Best Collection of Lighthouses on the Great Lakes
Northeast Michigan is home to seven spectacular lighthouses that helped guide ships to safe harbor. Most lighthouses are open mid-May through mid-October. This unique collection of lighthouses features a haunted lighthouse, the Great Lake’s oldest accessible lighthouse, and the tallest accessible lighthouse. View one or all of them at your own pace or enjoy a self-guided driving tour of key northern Lake Huron lighthouse coastline destinations.
“The Alpena Light”, aka Alpena’s “Little Red” Beacon
While the Alpena Light may not be a typical lighthouse, it does meet the criteria to be called one. Located at the mouth of the Thunder Bay River, the 80-foot skeletal tower is viewable from Alpena’s marina and breakwall. Called “Sputnik” (resembles the Russian space satellite) and “Little Red” by locals, it is said this often dismissed light is “Long on duty, short on beauty.”
Little Red is the only lighthouse within the City of Alpena, and believed to be the only lighthouse of this type in the U.S. The station was built of wood in 1877, rebuilt of wood in 1888 and finally constructed of steel in 1914. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. An automated active aid to navigation, the Alpena Light originally housed a Fourth Order Fresnel lens.
New Presque Isle Lighthouse
The Presque Isle Light Station includes three historic buildings. The light tower, which connects to a keeper’s dwelling, was built in 1870 and is the tallest lighthouse tower accessible by the public on the Great Lakes. An unattached keeper’s residence, constructed in 1905, has been painstakingly restored and now serves as a museum. The buildings are situated on a 99-acre township park featuring a playground, picnic area, pavilion and nature trails. A gift shop is located in the original keeper’s quarters. Visitors, for a nominal fee, may also climb the 130 steps to the top of the tower for a breathtaking view. The buildings and grounds are open mid-May through mid-October, from 10a.m. until 7 p.m., daily. The 1905 House is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, 11am to 5pm, Tuesday through Saturday; 1pm to 5pm Sunday; closed Mondays.
4500 E. Grand Lake Rd., Presque Isle, (989) 595-9917
Old Presque Isle Lighthouse
The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse is one of the oldest surviving accessible lighthouses on the Great Lakes. Built in 1840 by Jeremiah Moors of Detroit, the harbor light operated until 1871 when the keeper transferred to a new, taller, coastal lighthouse a mile to the north (the New Presque Isle Lighthouse). Visitors can climb the hand-hewn stone steps of the 30 feet tall tower for a panoramic view of the Lake Huron shoreline and Presque Isle Harbor. The keeper’s dwelling serves as a hands-on museum. Here, visitors can blow foghorns and examine other interesting artifacts. They can also ring the bell from the Lansing City Hall clock tower and pose for the perfect photo opportunity with head and hands in an old set of stocks. The buildings and park grounds are open to the public daily, from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., mid-May through mid-October. A nominal fee is charged for tower climbs.
5295 E. Grand Lake Rd., Presque Isle, (989) 595-6979
40-Mile Point Lighthouse
Unlike many Great Lakes lighthouses, Forty Mile Point Light does not mark a significant port, but was built so ships would never be out of viewing range of a lighthouse. The light is 40 miles sailing distance from Mackinaw Point, or just north of Rogers City. The lighthouse was built in 1896 to assist ships through the dangerous shoreline where open water, hidden shoals and false bays had claimed a number of vessels. Follow “Shipwreck Trail” to see what’s left of the Joseph S. Fay, one of 27 wooden ships that sank during a fierce storm in 1905. You can see about 150′ of her side wall resting on the beach near the lighthouse. Other features include the steamer Calcite pilot house, a picnic area, swimming beach and hiking trails.
County Park Road, Rogers City
Sturgeon Point Lighthouse
Until the early 20th Century, northern Michigan was almost completely dependent on waterborne commerce for all of its needs. Thousands of sailing vessels and early steamers plied the Great Lakes at a time when there were almost no aids to navigation to guide them along the dangerous coastline with its treacherous rocks, shoals and reefs. One such reef extends 1-12/ miles out into Lake Huron at Sturgeon Point, just north of Harrisville, Michigan. In 1869, the Lighthouse Service began construction of the lighthouse at Sturgeon Point to mark this hazard. Sturgeon Point Lighthouse became operational in the spring of 1870 and has been in continuous service for 137 years. It is still an operational lighthouse.
In 1876 the U.S. Life Saving Service established a Life Saving Station just south of Sturgeon Point Lighthouse. This station provided around-the-clock rescue capability for vessels in distress. With the formation of the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915, Sturgeon Point became a Coast Guard station. The lighthouse was electrified and automated in 1939 and the last personnel left in 1941. The Coast Guard buildings were subsequently destroyed, however, the lighthouse itself survived but was severely vandalized. In 1982 the Alcona Historical Society leased the lighthouse and began a three year restoration project. The interior of the keeper’s house was completely restored, and the buildings were painted. Almost all of the work was done by volunteers. The lighthouse and keeper’s house are of masonry construction on a limestone block foundation. The tower is 70 feet, 9 inches tall and is 16 feet in diameter at its base. The light is a 3.5 order Fresnel lens made in Paris, France. The light apparatus is still maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. The keeper’s house is now a maritime museum which is open to the public seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day Weekend. The lighthouse tower is open to the public. The grounds are open all year.
Point Road, Harrisville
Thunder Bay Island Lighthouse
One of the oldest light stations on Lake Huron is located on Thunder Bay Island, situated in the center of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Thunder Bay is the outermost island in a group of islands connected to the north point of Thunder Bay by a shallow bank of numerous rocks, most of which are submerged. The light tower was first constructed in 1832 and was built to warn mariners of the dangerous reefs extending from the island. Squatters were attracted to the federally-owned island, and by 1845 a large fishing community thrived there. One hundred and sixty people lived on the island with 31 fishing boats harvesting twelve thousand barrels of fish each year. Faced with government action to remove them from the island, the trespassers picked up their belongings and relocated to nearby Sugar Island, where they stayed for years. Access to the island is limited to the U S Coast Guard, U S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and members of the Thunder Bay Island Preservation Society. Contact the preservation society at (989) 356-6743. The station was placed on the National Historic Register in 1984. The lighthouse is not open to the public but can be viewed via boat from the water.
Middle Island Lighthouse
Middle Island Light Station is located in Lake Huron, halfway between Thunder Bay Island and Presque Isle. There are 7 buildings on the island, including a light tower, Keepers Quarters, an Oil House, Tool Garage, a Fog Horn building and two brick privies. The light is 78 feet above low water and can be seen for 17 miles.