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Lighthouses are a navigational tool for mariners, a point of reference in travel on and off land, and a thing of beauty and history. In Northern Michigan, there are many working lighthouses that assist boaters. And here you’ll find historic lighthouses where lighthouses keepers once lived and worked that have been preserved, restored and are open to visitors.
First lit in 1869, the McGulpin Point Lighthouse was a pivotal navigational tool for ships on Lake Michigan. The lighthouse marked the southwestern edge of the Straits of Mackinac entrance and is located on a promontory just west of Mackinaw City in Northern Michigan.
The point of land where the McGulpin Point Lighthouse is located was first inhabited by the Native Americans. John McAlpin and his Native American wife arrived at the point in the 1760’s. The 640-acre property was the first one deeded in Emmet County in 1811 and was in the name of Patrick McGulpin, son of the McAlpins. By the early 1850’s, it was determined that a lighthouse was needed on this spot in the Straits of Mackinac and Congress authorized it to be built in 1854. The lighthouse was retired in 1906.
The McGulpin Point Lighthouse is listed on the official “Light List” maintained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard for the first time since the decommissioning in 1906. Special events are planned throughout the year although the Lighthouse closes for visitors in early November.
McGulpin Point Lighthouse is located approximately 2 miles west of Mackinaw City. From Mackinaw City, drive west on Central Avenue which becomes C 81 until it ends at Headlands Drive. Turn north (right) on Headlands Drive and the lighthouse is on the right-hand side (look for the signs).
Typical Hours: 10am-6pm daily May through September. Hours reduced in October with the lighthouse only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10am-6pm. Stay tuned for information on 2023.
For more information, visit mcgulpinpoint.org.
The majestic Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge are the backdrop for the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, a historic lighthouse in Mackinaw City, Michigan. This Northern Michigan landmark was built in 1892 as a sentinel for the vessels entering the Straits of Mackinac from both the east and the west.
The Straits of Mackinac were, and are still today, critical to navigation. The McGulpin Point Lighthouse was put into action in 1869 as the lighthouse serving vessels entering the Straits from the West. But a spot at the top of the lower peninsula overlooking the Straits of Mackinac allowed sight to vessels from both directions and Congress authorized a new lighthouse to be built.
In 1890, a fog signal was placed at the spot as foggy conditions on the Straits was a navigational problem. The fog signal had its own building with twin steam boilers. The first year it was in action, 1890, it operated more than 300 hours using 10 tons of coal and 18 cords of wood. Two years later, the Mackinac Point Lighthouse was put into action with a fourth order fresnal lens.
The tower and attached keeper’s quarters were constructed with cream city brick, like the McGulpin Point Lighthouse, with Indiana limestone trim. The building housing the fog signal was demolished and a brick building 50′ away from the lighthouse was constructed for the boilers.
When the Mackinac Bridge opened in 1957, its twin towers became the navigational marker for the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Point Lighthouse was put out of business. The property was purchased in 1960 by the Mackinac State Historic Parks and was used as a maritime museum from 1972-1988. The fog signal building reopened as a visitors center in 2000 and the restored lighthouse opened in 2004.
Visitors to adjacent Fort Michilimackinac can tour the Mackinac Point Lighthouse, with interpreters in period costume, climb the 51 steps to the lantern room and take in the spectacular view of the Straits, and climb even higher up the 13-rung ladder through the narrow opening to where the fresnel lens once shown brightly.
Hours: May 11th-June 2nd, 2023 from 9am-4:30pm;
June 3rd-September 3rd, 2023 from 9am-5:30pm;
September 4th-October 8th, 2023 from 9:am-4:30pm.
For more information, visit mackinacparks.org.
The Little Traverse Lighthouse, also called the Harbor Springs Lighthouse or Harbor Point Lighthouse, was first lit in 1884 by lighthouse keeper, Elizabeth Whitney Williams sending light 13 miles across the bay and into Lake Michigan. The lighthouse design is identical to one built in 1883 in Door County, Wisconsin.
The two-story brick building with an attached, square tower was an essential navigational tool for vessels on Lake Michigan. The community of Harbor Springs rallied for several years to get a lighthouse due to increasing boat traffic coming into Little Traverse Bay and Northern Michigan.
The first lighthouse keeper for the Little Traverse Lighthouse was 42-year-old Elizabeth Whitney Williams. She transferred from a 12-year stint as lighthouse keeper on Beaver Island to Harbor Point.
The 40′ tower’s cast-iron lantern room is 10-sided, has a red roof, and a fourth order fresnel lens. A rare, 18′ free standing fog bell tower stands next to the lighthouse and was built in 1896 to serve the growing number of pleasure boats coming into the bay and harbor.
The 3 1/2 acre property that the lighthouse sits on was purchased by the U.S. Government from the Harbor Point Association in 1883. Also on the property is a summer kitchen attached by a portico and a brick locker. When the U.S. Coast Guard decommissioned the Little Traverse Lighthouse in 1963, the property was sold back to the Harbor Point Association.
When the Little Traverse Lighthouse was decommissioned, the US Coast Guard erected a 41′ white steel skeleton tower. The light on the tower is visible for 14 miles.
The Little Traverse Lighthouse is not available to the public and can be seen only from the water. Occasionally, the Harbor Springs Historical Society hosts a fundraising tour of the lighthouse.
Fisherman’s Island State Park has more than 2,600 acres and miles of gorgeous Lake Michigan beach and is located just south of Charlevoix.
Little Traverse Conservancy protects land and scenic areas and provides opportunities for all of us to appreciate the environment.
Arch Rock is a geologic wonder on Mackinac Island and stands 146′ over the Lake Huron shoreline- nearly 15 stories tall.
Northern Michigan has many varied settings for kayaking- whether it by river, one of the inland lakes, or Lake Michigan,
Built during World War II to haul heavy materials during the winter, the Icebreaker Mackinaw was in service for 62 years then became a museum.
Young State Park outside Boyne City is a ‘year round delight for campers, hikers, snow lovers, swimmers and nature lovers.
The North Country Trail is the longest trail in the U.S. and stretches from North Dakota to New York, passing through Northern Michigan.
Mackinaw City’s Heritage Village lets visitors explore life in the Straits of Mackinac as it was during the era of 1880-1917.
The Harsha House and the Charlevoix Depot Museum, run by the Charlevoix Historical Society, preserve much of Charlevoix’s rich history.
The history of the fur trade in Northern Michigan is captured at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City.
Get off the ferry from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace to Mackinac Island and the first thing you’ll see is the historic downtown area.
Crooked Tree Arts Center is a place where artists from northern Michigan can display their talents and artwork to the public.
North Central Michigan College’s Natural Area in Petoskey includes over five miles of trails that run through unique habitats.
This Inland Waterway covers 38.2 miles from outside of Petoskey to Cheboygan. Find state parks, fishing, swimming, and more along the way.
Summer’s not summer without a day at the beach and Northern Michigan offers some of the best beaches anywhere.