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WEB EXCLUSIVE! Traverse City lighthouses

Courtesy Traverse City CVB

Thanks to its location on the shores of Grand Traverse Bay near the once-bustling Manitou Passage, Traverse City is a convenient base for exploring five historic lighthouses.

“One thing that’s great about those lights is that they’re accessible,” said Michigan lighthouse expert and lecturer Dianna Stampfler.

The easiest to access is the Grand Traverse Lighthouse at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula near the village of Northport. One of the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes, having guided ships through the northern entrance to the Manitou Passage for 150 years, the lighthouse is now a museum with extensive exhibits and period furnishings from the 1920s and 1930s.

Some 45 miles to the south near the town of Frankfort, the Point Betsie Lighthouse marks the lower entrance of the passage. Built in 1858, its brightly colored buildings are clustered in a scenic dune area at water’s edge. Point Betsie was automated in 1983 and is still in operation.

The picturesque Old Mission Point Lighthouse, built in 1870 at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, was replaced by an offshore beacon in 1933. Although the lighthouse is not open for tours, it is the centerpiece of a public park.

Even more picturesque but somewhat less accessible, the South Manitou Island Lighthouse can only be reached in summer after a 90-minute ferryboat ride from the port of Leland. A classic 100-foot tower, the lighthouse rises abruptly from the shore of the island, and visitors are free to climb its 117 steps to the top for a thrilling view of water, sky, forests and dunes.

The original 1840 wooden lighthouse was replaced in 1871 with the current building. Today it is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and administered by the National Park Service.

Just a few miles away, the North Manitou Island Shoal Lighthouse, known to locals as “the crib,” is not open to visitors. Built in 1935 to mark an unusual and dangerous shoal, it stands by itself in the middle of the water.

For more Traverse City:

Traverse City does the dunes!