By Jeff Wellman
Though not as necessary as they once were for guiding ships through the Great Lakes, Michigan’s lighthouses are still destinations for travelers, history buffs, and locals alike. Their historic pasts, grand architecture, and the stories of their keepers are all aspects that draw guests to visit. Many beautiful lighthouses are scattered along the shores of the Great Lakes. Here are a few where you can stop and tour for a few hours, and some where you can stay weeks in solitude.
St. Helena Island Lighthouse
Located 10 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge, the St. Helena lighthouse is on its own island in Lake Michigan. The island used to be home to around 200 people, but is now uninhabited. After years of abandonment, in 1989 the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association stepped up and made improvements to the lighthouse and keeper’s quarters with the help of many volunteers. Today, the GLLKA accepts volunteer assistant lightkeepers in the summertime, but you must pay a fee to volunteer. The fee goes toward your housing, meals, beverages, etc. enjoyed during your volunteer period, which can range from 3 days to 2 months. The volunteer detail includes general cleaning and maintenance, as well as tour guide services.
Presque Isle Lighthouses
With not one but two lighthouses on the grounds, this historic site marks the entrance to Presque Isle Bay and harbor. Visitors can climb to the top of the old lighthouse for a small fee. The lighthouse has been known to be haunted, with ghosts being seen and heard throughout the “old” lighthouse property. The “new” lighthouse, however, is not haunted. This new lighthouse was built as a solution when the old lighthouse began to get run down and deteriorate. In 1905, a new keeper’s house was built and the new lighthouse is still in operation. In addition to the lighthouses, you can hike trails, check out a gift shop and museum, and enjoy a picnic in the Old Lighthouse Park. The view looks out over Lake Huron and Great Duck Island. No overnights are allowed at this lighthouse, but volunteer keepers are needed for 2.5 hour shifts.
Point Betsie Lighthouse
You can visit, tour and even stay the night at this historic lighthouse located north of Frankfort on the shores of Lake Michigan. Constructed in 1858, Point Betsie is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is still in operation to this day. Live like a lightkeeper by renting the keeper’s quarters, arguably one of the nicest lighthouse experiences in the state. Recently renovated, the 2-bedroom quarters includes fresh décor and beautiful views of the Manitou Islands, not to mention no obligation to volunteer to be able to stay. While staying at the lighthouse or just visiting for the day, you can stroll along Point Betsie beach, peruse the Boathouse Museum’s various exhibits, and climb to the top of the lighthouse tower to take in the views.
McGulpin Point Lighthouse
McGulpin Point Lighthouse is named for John McGulpin, who came to North America around 1760 as an officer in the British army and later served at Fort Michilmackinac. Located west of Mackinaw City, this historic lighthouse protected shipping on the Straits of Mackinac against storms, fog, and rocks between 1869 and 1906. After 38 seasons of operation, McGulpin Point Lighthouse was discontinued on Dec. 15, 1906. In 2008, Emmet County purchased the lighthouse and reopened it to the public in 2009. The 10-acre site includes 336 feet of shoreline on the Straits with a commanding view of the Mackinac Bridge, as well as a gift shop, replica lantern, and an apartment on site that is available to rent by the night. Although not in the lighthouse itself, the living quarters has room for four and is next door to the lighthouse.