When you’re surrounded by major bodies of fresh water, it stands to reason that there are lighthouses built to help guide ships who take to those waters, both large and small. Michigan is home to 129 lighthouses, with 44 of them on Lake Michigan alone.
For this driving tour, you’ll visit six of these lighthouses situated along the state’s southwest shoreline, from New Buffalo to Muskegon. From the south, follow 94, then 196, and then transfer to the coastal highway of U.S. 31 at Holland to continue your journey north to Muskegon. You’ll encounter beautiful lakeside towns and plenty of charm along the way.
Mileage: 140 miles
Driving Time: 3 hours, 29 minutes
1. New Buffalo Lighthouse, New Buffalo
New Buffalo Public Beach is where you can find the first light on our list, the New Buffalo Lighthouse. It is a replica of the light that used to grace this part of the Michigan shoreline. It has an operational light, but the structure is more in remembrance of what used to be. You’ll enjoy the breathtaking views and perfectly sandy beach during your visit.
2. St. Joseph North Pier Lighthouse, St. Joseph
The lights in St. Joseph, though now decommissioned, have stood marking the entrance to the St. Joseph River on Lake Michigan since the early 1900s. You can walk the pier to the square, red-roofed inner lighthouse first and then continue on to visit the outer lighthouse, which resembles a more traditional tower. The waves off Lake Michigan can make this pier very dangerous so visit only in good weather. Get a lovely view – and catch some rays – at the public beach. It’s also quite a sight to behold in winter when the pier and lighthouses are encased in ice.
3. South Haven South Pierhead Light, South Haven
The still-operational South Pierhead light is at the entrance of the Black River from Lake Michigan. As with many lighthouses in this area of the state, there is a long pier you can walk to reach the lighthouse. In the case of the South Pierhead light, the catwalk is original and is one of only four to survive in Michigan. It historic tower is currently undergoing renovations. Visit this quaint Michigan town during Harborfest, which takes place every summer (cancelled in 2021).
4. Holland Harbor Lighthouse, Holland
Known as “Big Red,” the lighthouse in Holland stands out from the water and from shore. It is situated on the south side of the Holland Channel and is the most photographed lighthouse in Michigan. The channel was dug connected Lake Macatawa and Lake Michigan at a crucial time in history, when it became essential for the community to have access to both bodies of water in order to thrive. The two best views, according to the lighthouse commission, is the board walk along the north pier – wheelchair accessible – and from Mt. Pisgah, where a dune staircase guides you over 150 feet above sea level.
5. Grand Haven Lighthouse, Grand Haven
Grand Haven was among 20 locations named “Best Beach Town on a Lake” by PARENTS magazine in spring 2021. The wide sandy beach and eye-catching red inner and outer lights are reasons why this beautiful town is so attractive to visitors from around the nation. A long pier juts out into Lake Michigan, which is very walkable and a favorite spot for fishing. Youngsters and those young at heart like to jump off the pier into the big lake. The pier is a perfect spot to take in a romantic sunset. Grand Haven is also the location of the annual Coast Guard Festival, a 10-day national military festival with lots of events, entertainment, tours, and patriotic pride.
6. Muskegon South Pierhead Light, Muskegon
You’ll find two lighthouses in Muskegon, both of which are listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places: Muskegon South Pierhead and South Breakwater. The two red towers are almost directly across from each other. The South Pierhead light was built in 1903, while the South Breakwater was constructed in 1931. Restoration plans include the intent for visitors to climb the South Pierhead lighthouse. Even though you can’t do that yet, you can walk the piers and play at the beach.
If you want to learn more about Michigan lighthouses in a comprehensive guide, including which ones have museums, visit the Michigan Lighthouse Guide. You can order a full-color printed map for $10.00.