For almost two centuries, lighthouses have guarded the coastline of Michigan. Generations of seafaring travelers and mariners have sought solace from these reassuring lights as they traveled around the Great Lakes. Today, these majestic sentinels serve as beacons of hope and inspiration for many; whether it be a tired ship captain that is navigating home or a tourist that enjoys history, or a local who gathers peace from walking by, these treasured beauties are worthy of a visit and to be cared for. Follow along as we highlight our 16 Favorite Michigan Lighthouses to Photograph and Tour during your next Michigan getaway. And because we love promoting our Michigan Bed and Breakfast Association members, we are including a link for area bed and breakfasts for you to consider. Always remember that you are assured of a quality stay at our member inns since each is inspected by an independent reviewer with a 10-page checklist in hand.
Check out our Michigan Lighthouse YouTube with more details below of our 16 favorite lighthouses in the beautiful state of Pure Michigan.
History of Michigan Lighthouses
As you can guess, we love lighthouses in our “Mitten State” and are proud that 129 are still remaining, making Michigan the state with the most lighthouses in the United States! At one point there were over 250 lighthouses that lined the coastline of Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and Lake Huron. History buffs will be interested to learn that the first lighthouse in Michigan was built in 1825. With no electricity available, lamps were used and mostly powered by oil and sometimes even candles. The light was carried farther by using concave mirrors and specialized lenses. This fire-based light source was laborious to maintain, and it quickly became common to include a Keepers House close by so that the light could be manned during the night and in times of low visibility.
Over time, the lamp was mounted to taller structures to get the light higher in the air for better visibility. And as technology progressed, electricity was used to power these massive lamps. Today, lighthouses are an integral part of Michigan’s history. Tourists come from far and wide to view these beautiful structures, climb to the top of some for beautiful views, and to take pictures to remember their Michigan Lighthouse Getaway. In addition, touring these majestic structures allows visitors to relive the past and get an understanding of the challenges of our nautical forefathers to navigate the Great Lakes.
For our first-time visitors, you may ask- Why does everyone refer to Michigan as the “Mitten State”?
Michiganders often called their state the “mitten state” … not because it’s so cold that they need to wear mittens all the time, but because if you look at the map of Michigan you can see the Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten:)
Come along for the tour of our 16 Favorite Michigan Lighthouses
While it’s hard to decide on favorites amongst the 129 that are remaining, we chose the ones that provide great photographic opportunities, were filled with history, and many that provide tours. Let us know about your Michigan lighthouse adventures, and which ones are your favorite.
The list highlighted below was divided by their Great Lake location including Lake Huron, Lake Superior, and Lake Michigan. Driving time around “the Mitten” is just over 18 hours and provides a wonderful weekend trip from Detroit or Chicago. If you are looking for an Upper Pennisula experience, you’ll want to check out our highlighted lighthouses around Lake Superior. We are starting with the Lake Huron Coastline and moving around the mitten to the lighthouses around Lake Michigan. Lastly, we’ve included our favorites around Lake Superior for a more extended Michigan Lighthouse getaway.
Lighthouses on the Lake Huron Coastline
Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, Port Huron
Fort Gratiot Lighthouse is the oldest Lighthouse in Michigan and the second on the Great Lakes. This 82-foot-high restored Lighthouse has 94 iron stairs that lead to the top of the lighthouse, giving those willing to make the climb an amazing vantage point!
The incredible history- “Fort Gratiot was built in 1814 during the War of 1812 to guard the juncture of the St. Clair River and Lake Huron. Named after the engineer who supervised construction, Charles Gratiot, Fort Gratiot would be occupied on and off by the United States Army until 1879. With a surge of vessel traffic on Lake Huron in the early 1800s, the need for a Light Station to guide vessels through the waterway became very important.” For more information check out this site.
Port Sanilac Lighthouse, Port Sanilac
Michigan is made up of many port towns and one treasure not to be missed is located just 90 minutes northeast of downtown Detroit. Here you will find the historic Port Sanilac Lighthouse. Built-in 1886, this lighthouse originally burned kerosene, and was modernized with electricity in 1929. It is now a private residence, but the light remains an active aid for navigation. Check out the lighthouse’s long history here and check out this website to see if summer tours are available.
