There are a lot of reasons to visit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan: the wilderness, the seclusion, the vistas, the people. The sights abound from natural wonders (see this article) to incredible feats of mankind.
For a landmass that has a lot of Great Lakes coastline, lighthouses became essential for the safety of primarily commercial vessels that traversed the lakes on various missions. Many are still operational, and you can visit them, climb the tower, walk the grounds, and learn some important nautical history.
Mileage: 243 miles
Driving Time: 6 hours, 13 minutes
Stop #1: Point Iroquois Lighthouse, Brimley
Only 45 minutes north of the magnificent Mackinac Bridge is the little town of Brimley and our first stop on this lighthouse tour. Point Iroquois Lighthouse, situated within the bounds of Hiawatha National Forest, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The idyllic white brick residence and 65-foot tower with a red shingled roof is at the entry point of the St. Mary’s River above the waters of Lake Superior. You can climb the spiral staircase to the tower for a bird’s eye look at the busy shipping lane below, and volunteer hosts are on hand to relay the lighthouse’s exceptional history.
Nearby… Visit the Wheels of History Train Museum. You can board a 1905 wooden passenger car and caboose as well as learn local history. There are other historic exhibits and artifacts featuring not just railroading, but technology and enterprise. The museum is open Noon to 5 p.m. Friday through Monday.
Stop #2: Crisp Point Lighthouse, Newberry
From May to October, you can visit the visitor center and the lighthouse during daylight hours (they are closed during the winter months) as well as the grounds, which are open year-round. It’s a beautiful remote area, which can be accessed via 20 miles of gravel roads so be prepared for a little rougher ride. Crisp Point is one of four original Lake Superior Life Saving Stations that became operational in 1876. There’s a boardwalk as well as beach access on Lake Superior. “Peaceful” is how many past visitors have described their experience to this lighthouse.
Nearby… If you’re looking to take a hike, then find your way to the National Country Scenic Trail, which traverses from New York to North Dakota and over a myriad of habitats. You can easily find the trail at either Muskallonge Lake State Park or Tahquamenon Falls State Park.
Stop #3: Au Sable Light Station & Tour, Grand Marais | Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Next on the list is the Au Sable Light Station in Grand Marais, within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s about 55 minutes from Crisp Point. It’s another white brick tower (seems to be the way to build up in the U.P.!) that stretches 86 feet high. To reach the lighthouse, you’ll need to park in the day-use park area near the bridge at Hurricane River Campground. From there, walk the 1.5-mile trail to the lighthouse. Guided tours are scheduled Wednesday through Sunday from mid-June through the end of September for a small fee. If you go down to the beach, you may encounter pieces of old shipwrecks.
Nearby… The view from Log Slide Overlook is breathtaking. It’s a short walk to the overlook from a parking lot, which is only a couple miles away from the light station. You can go down the steep descent to Lake Superior, but it’ll take a lot longer to make the climb back up.
Stop #4: Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, Marquette
Next is the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, the original being built in 1853 and only four years after the city’s incorporation. The style and build are similar to Copper Harbor’s old lighthouse as well as other U.P. lighthouses. What makes it unique is the red color. It overlooks Marquette Harbor. The Marquette Maritime Museum is currently responsible for the upkeep of the light, as well as manages tours. Tours are offered three times a day from mid-May to mid-October.
Nearby… Not too far down the shoreline is the Lower Harbor Ore Dock. This relic is from the bygone era of loading iron ore onto lake freighters. Now it’s one of the most photographed and iconic structures in the Upper Peninsula. Some folks plan to visit around the 20th of January and November, when the docks perfectly frame the sunrise – a unique phenomenon that can only be experienced here.
Stop #5: Big Bay Point Lighthouse, Big Bay
While this lighthouse has been converted into a private bed and breakfast and is reserved primarily for B&B guests, the general public is invited to visit on designated tour dates, which help with preserving the lighthouse. The $12 per person tours take place each Sunday at 12 pm and 1 pm from June through September, on a first-come, first-served basis. Only six people can go on a tour at a time. Unfortunately, the grounds themselves are not open for wandering since this is now a private residence, so the best chance to see the lighthouse is either to be a guest or to go on a guided tour. This lighthouse continues to be an active navigational aid monitored by the U.S. Coast Guard. It’s also the brightest light on Lake Superior, with a beam visible for 20 nautical miles. The lantern sites 120 feet above the lake surface.
Nearby… A nice place to take a dip, walk a sandy beach, or enjoy a lunch al fresco is less than five miles away, visit Squaw Beach. If you’re looking for more moderate exercise, then visit the Yellow Dog Falls Trail, which is only 10 miles away. The 4.4 mile out and back trail includes, you guessed it, Yellow Dog Falls. Leashed dogs are allowed to accompany hikers.