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Lake Michigan Lighthouses
Favorite Michigan Beacons
The shores of Lake Michigan are dotted with lighthouses built to protect sailors from the shallow and sandy shores. In the days before electronics these beacons were a much needed light along the shores and kept the ships safe as they made their way up the shipping passage of the Great Lakes.
Today, with all of the navigational aids available they are not as critical as in days past and many are no longer lit. There are,however, over 100 lighthouses still standing and these beautiful beacons of the past stand as a reminder of a simpler time.
I love photographing lighthouses, and a weeks trip along the shores of Lake Michigan gives me the opportunity to photograph several lighthouses on each trip. At this point I have made three trips to Lake Michigan and photographed lighthouses in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. I love the variety of lighthouses. There are three very distinct styles of lighthouses which I will cover on this page and within those styles each lighthouse has it's own personality.
I have photographed over 30 lighthouses along the shores of Lake Michigan so choosing my top ten was a bit of a challenge. What I have done is to show you my top favorite and then lighthouses from each of the different styles.
The replica lighthouse in this photo greets you when you stop at the visitor center as you enter Michigan. All photos on this page are my own.
My Favorite Lighthouse - at least for this trip
I love photographing lighthouses and it seems that my favorite changes each time I see some new lighthouses. I am also partial to lighthouses that photograph well, so if I get good lighting and a good angle to shoot my photos that lighthouse will move up on my favorite list.
This lighthouse is called Big Sable Point and it is located on the western coast of Michigan. It is a black and white lighthouse that stands 112 feet tall. It is located in Ludington State Park and in the summer months visitors can climb the 130 steps to the top for a spectacular view of the Lake Michigan coast. There are no roads leading to the lighthouse so to reach it you must walk up the beach for 1.8 miles or take the gravel path that starts at the campground and ride your bike or walk for 1.5 miles.
I knew I wanted to photograph from the beach side so I elected to walk up the beach to the lighthouse. It would have been a pleasant walk except for the flys that kept biting at my ankles. Tthe view as I neared the lighthouse was well worth the walk. I began to see the lighthouse as I rounded a bend on the shoreline about 1/2 mile from the lighthouse. As I neared the lighthouse, I could see the wooden path and rickety fence that were in the sand dunes as you approached the lighthouse. This is one of the many photos that I took as I made my way through the path in the dunes.
Big Sable from the Land
Pierhead Lights - found on many Lake Michigan towns
I found that many of the lighthouses along Lake Michigan are on long piers that stick out from the shore. Many of these lighthouses had catwalks on top of the piers that helped the keepers to reach the lighthouse when the water was rough. Today, with automation, many of these catwalks have been torn down. Two of the lighthouses below show some of the few remaining catwalks.
Michigan City Light
The lighthouse above is in Michigan City, Indiana. It has a long catwalk and I was able to walk all the way to the light and take photos. I have visited this lighthouse on two separate visits to Lake Michigan and each time have gotten some unique photos. I love this photo of the early evening sun casting lights from a cloud down on the catwalk. The pierhead lights in Michigan are great for me to take photos because they are so readily accessible and being on the end of a pier helps to take the "clutter" out of the photo.
Manistee Pierhead - popular type light in Michigan
Manistee North Pierhead Lighthouse
The next lighthouse is at Manistee, Michigan. It also has a long catwalk. I enjoyed photographing this lighthouse through the sand dunes that dotted the shoreline. Manistee has had four different lighthouses over the past 140+ years. The current lighthouse is a 39 foot steel tower that was built in 1927. The catwalk that leads up to the lighthouse is one of only four that still remaining on Lake Michigan. The lighthouse is currently under restoration, but when it is completed it will be open to the public.
Lighthouses of Lake Michigan - great information
If you are interested in reading more about these historic lighthouses around Lake Michigan this book tells you about lighthouses on Lake Michigan in the past and today.
a good guidebook to lighthouses
Square or Schoolhouse Type - light tower and house all in one
There are many of the square type lighthouses along Lake Michigan. These lighthouses are houses, in which the lighthouse keeper lived, and a light tower coming out of the top of the lighthouse. Usually these types of lighthouses had shorter towers and were often built on cliffs or higher ground along the shore. The lighthouse keeper would reach the light by going to the top floor of the house and then climbing additional staircases to reach the light. I was able to climb to the top of several of these lights and although the passage way is narrow the climb is not nearly as strenuous as climbing the taller round lighthouses.
Grand Traverse Lighthouse
This lighthouse is located in Leelanau State Park at Northport, Michigan at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. Visitors can tour the restored lighthouse keeper's residence and climb to the top of the light tower. I found the tour to be very interesting. This keeper's residence was much nicer than many I had seen. It had a full dining room with nice dishes, this was quite a difference from many of the small sparsely furnished lighthouses I have seen.
Big Red - Holland Michigan
This bright red lighthouse is located in Holland, Michigan. It's unique dutch architecture makes it a very interesting sight. It was first used in 1936 when it replaced the first Holland lighthouse that was erected in 1872. I took this photograph in the fall of 2008 when we were visiting Lake Michigan.
We were in a park across from the lighthouse and I found it easy to find lots of good views of the lighthouse from that area. In this view I climbed near a sand dune and was able to capture the lighthouse through the fall trees.
Tall, Round Type Beacons - popular
A very popular style of lighthouse is the tall round type lighthouses. These lighthouses may have a keepers house attached or they might stand alone with the keepers house nearby.
Little Sable Point Lighthouse
This brick lighthouse is one of my favorites along Lake Michigan. It is located in Silver lake State Park in western Michigan. Little Sable was built in 1874 and is 107 feet tall. It is open to the public to climb during the summer months. There was once a keepers house nearby but it is no longer standing. In this photo I was standing on the beach and the mid morning sun was just behind the top of the lighthouse. I stood in the shadow of the lighthouse to capture this interesting view.
Point Betsie Lighthouse
This lighthouse is said to be one of the most photographed lighthouses in the United States and I certainly can see why. I love the way it is set among the sand dunes and the views from the beach, such as the photograph below are very picturesque. I enjoyed touring the lighthouse and climbing the tower, where a very informative volunteer gave a history of the lighthouse. This lighthouse also has an apartment that can be rented and sleeps up to 6 people.
Climbing Down the Lighthouse Stairs at Point Betsie
Cana Island Light
This lighthouse is located on Cana Island in Door County, Wisconsin.It is found near Baileys Harbor. This lighthouse was built in 1869 using a cream colored brick. Because the brick was deteriorating, in 1902 the tower received a steel casing that was painted white. The island can be reached by walking over a gravel causeway. It is a short walk and I felt worth the view when I reached the island. The lighthouse is open for tours and climbing from May through October.
Replicas - great for collectors
I love to collect lighthouse replicas and have purchased many of my collection from eBay.