Spiral staircases. Tall towers. Majestic views. These lighthouses shout “Come on up!” They may have been built for the sailors, but now their charm invites you to visit and explore.
Sprinkled with these landmarks, the Great Lakes offer dozens of lighthouse views. Here’s 10 of the region’s best, open to the public.
10. Fort Gratiot Lighthouse – Port Huron, Mich.
If you’re going to visit lighthouses, you should include this historic beauty, the oldest operating lighthouse in the Great Lakes. Yes, you can climb the tower. It’s open during regular business hours, weather permitting. At 86 ft, the lighthouse shines over Lake Huron from the mouth of the St. Clair River. Take in the beauty, and a little bit of history.
9. Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse – Mackinaw City, Mich.
Up in northern Michigan, where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan become neighborly, there’s much to see. Stroll through the keeper’s quarters for a glimpse at what the place looked like in 1910. Get a hands-on experience with exhibit displays. Watch a historical video in the barn. Fifty-one narrow steps and an eleven-rung eight-foot ladder get you to the top of the tower. They say not everyone can do it, but you’re welcome to try if you’re over four feet tall, aren’t claustrophobic, and have proper shoes on. So, wear your boots, not your flip flops. Open May through October.
8. Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast – Big Bay, Mich.
This one is not only open for exploring, you can stay the night! Overlooking Lake Superior, it’s a majestic cliff-side view to take in for a day or cozy in for the night. The common living room offers a fireplace, books, and music for indoor relaxation, and the surrounding acres offer hiking, biking, skiing, and snowshoeing, for outdoor fun. Yep, it’s open year-round.
7. Grosse Point Lighthouse – Evanston, Ill.
One of the best-known Illinois lighthouses, this tower was built to guide ships on Lake Michigan safely into the Windy City. As a National Landmark, its grounds are open year-round and free of charge. Tours of the lighthouse itself are seasonal. Head here in good weather conditions for a chance to climb the 141 steps to the top of the tower. Take in views of Chicagoland and Lake Michigan.
6. Old Lighthouse Museum – Michigan City, Ind.
Not the traditional tower look you expect from a lighthouse. This is the oldest remaining lighthouse in Indiana. Cute and quaint, it’s a little gem to explore. It’s open April through October and offers ship models, exhibits about the woman who tended the lighthouse for over 40 years, and other historical info on the area. Of course, you can also climb the tower into the lantern room, for scenic views. Is that Chicago in the distance?
5. Devil’s Island Lighthouse – Apostle Islands, Lake Superior – Wisc.
This one’s for the more adventurous spirit. Located on a little dot in Lake Superior, you’ll have to work to get there. A remote destination off the coast of Wisconsin, boaters and kayakers often make their way to the island for a close-up view. Cruising tour boats offer views from the lake. If you do venture onto the island, two Queen-Anne style keeper’s homes and the 82-foot tower can be visited May through October.
4. Wind Point Lighthouse – Racine, Wisc.
Journeys up the 144 iron steps are invited on the first Sundays of June through October. Imagine being the keeper and making that daily trek with fuel for the light. There’s less work for you, though. Your climb will be rewarded with gorgeous views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding museum gardens. If your curiosity is peaked by the words “fog horn,” you can visit the Fog Horn Building Museum on the grounds as well.
3. Marblehead Lighthouse – Marblehead, Ohio
So pretty they put it on a U.S. postage stamp! Ohio is so proud of this picturesque spot, it has appeared on their license plate. Climbing out of Lake Erie’s limestone shore, it has become a landmark of the area. Open roughly Memorial Day through Labor Day, the site includes a keeper’s house museum, and they’ll let you climb to the tower top. Cedar Point, eat your heart out.
2. Sturgeon Point Lighthouse – Harrisville, Mich.
Volunteers completely restored this historic beauty in the 80’s. Now, the 70-foot tower is open for visitors to climb. Lake Huron views await you at the top. You can wander through the keeper’s house, too. It’s a maritime museum, open on weekends Memorial Day to Labor Day. Grounds are open year-round.
1. Little Sable Point Lighthouse – Mears, Mich.
This 107-foot tower seems to pop right out of the sand dunes below. It’s just 130 steps to the top. Make the climb for great views of the surrounding forests and dunes on the Lake Michigan shore. Its sister tower, Big Sable, isn’t far away. If you want to make a full day of lighthouse visits, the two Sables, Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse, and White River Lighthouse are all within 60 miles of each other. Hop around and do some tower climbing!