Lighthouses: The Mitten is home to well over 100, the most in one state in the nation, which tourists flock to each and every summer. For those found along Lake Michigan, they are part of the touristy, beach and resort town experience. Each one offers the opportunity to catch a beautiful sunset over the water each night. Sounds perfect! Well, after experiencing these same spots from St. Joseph to well north of Muskegon in January, I’ve come to another conclusion: Michigan lighthouses look better in winter.
First, the lighthouses are better in winter because the crowds of summer aren’t around. You’ll see mainly the diehards and photographers like myself battling the frigid winds off Lake Michigan, along with large balls of ice, snow drifts, and slippery roads. I recently had Little Sable Point Lighthouse and the surrounding dunes and beach all to myself.
Secondly, the unpredictable state of the weather is what makes winter an ideal time to visit. Is everything fully iced over, or is it unusually warm? Is the Lake Michigan lake effect snow machine in high gear? Can you walk the pier leading to a light, or do you have to climb snow piles? Gotta love the adventure and unknown of it all! Luckily, I visited the Grand Haven lighthouses at a snow storm’s end during an extended period of below freezing temperatures. I visited the White River Light after a thaw and refreeze leading to a skating rink. As a result, I slipped my way slowly down the pier and around the lighthouse.
I’ve climbed snow piles to reach the South Haven Light and St. Joseph lighthouses. When the easterly winds pick up on these exposed lighthouses, look out! The waves come crashing onto the pier and into the lighthouse, creating ice on everything it touches when temps are far below freezing. Michigan’s coastline that sits on the windy, east side of Lake Michigan is a reason many people, including myself, flock to its lighthouses in winter.
Tip: During most winters, I will visit early in the season before the lake starts to freeze over, meaning fewer waves, hence less chance of ice on the lighthouses, piers and other surfaces.
While lighthouses are the focal point on my coastline adventures, a Michigan winter also brings with it the unique views of the surrounding area. I look forward to seeing what will be iced over and snow-covered. Frozen park benches, lamp poles, and a completely iced over beach alongside Little Sable were some of the highlights. Then, combine these things with a lighthouse view and you’ve got yourself some unique winter beauty.
I walked slowly down that frozen beach and up-top the icy sand dunes of Silver Lake State Park to capture Little Sable from various vantage points. The sand dunes, vast beach, and (usually) the catwalk are my spots within Grand Haven State Park. The catwalk and pier are closed for construction this winter, so there’s a frozen closed gate and unique photo opportunity this season. Let me in! Let me in!
Tip: In Muskegon, head onto the one-way Beach Street Road and park immediately after passing the US Coast Guard. The beach and brush sit in the foreground, leading to some scenic panoramic views covering both lighthouses.
I only made it as far north as Little Sable in my winter lighthouse exploration this time around. However, fellow Awesome Mitten contributor and travel blogger, Christine Snow, shows off what Lake Michigan lighthouses in winter are all about further north. She’s captured the Point Betsie Lighthouse and Manistee North Pierhead Lighthouse among others.
View more of the snow, ice and other elements of the season, from my Lake Michigan travels, that make Michigan lighthouses look better in winter: