Lighthouse
  • Whitefish Point – located on the northeastern part of Upper Peninsula is not the original, but much modern tall steel structure, even though it was build in 1861. There also is an extensive Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum on the grounds. The lighthouse and the museum are open in season. Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum – Whitefish Point Light Station
  • Crisp Point Lighthouse – located about 15 miles west of Whitefish Point, this is yet another of typical tall, round lighthouses. Open to visitors in season. Crisp Point Lighthouse
  • Au Sable Point – located within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, about 12 miles west of Grand Marais. This is another typical, tall round lighthouse. There is also a keeper’s house. To visit this lighthouse, you have to hike a 1.5 mile trail (one way). NPS Pictured Rocks – Au Sable Light Station
  • Eagle Harbor Lighthouse and Museum – located in the northern part of Keweenaw Peninsula in Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This one is in a form of short hexagonal tower extending from a keeper’s house. In summer season, you can visit the lighthouse and museum. Keweenaw County Historical Society – The Eagle Harbor Lighthouse
Whitefish Point Shipwreck Museum
Whitefish Point Lighthouse and Shipwreck Museum on Lake Superior

Final Thoughts

Michigan has so many interesting lighthouses that are worth visiting, that it would be difficult to see all of them on one trip. Therefore, if you plan on visiting some, you should stick to one shoreline, or at least, one peninsula, if you don’t want to spend too much time in your vehicle driving. Furthermore, many of them have small museums. So, if you don’t want to rush, you should plan on seeing no more than two lighthouses in a day.

Additionally, as I have mentioned before, they are all operated by different entities, and therefore, their seasons when they are open are different, and so are their hours. So, check before you go.

Furthermore, expect to pay a small fee to visit any of them.

Many places, where these lighthouses are located, are interesting small coastal towns, state parks, or beautiful beaches. So, there is a lot more to enjoy besides visiting a lighthouse. Therefore, you should take your time.

I hope you will enjoy your lighthouse trip!

Round Island Lighthouse
Round Island Lighthouse on Lake Huron south of Mackinac Island

Resources

Mi Place – Lighthouse Resources

Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association

GLLKA – Michigan Lighthouse Map

Port Huron Museums – Fort Gratiot Lighthouse

Clarke Historical Library – Lighthouses

Little Sable Point Lighthouse

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Other posts that are related to Michigan lighthouses and maritime history that might be of interest:

Edmund Fitzgerald Museum Exhibits

Be A Lighthouse Keeper

Rich S. is a lifetime photographer and traveler based in Metro Detroit area. He has been traveling the Great Lakes area for over 30 years. Follow his blog about his trips, interesting activities and destinations in the Great Lakes region.

2 Comments

  1. Michael Hardy

    March 19, 2022 at 4:49 AM

    Interesting post. I wrote several articles about Charity Island. THat light tower needs to be restored. I have pictures.

    Charity Island History Is Mysterious And Remote https://thumbwind.com/2021/06/11/charity-island-history/

    Explorer Charters – Lighthouse Viewing & Charity Island Cruises Each Summer
    https://thumbwind.com/2021/06/21/charity-island-cruise/

    • Rich S.

      March 19, 2022 at 3:54 PM

      Thank you, Michael. Charity Island lighthouse is on my list to visit, maybe even this year. I read somewhere in the past, maybe in a brochure while visiting the Thumb area, about the cruises. Now, I learned more from your detailed and interesting articles about the island and the way to get there.

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