During your travels, are you looking for a wonderful place to stay in between your lighthouse tours and photo opts? Check out our Southeast Michigan Bed and Breakfast Association properties in this area here.
Harbor Beach Lighthouse, Harbor Beach
If your schedule allows a Saturday stopover in Harbor Beach, which is located on the shores of Lake Huron in Michigan’s thumb, this working lighthouse is not to be missed. Guided tours are available on Saturdays in the summer. Experience a harbor boat ride and learn about the history of this community’s cherished landmark. Run by the Preservation Society, tour guides provide you with a glimpse of the life of a lightkeeper and answer questions. There are HUGE photo opportunities during this tour on the gallery level. Tours do sell out so call ahead for tickets. To learn more about the history of this lighthouse click here.
Tawas Point Lighthouse, East Tawas
The sunset picture above highlights the beauty of this sweet historic lighthouse.
The lighthouse was In operation since 1876 and was deactivated in 2015. Tawas Point Lighthouse is a fascinating attraction for maritime buffs; you can read about its history here. Since the lighthouse is located within Tawas Point State Park this is also a great destination for birdwatchers. The lighthouse is open for tours seasonally and during special events in the off-season. Not to be missed are the Lighthouse Museum Store and the Lighthouse Memory Walkway. When the lighthouse is not open for tours inside, visitors can enjoy its exterior and grounds. There are other historic structures on-site, including an oil house and a fog signal area.
For bed and breakfasts to stay in as you travel north, check out the Northeast MBBA properties here.
Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, Presque Isle
The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse is one of the oldest surviving lighthouses on the Great Lakes. This historic lighthouse was built in 1840 by Jeremiah Moors of Detroit. The harbor light operated until 1871 when the keeper transferred to a new, taller, coastal lighthouse a mile to the north and aptly called the New Presque Isle Lighthouse. To learn about the New Presque Isle Lighthouse check out this link.
40 Mile Point Lighthouse, Rodgers City
This may be one of our top favorites- a beautifully restored lighthouse (thanks to the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse Society), incredible photo ops, a beautiful beach, and picnic area nearby, and an incredible story of American LIghthouse fortitude and history.
The Lighthouse is located on the northern shoreline of Lake Huron in Presque Isle County’s Lighthouse Park, Rogers City, Michigan. “At a cost of $25,000, the station was completed by the end of 1896. Its 4th Order Fresnel lens has been a welcoming beacon to sailors since May 1897 and is still operating today. In 1996, the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse Society began restoring the lighthouse, outbuildings, and grounds. Several years ago, the pilot house from the Steamer Calcite, built-in 1912 and the first self-unloading steamer on the Lakes was relocated to the reservation. The Society, with the help of many retired Great Lakes sailors, has also restored and preserved this structure. The park is open to the public year-round. The lighthouse museum, pilot house, and gift shop are open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Tuesday through Sunday beginning Memorial Day weekend through mid-October. Admission is free.” as written on this website.
Lighthouses on the Lake Michigan Coastline
Our travels are moving over to the Northwest side of the mitten to highlight our favorite lighthouses there. You can check out all the MBBA inns in this area here.
Grand Traverse Lighthouse, Leelanau Township
The Grand Traverse Lighthouse is located at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula and has guided ships into the Manitou Passage of Lake Michigan for over 150 years. It was first lit in 1852 and was deactivated in 1972. The lighthouse is located nine miles north of Northport in the Leelanau State Park. Enjoy the beautiful park, extensive exhibits, and a gift shop. For those wanted to learn more about the history check out this link.
Mission Pointe Lighthouse, Traverse City
OK- these views and experiencing this lighthouse are certainly going to be a memory of a lifetime!
“Mission Point Lighthouse has been a Traverse City and Old Mission Peninsula icon for decades. Located at the north 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 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 and for others who lived and worked in the area at the time.” As quoted on the Mission Pointe Lighthouse website.
The lighthouse is open Thursday-Monday from 10 to 5. Park is always open until 10 p.m. You can see and photograph the lighthouse when the park is open. It’s a 200-300 ft walk from the parking lot. There is access to the beach and hiking trails at the park.
