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With 3,200 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, it makes sense that Michigan has more lighthouses – 129 – than any other state in the country. Many Michigan lighthouses are open to the public, have museum exhibits, and allow a climb to the top of the tower. Some of them are still active navigational aids.
Michigan Lighthouses on Lake Michigan
Big Sable Point Lighthouse
- The Michigan lighthouse: 1867, conical brick with metal sheathing
- Address: Ludington State Park, 8800 W M116, Ludington, MI 49431
- What’s special: The ghost of keeper Henry Vavrina
- Rate: No fee for the stay; there are membership and application fees
It’s an almost two-mile hike to this striking, 112-foot tower. The remoteness of Big Sable Point Lighhouse offers a hint of the isolation experienced by lightkeepers and their families. One of those keepers, the late Henry Vavrina, has made his ghostly presence known to multiple volunteers who share tales of his antics in a video on the lighthouse’s website.
The keeper’s quarters, with two living rooms, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and kitchen, accommodates six or seven volunteers at one time. A two-week commitment is required between mid-April and mid-November. Duties include greeting guests, tower tours, gift shop duties, and light maintenance indoors and out. Membership in Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association is required.
Must do: Drive on mountains of sand in an off-road vehicle (yours or a rental) at the designated, 450-acre scramble area of Silver Lake dunes. Or hop on one of Mac Wood’s Dune Rides for the rare chance to roll across these natural wonders.
Grand Traverse Lighthouse
- The Michigan lighthouse: 1858 dwelling with square rooftop light
- Address: Leelanau State Park, 15500 N. Lighthouse Point Road, Northport, MI 49670
- What’s special: Ornate garden planter and other stone creations by 1920s Keeper McCormick
- Rate: $200 per person per week
At the tip of Michigan’s Little Finger, the light atop the red-roofed, gleaming white Cream City brick structure replaced the original, 1852 light, and guided vessels traveling the tricky Manitou Passage, as well as traffic heading into Grand Traverse Bay, until 1972, when an automated beacon was installed. The lightkeeper’s home is a museum furnished as it would have been in the 1930s, and the tower is open to climb for views from 103 feet above Lake Michigan.
Up to four keepers stay in the two-bedroom, two-level apartment. They greet visitors, provide information, staff the gift shop and handle light housekeeping duties six days a week, from April through October. In the off-season (November through March), keepers at Grand Traverse Lighthouse work three days and pay $100. Additional days are available at $25 per person per day.
Must do: Sip your way through some of the 23 wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail.
Mission Point Lighthouse
- The Michigan lighthouse: 1870, square, integrated in dwelling
- Address: 20500 Center Road, Traverse City, MI 49686
- What’s special: At the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and North Pole
- Rate: $200 per week per couple, or $370 for a two-week stay
It’s a lovely, 18-mile drive past vineyards and cherry orchards to the tip of Old Mission Peninsula and Mission Point Lighthouse. Located in a county park, the white, wooden structure is surrounded by woods, trails, and the rocky beach. Visitors to this Michigan Lighthouse museum enjoy exhibits, the 37-step tower climb, gift shop, and a peek inside the historic Hessel log house, which was moved to the site as an example of cabins built by early settlers.
A team of two volunteer keepers greets visitors, handles the gift shop, and performs light maintenance duties indoors and out, six days a week for one or two weeks, from April through November. An off-season stay of three days or more is possible from December through April at $75 per night.
Must do: Sample the fruit of the vine at the 10 wineries along the Old Mission Peninsula Wine Trail.
Point Betsie Lighthouse
- The Michigan lighthouse: 1858 cylindrical tower
- Address: 3701 Point Betsie Road, Frankfort, MI 49635
- What’s special: The last Michigan lighthouse to be automated, in 1983
- Rate: $3,495 per week
Still active as a navigational aid, the Point Betsie Lighthouse offers guided tours of the original keeper’s home, including the 34-step climb to the top of the tower. Both were built of Cream City brick, and the photogenic structure has a distinctive, red gambrel roof. The compound includes the fog signal building, Boathouse Museum, and gift shop.
