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Guardians of the Great Lakes: An Exploration of Michigan’s Best Lighthouses

Guardians of the Great Lakes: An Exploration of Michigan’s Best Lighthouses

Michigan, or the “Great Lakes State,” is an extraordinary place to visit for many reasons. It boasts natural beauty and a plethora of historic landmarks, including the many iconic lighthouses along the shores of lakes Michigan, Superior, Huron, and Erie. Michigan’s lighthouses have stood watch over the Great Lakes for centuries, guiding ships and sailors safely through treacherous waters. Being Michiganders ourselves, we’ve had the fortunate opportunity to visit many of these beacons.

So, which are the best lighthouses in Michigan to visit? Join us as we explore the guardians of the Great Lakes, delving into their fascinating past, significance, and why visiting them is an experience like no other. 

Michigan's Keweenaw By Air | Mortons on the Move
You’ll see several of the Michigan Upper Peninsula’s lighthouses in this drone video we made of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

How Many Lighthouses Are in Michigan? 

There are 129 lighthouses spread across Michigan’s vast shoreline, making it the state with the most lighthouses in America. With over 40 lighthouses in the Upper Peninsula alone, this impressive number reflects the state’s historical significance in maritime trade and transportation. With 3,288 miles of waterfront, Michigan has the longest shoreline in the continental United States. 

These lighthouses come in various shapes and sizes, from towering structures to more modest beacons. Some have been beautifully restored and are open to the public, while others remain remote. 

Michigan’s Historic Lighthouses Are a Must-See

The history of Michigan’s lighthouses is intertwined with the state’s maritime heritage. In the 18th century, European explorers and fur traders began navigating the waters of the Great Lakes.

However, the lakes were treacherous with unpredictable weather patterns, and rocky shores were hazardous. In fact, the Great Lakes have claimed somewhere between 6,000-25,000 ships and over 30,000 lives.

Recognizing the need for navigational aids, the United States government began establishing lighthouses along the Great Lakes in the early 19th century.

One of the first lighthouses in Michigan was the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse in 1825 at the entrance to the St. Clair River. It served as a vital guide for ships traveling between Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair. The government built more lighthouses along Michigan’s extensive shoreline to mark hazardous areas and guide ships into harbors.

Michigan’s lighthouses are icons of maritime history. These beacons have guided the passage of countless vessels, bearing witness to the trials and triumphs of seafarers throughout the centuries. Each lighthouse has a unique history that speaks to the courage and resilience of those who tended to them and the mariners who relied on their beacons.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse in dunes, built in 1867, Lake Michigan, MI, USA
The history of Michigan’s lighthouses spans centuries.

Pro Tip: Feeling brave? Discover The Legend of Michigan’s Paulding Light.

Which City in Michigan Has the Most Lighthouses? 

If you want to embark on a lighthouse adventure, there’s no better place to start than the city of Traverse, Michigan. Nestled in the dips of Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City is home to eight historical lighthouses, including Mission Pointe, South Manitou, North Manitou, and Grand Traverse Light. Not only will you visit so many lighthouses from one central area, but you’ll also be able to explore the sweeping shores of Lake Michigan, including the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. 

Lighthouse in Northern Michigan
Add a visit to one of Michigan’s 129 lighthouses during your visit.

9 of the Best Lighthouses in Michigan

It’s nearly impossible to pick the nine best lighthouses out of Michigan’s amazing lineup, but we did our best. Let’s look at some of the most remarkable landmarks on Michigan’s shore. 

#1 Holland Harbor Lighthouse

The Holland Harbor Lighthouse, or “Big Red,” is at 2215 Ottawa Beach Rd, Holland, MI. This iconic lighthouse stands at the entrance of the channel connecting Lake Michigan with Lake Macatawa. With its vibrant red color and classic design, it’s a trendy spot for lighthouse enthusiasts and photographers.

“Big Red” has been guiding ships into the harbor since 1907 and offers stunning views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding area. For an amazing look at Holland Harbor Lighthouse, we recommend strolling along the boardwalk to the north pier in Holland State Park.

bid red lighthouse holland michigan
Big Red Lighthouse, Holland, MI, USA

#2 Grand Haven Inner and Outer Pier Lighthouse

Grand Haven’s picturesque pier lighthouses are on South Harbor Drive, Grand Haven, MI. They are symbols of this Lake Michigan coastal town. These dual lights have been guiding vessels into the Grand River since the mid-1800s. Visitors can walk along the pier and feel the refreshing Lake Michigan breezes while enjoying some ice cream from Captain Custard’s Food Court. 

Grand Haven Lighthouse, pier, and catwalk, Lake Michigan, Michigan, USA
Grand Haven Lighthouse, pier, and catwalk, Lake Michigan, Michigan, USA

#3 Fort Gratiot Lighthouse

As one of Michigan’s oldest lighthouses, Fort Gratiot Lighthouse has been a sentinel at the entrance to the St. Clair River since 1825. You can find it at 2800 Omar St, Port Huron, MI.

