Total Driving Time: 2 hours, 47 minutes Mileage: 111.6 miles
Traversers of the Great Lakes State, from the dawn of history to the present day, have come to know that our abundant and beautiful water can often be quite turbulent and unpredictable. Michigan’s rapidly changing weather patterns can turn a sunny afternoon into a blustery thunderstorm in the blink of an eye. Serving as a navigational aid, more than 100 lighthouses shine bright along Michigan’s sprawling coastline, guiding mariners safely to their ports.
History buffs and curious minds alike will find a day spent road cruising the coastline, exploring these historic lighthouses and nearby museums, each rich with their own unique tales of Michigan’s maritime past, to be well worth the trip!
Stop #1. St. Joseph North Pier Outer Lighthouse, St. Joseph
To kick off this driving tour, we’ll start at the St. Joseph North Pier Lighthouse, located just off M-63. For the first time since it’s construction in 1846, tours of the iconic lighthouse are being offered to the public. In the summer, for a small fee ($10 for adults and $5 for children 17 and under), you and your family can climb the historic tower and explore the Inner Light and Fog Signal Building.
The tour begins at the pavilion in Tiscornia Park (80 Ridgeway Street). Parking is $5 a day, which is not included in your tour ticket price. Visit www.stjoelighthousetours.com to reserve your tickets.
Nearby Museum: Heritage Museum and Cultural Center
Finish your St. Joe adventure by stopping by the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center. Be sure to check their current list of exhibits (www.theheritagemcc.org/exhibits) for a sneak peak at what’s in store!
Stop #2. South Pier Light, South Haven
On M-63 and I-196 you’ll head north to South Haven. Here you’ll find a much different lighthouse than what would’ve appeared in the early 1870s. Years of renovations, repairs, and alterations to accommodate the harsh weather have vastly changed the lighthouse’s appearance – though it is still a structure of beauty. You can’t go in the lighthouse, but bring your swimsuit (and flip-flops – the sand gets very hot) and walk the pier, play on the beach, and swim in the cool waters of Lake Michigan. You can’t beat a day spent on South Beach. Parking for South Beach is on Water Street. For more information on the South Pier Light, visit their website www.southhaven.com/south-haven-mi-lighthouse.shtml.
Nearby Museum: Michigan Maritime Museum
To get your maritime history fix, take a break from the beach and drive over to the Michigan Maritime Museum. Spanning five buildings, you’ll have the unique opportunity to broaden your Great Lakes history knowledge through a variety of exhibits.
Stop #3. Holland Harbor Lighthouse, Holland
Get back onto I-196 North for another 38.1 miles until you reach the Holland Harbor Lighthouse, also known as “Big Red” – one of Michigan’s most photographed lighthouses. You can view the lighthouse up close and personal by walking along the boardwalk (accessed from the Holland State Park), or you can opt for an aerial view by climbing the stairs of Mt. Pisgah (accessed from Ottawa Beach Road) to a scenic overlook 157 feet above sea level. Find more information on Big Red at www.holland.org/listings/big-red-lighthouse/372.
Nearby Museum: Holland Museum
About seven miles from the lighthouse, you’ll find the Holland Museum. Exciting and interactive exhibits tell stories of Holland’s history and the surrounding region. With new special events happening every month, be sure to view their calendar (www.hollandmuseum.org/events-calendar) before making your visit.
Stop #4. Grand Haven Lighthouse, Grand Haven
Travel 27 scenic miles north on N Lakeshore Drive to reach the Grand Haven Lighthouse. Walk along the boardwalk on the south pier to watch the waves crash along the shore and the ships sail by. This is another lighthouse you cannot enter, but the views from the outside – especially at night when the catwalk is illuminated – are pretty spectacular. For an inside look of the lighthouse visit their website, www.visitgrandhaven.com/things/attractions/lighthouse.
Nearby Museum: Tri-Cities Historical Museum
See what life was like when the Grand Haven Lighthouse was first built by touring the period-correct Victorian rooms. And learn how the Grand River propelled Grand Haven to the center of commerce in the region.
Stop #5. Muskegon South Pierhead Light, Muskegon
Just 21 miles north of Grand Haven, along US-31 N, is the Muskegon South Pierhead Lighthouse. Built in 1903, this impressive structure offers a number of ways for visitors to explore the history of this beautiful lakeshore. Stretch your legs by climbing the tower and then take your pick of a self-guided virtual tour or cell phone tour. Coordinate your visit with one of their many lighthouse events for an added bonus! For more information on the light and tours, visit www.muskegonlights.org.
Nearby Museum: Naval Museums: USS Sliversides and USS LST 393
Tour two World War II war vessels, the USS Silverside and the USS LST 393, while you’re in Muskegon. Both museums serve to honor our veterans while submersing visitors in the history of U.S. naval battles. You can even book an overnight stay on the USS Silverside. To reserve your spot, call (231) 755-1320.