The keeper’s quarters is a comfortable, freshly decorated two-bedroom, one-bath apartment with full kitchen and sitting room with sofa bed. It accommodates up to six guests for weekly rental from Mid-May through mid-October at the rate of $3,495. Shorter stays are possible in May, September and October at $550 per night.
Must do: Tackle the massive Dune Climb, hike the trails, and take in spectacular views along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse
- The Michigan lighthouse: 1857 cylindrical brick tower
- Address: Lighthouse County Park, 7320 Lighthouse Road, Port Hope, MI 48468
- What’s special: First female lightkeeper in Michigan
- Rate: $100 per person per week
Located near the tip of mitten-shaped Michigan’s Thumb, this 89-foot tower is one of the oldest continuously active lights on the Great lakes. The original light at this site was the first in Michigan to be operated by a woman. In 1849 Catherine Shook, the widow of lightkeeper Peter, assumed his duties while raising their eight children, and may be the ghost said to visit the Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse compound. This stretch of Lake Huron is the graveyard for at least 105 vessels, and a destination for divers who explore 22 wrecks protected by the Thumb Area Bottomland Preserve.
Volunteer keepers in teams of two or four stay in the 1908 assistant keeper’s home. In addition to docent duties, keepers staff the gift shop and handle light housekeeping six days a week for a minimum of one week, from June through September.
Must do: Kayak to Turnip Rock, a limestone formation carved by the waves to resemble the root vegetable. It’s been nationally recognized as a geological wonder and is accessible only by water.
Tawas Point Lighthouse
- The Michigan lighthouse: 1876 conical brick tower
- Address: Tawas State Park, 686 Tawas Beach Road East Tawas, MI 48730
- What’s special: Watch the sunrise over Lake Huron and set over Tawas Bay
- Rate: $250 per person per two-week stay
Why is this Michigan lighthouse surrounded not by water but by grass, a mile and a half from the Great Lake traffic it was built to guide? When constructed in 1876, Tawas Point Lighthouse stood at the end of Tawas Point, but over the decades Lake Huron moved enough sand to create a new spit, rendering the lighthouse too far from shore to be of navigational use; an automated light now marks the entrance to Tawas Bay. It’s 85 steps to the top of the tower and the views of the area called the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.”
Teams of four volunteer keepers are housed in the Victorian-era dwelling and offer tours and handle light housekeeping duties six days a week for a minimum of two weeks, from mid-May through mid-October.
Must do: Drive the River Road Scenic Byway to take in the views and learn about the area’s logging history.
Michigan Lighthouses on Lake Superior
Big Bay Point Lighthouse
- The Michigan lighthouse: 1896, square red brick
- Address: 4674 County Road KCB, Big Bay, MI 49808
- What’s special: Serenity massage in a secluded hut 30 feet above Lake Superior
- Rate: $205 (forest view) to $425 (lake view) per night
Still an active navigational aid, Big Bay Point Lighthouse is located 25 miles north of Marquette, the largest city in the Upper Peninsula. Surrounded by 40 acres of woods and perched high above Lake Superior, the inn welcomes adult guests from May to mid-November to its seven richly decorated rooms, some with fireplaces. All have private baths, and guests may climb the tower for expansive views 120 feet above the water.
Must do: Hang out at the scene of the crime in Big Bay, where a shooting at the Lumberjack Tavern inspired the 1959 movie starring James Stewart and Lee Remick.
Eagle River Lighthouse
- The Michigan lighthouse: 1858, square tower integrated into dwelling
- Address: On the Eagle River, Eagle River, MI 49950
- What’s Special: Whole house rental
- Rate: $463 average per night
In the mid-1800s, Eagle River was a boom town thanks to the copper discovered at nearby Cliff Mine. The busy new port necessitated construction of a lighthouse, which operated from 1858 until it was decommissioned in 1908.
The historic structure has been transformed into a bright and breezy, 3,000-square foot, year-round Vrbo rental. Contemporary, with the warmth of wood throughout, the home offers three bedrooms for up to six guests, a complete kitchen, and spacious gathering spaces including a large deck. The light tower is not accessible to guests.
Must do: Explore the mining history of Copper Country through the Heritage Sites of the Keweenaw National Historical Park.