It played a vital role in guiding ships through the treacherous waters of Lake Huron. Now, visitors can explore the lighthouse and its museum, learning about the rich maritime history of the region while witnessing panoramic views of the river.

fort gratiot lighthouse
Fort Gratiot Lighthouse

#4 Port Sanilac Lighthouse

You can find the Port Sanilac Lighthouse at 81 S Lake St, Port Sanilac, MI. Since 1886, it has been a testament to the importance of safe navigation along the Lake Huron shoreline.

Visitors know Port Sanilac Lighthouse for its beautiful Queen Anne-style architecture, making it a unique and photogenic destination for visitors. While it’s a private residence, they occasionally offer tours to provide a glimpse into life at a lighthouse station that remains active for navigation.

Port Sanilac Lighthouse
Port Sanilac Lighthouse

#5 Grand Traverse Lighthouse

This lighthouse is at 15500 N Lighthouse Point Rd, Northport, MI, at the tip of Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula. Fun fact: Tom and I got married very near this lighthouse!

The Grand Traverse Lighthouse has been guiding ships through the Manitou Passage since 1852. It is typically open daily as a museum. Visitors can step back in time and explore the lives of lighthouse keepers and their families. The lighthouse also boasts stunning views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding landscape. Conveniently, Leelanau State Park is nine miles away, making this area convenient for an extended visit. 

Grand traverse Lighthouse in Northport MI
Grand Traverse Lighthouse

#6 Mission Point Lighthouse

Perching at the end of the picturesque Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City, Mission Point Lighthouse is a tranquil retreat for visitors who want an escape. Built in 1870, this decommissioned lighthouse offers breathtaking views of the crystal-clear waters of Grand Traverse Bay. It is a classic icon in Michigan’s history.

Mission Point Lighthouse is open to the public and is an educational tool for visitors of all ages. Its serene surroundings make it a perfect spot for picnics, relaxation, and taking in the beauty of northern Michigan.

old mission point lighthouse
Old Mission Point Lighthouse

Pro Tip: These 9 Most Fascinating Ghost Towns in Michigan are the perfect addition to your road trip itinerary.

#7 Point Betsie Lighthouse

Standing on the sliver of land between Crystal Lake and Lake Michigan at 3701 Point Betsie Rd, Crystal Lake Township, MI, Point Betsie Lighthouse has guided ships through these waters since 1858. Its red roof and distinctive black-and-white design are a striking contrast to the natural beauty of the area.

Point Betsie Lighthouse still lights the way for mariners. Visitors can explore the lighthouse, learn about life as a lightkeeper, and visit the Boathouse Museum. It sits just south of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. The area is a good place to plan a several-day visit with the family. 

Point Betsie Lighthouse, built in 1858, Lake Michigan, MI, USA

#8 Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse

On Stearns Park Beach Ludington, MI, Ludington’s North Breakwater Lighthouse is a modern marvel of engineering. It has guided ships safely into Ludington Harbor since 1871.

Sitting at the end of a .5-mile-long pier, this lighthouse is easily accessible. It offers stunning views of Lake Michigan as you walk along the water’s edge. It’s not an official lighthouse because it doesn’t have living quarters. However, Ludington North Breakwater Light is still a crucial maritime beacon in Michigan’s history. It’s typically open for tours from May to September.

Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse
Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse

#9 Copper Harbor Lighthouse

Resting at the tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at Fort Wilkins State Park, Copper Harbor, MI, is Copper Harbor Lighthouse. It has been guiding ships around the Keweenaw Peninsula since 1866. For decades, the light helped the transport of copper from the Upper Peninsula.

Visitors can take a short boat ride to the lighthouse and explore the historic buildings and museum on-site. Although the 44-foot tall tower is closed to the public, the breathtaking views of Lake Superior and the rugged Keweenaw Peninsula make this a memorable destination.

Copper Harbor Lighthouse
Copper Harbor Lighthouse

Pro Tip: Sometimes the lighthouses couldn’t save them. Find out what lies at the bottom of Lake Superior.

Is Visiting the Lighthouses of Michigan Worth it? 

Visiting Michigan’s historic lighthouses offers a unique opportunity to connect with the state’s rich maritime history, immerse yourself in breathtaking natural landscapes, and experience the magic of these timeless icons. Each lighthouse has a story to tell, from the lightkeepers who tended the lights to the mariners who relied on their guidance. So whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or seeking a peaceful getaway, Michigan’s lighthouses all have something to offer. They provide a window into the past and a chance to witness the rugged beauty of the Great Lakes. 

Which lighthouse are you most excited to visit? Let us know in the comments below! 

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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