Michigan isn’t typically a drive-through state that you happen to explore on your way to somewhere else. Surrounded on most sides by the Great Lakes, getting to Michigan generally feels like an off-the-beaten-path destination. Situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, about an hour and a half north of Grand Rapids and four hours from Detroit and Chicago, Ludington, Michigan, is easily accessible to Michiganders. Yet, some aspects of Ludington spark a description of off-the-beaten-path. When I think of off-the-beaten-path Ludington, the S.S. Badger, Ludington lighthouses, and rustic camping come to mind.
You’re not ready to fly yet, so you’re considering a Michigan road trip, but it seems a bit out of the way. What if you could get there sooner than you thought – and with less stress? You don’t need to circumvent Lake Michigan to arrive at your destination. The S.S. Badger trims time off your trip, and even the driver gets a break.
The S.S. Badger is the last coal-fired steamship ferry in the United States, carrying people and vehicles across Lake Michigan from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to Ludington, Michigan. During the four-hour passage, you can lounge on the deck, participate in a scavenger hunt, have a cocktail or snack, or play their famous bingo during the journey. Finally, you’ll arrive in time for dinner. While this article presents opportunities to get off the grid and back to nature, Ludington is also a foodie town. You’ll have many opportunities to enjoy craft beer and fine dining.
Big Sable Point Lighthouse
No weekend in Ludington is complete without a hike to Big Sable Point Lighthouse. Historically, Lake Michigan’s coastline stretching between present-day Ludington and Big Sable Point was perilous. In 1855, 12 ships wrecked along the craggy shore. They needed to light Big Sable Point to support the flourishing lumber industry and avoid future disasters. The lighthouse built in 1867 cost $35,000. As the lumber industry faded, the lighthouse continued to support mariners in various sectors, including steamers carrying coal and boating tourism.
Attached to the black-and-white tower are the original keepers’ quarters. Climb 130 steps to the tower room’s viewing platform and walk on the catwalk to enjoy stunning views of Lake Michigan. The tower also has a well-stocked gift shop. Although it’s an almost two-mile walk each way down a trail to reach the lighthouse, buses provide rides to the lighthouse several times during the summer. Check out the dates here. Guided tours of the lighthouse and live concerts reward those who make the journey. These weekends would be a great time to visit if you want to see the tower views but find the almost four-mile roundtrip walk a bit daunting.
Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse
While the Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse is less remote than the Big Sable Point Lighthouse, it’s still a jaunt. Built in 1924, they designed the breakwater to cut through the rough waves that arise as the weather changes on Lake Michigan. The flashing green light will guide you to the light. To explore this 57-foot structure, you’ll need to walk a half-mile down to the end of the pier at Stearns Park Beach. It’ll be worth the effort, though, as the light tower is open for tours and tower climbs throughout the summer. They also have a gift shop in the lighthouse.
To some, off-the-beaten-path means roughing it, and Ludington State Park offers that too. In addition to three modern campgrounds, the park features ten walk-in sites that require a one-mile hike along the trail leading to Big Sable Point Lighthouse. Situated a short walk from the Lake Michigan dunes, among the jack pines, these rustic camping spots include a fire ring and picnic table at each location. Nearby you’ll find vault toilets and a water pump. For a bit of luxury, Dune Grass Concessions will deliver firewood to your camp. The park welcomes hike-in campers to use the showers at the modern campgrounds.
You’ll also find dispersed camping, with no services, at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area in the nearby Manistee National Forest.
If you want to get away from it all, you can do that in Ludington, Michigan. Arrive via the S.S. Badger from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and spend your time outdoors in nature. Hiking the woods, exploring the dunes, investigating lighthouses, and rustic camping are all off-the-beaten-path activities in Ludington, Michigan.