Point Betsie Lighthouse, Frankfort
Picturesque, serene, and breathtaking views make this lighthouse in Northwest Michigan a perfect stop!
Construction began in 1854 for this historic lighthouse and was completed in 1858. This oldest standing structure in Benzie County is a grand entrance to the southern end of the Manitou Passage, a once-vital maritime shipping channel. Although the lane is no longer used by large commercial vessels, the operating light signal remains a US Coast Guard aid to navigation to this day, and the site shines as a treasured landmark. The site is generally open for tours and gift shopping, primarily on weekends from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. The public beach adjacent to the site is easily accessed. For more information check out their site.
Big Sable Points Lighthouse-Ludington
Just love this old picture of Big Sable Points Lighthouse and the mission of SPLKA “to preserve, promote and educate the public and make our lighthouses accessible to all.”
This tall beauty is located in Ludington, surrounded by Ludington State Park. Initially, the lighthouse was built of brick by the Milwaukee Cream City Brick. The 112-feet tall lighthouse sustained damage from Lake Michigan’s severe weather, so in 1905, they added a protective steel layer. In 1949, Big Sable Point Lighthouse was the last Great Lakes light to receive electricity. You’ll find this lighthouse on both the State and National Registers for Historic Places. From early May through late October, you can tour the lighthouse.
The lighthouse is a mile and a half walk from the parking lot. Occasionally they have “Bus Days” where you can avoid the walk and take the bus.
Little Sable Lighthouse, Mears
This lighthouse may be called little but it is anything but and worthy of a visit. This beauty is located 30 miles south of Big Sable Point Lighthouse, in Mears.
Travel to Silver Lake State Park, where you can tour the 1874 tower which stands 107 feet tall and is lit with the original Third-Order Fresnel lens. Little Sable Point Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Michigan, and it takes 130 steps to climb to the top. The lighthouse is open seasonally from late May until late September for those who want to explore the inside and take in the stunning lake views from the top.
Sometimes, during the summer months, you might even be able to enjoy some summer concerts on the beach.
As we are moving further south on the coast of Lake Michigan check out these bed and breakfasts in the area.
Grand Haven Inner & Outer Pier Lights, Grand Haven
Located in the beautiful beach community of Grand Haven, these two lighthouses are painted fire-engine red, both lit in 1905, and sit on the pier. Grand Haven’s elevated walkway allowed access to the land’s lights, even when ice and snow buried the pier. This catwalk is one of the few remaining as Lake Michigan’s elements have taken their toll. The catwalk has been restored and lit with white twinkle lights. The lights have no public access, but you can enjoy them from the outside. This lighthouse pair in Grand Haven is a Michigan Lighthouse favorite.
For viewing and photo ops you can access the boardwalk and see the lighthouses from Grand Haven State Park. You can also take North Shore Drive in Ferrysburg to the north pier for viewing. You’ll find public parking located on the river channel’s north side.
Holland Harbor Lighthouse, Holland
“Holland Harbor Lighthouse is located at the south end of the Holland Channel on the city’s south pier. The locals refer to the cherry red lighthouse as “Big Red.” But this wasn’t always so. Initially, the steel tower and fog signal building were a pale yellow, with a dark maroon base. In 1956, the Coast Guard changed the color to bright red to meet the navigation aid requirements.
When fog rendered the light warnings useless, the lighthouse keeper used a fish horn to warn sailors, but in 1907 they installed boilers to produce steam and used a locomotive whistle for a louder signal.
In 1934, they wired the lighthouse for electricity and installed electric air compressors for the foghorn. Then the light came on automatically, and the foghorn could be activated remotely, leaving the lighthouse keeper out of work. In 1936 they installed air-powered foghorns using electricity for air compressors rather than steam. The fog signal building and the light tower were adjacent structures until 1936 when the Coast Guard combined the two structures.” This beautiful light is definitely amongst “Our Favorite Michigan Lighthouses”
Lighthouses on the Lake Superior Coastline
Making our way back up to the Upper Penninsula or as the locals say- “UP”, we’ve gathered our favorites around Lake Superior.
Big Bay Lighthouse, Big Bay
OK- we may be a little prejudiced but we have to mention that this lighthouse is extra special not only for its beauty, history, and location but also because this lighthouse is a member of the Michigan Bed and Breakfast Association and has five lovely rooms for you to stay in during the summer months. Innkeeper, owner, and lighthouse preservationist, Nick Korstad has created quite a gem here and is worthy of a visit. You can check out and book a stay here
The Big Bay Lighthouse is a definite Favorite Michigan Lighthouse!
Au Sable Lighthouse, Burt Township
Au Sable is filled with history, beautiful views, and a Favorite Michigan Lighthouse- “Located within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, this picturesque lighthouse stands on Au Sable Point on the south shore of Lake Superior, approximately 12 miles west of Grand Marais, Michigan.
Built-in 1873-1874, the light tower’s base diameter is 16 feet with a height of 86 feet. The tower extends 23 feet underground and is anchored in bedrock. A brick oil building and fog signal building were built in the 1890s. All of the buildings on-site, along with the tower and keepers’ quarters, make up the light station.
The original keepers’ dwelling was attached to the light tower in the back. In 1909, a new residence was built for the head keeper and the existing building expanded so it could accommodate two assistant keepers and their families. One family lived upstairs and one downstairs, with separate entrances. In 1945 the U.S. Coast Guard took over, replacing the civilian keepers. In total, the light station was continually staffed for 84 years, until the Coast Guard left in 1958.
A third-order Fresnel lens reflected the first light, which was fueled initially by lard oil and then by kerosene. The fixed white beam could be seen 17 miles out on the lake. The lighthouse became fully automated in 1958 and transferred from the Coast Guard to the National Park Service in 1968. The lighthouse still operates – a smaller, solar-powered light now sits on the catwalk railing and shines over Lake Superior every evening.” from NPS website
Note: To visit the Au Sable Light Station, travel to the Hurricane River Campground located 12 miles west of Grand Marais on Alger County Road H-58. Park in the day-use parking area near the bridge.
It is a 1.5-mile walk (one way) to the lighthouse. From the parking lot, walk east through the campground from the picnic area near the Hurricane River mouth. The trail continues past the campground on the historic U.S. Coast Guard access road to the light station. Be alert for occasional staff vehicle traffic. On the beach below the trail, exposed shipwreck remains dot the shoreline. Watch for the signs and steps to the beach along the access road.
Au Sable Lighthouse tours are scheduled Wednesday through Sunday from mid-June through the end of September. No tours on Monday and Tuesday. Tours begin at 11 am and run through 3:30 pm (11:00, 12:00, 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30) Check this website for current hours.
Eagle Harbor Lighthouse, Eagle Harbor
Eagle Harbor Light is an operational lighthouse that sits on the rocky entrance to Eagle Harbor and is one of several light stations that guide mariners on Lake Superior across the northern edge of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Its history began with the copper mining industry that began in the Keweenaw Peninsula in the 1840s. Lake Superior’s unreliable disposition meant that passing ships needed navigational assistance, and in 1851 the original lighthouse was built. The wooden tower which supported a fourth-order Fresnel lens illuminated by an oil lamp soon deteriorated, and in 1871 it was replaced by the present red brick structure. In 1895 a fog signal was added.
In the 1960s, the Fresnel lens was replaced by aviation beacon-type white and red lights, which beam their warning to ships more than 20 miles offshore. After being tended by 22 keepers since 1851, the lighthouse became automated in 1980, and the last personnel left in 1982. The light is now maintained by the Coast Guard and the historical grounds by the Keweenaw County Historical Society.
For more historical information and museum hours check out this site.
Where to stay for a perfect Michigan Lighthouse Touring Adventure
Look forward to hearing which lighthouses were your Favorite Michigan Lighthouses. During your tours of the Michigan lighthouses, you can refer to this map that shows the locations of all 129 lighthouses in Michigan.
If your summer plans include staying at one Bed and Breakfast with just a short drive to view a lighthouse, check out this previous blog which highlights 18 Bed and Breakfast that are 10 miles or less away from a lighthouse. And yes, all recommended B&B’s are assured by the Michigan Bed and Breakfast Association.
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