The Midwest offers art, architecture, nature, and even lighthouses. When was the last time you visited a lighthouse in the Midwest? Believe it or not, there are numerous lighthouses in the heart of America that will provide you with an epic experience, and now is the time to plan your visit. Summer is when most of these lighthouses are open for tours and offer the opportunity to climb to the top for 360-degree views.
Here are some of my favorite Midwestern lighthouses. I hope you will take the time to explore and experience the charm that they each have to offer.
1. Marblehead Lighthouse
Marblehead Lighthouse is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes. It sits on the shores of Lake Erie in Marblehead, Ohio, with the keeper’s house nearby. For a small fee, you can climb the 77 steps to the top to experience views of Lake Erie’s islands, which you can only see from this viewpoint. On a crystal clear day, you can even see the Cleveland shoreline. The Marblehead Lighthouse State Park, where the lighthouse is located, is open all year long. The museum in the keeper’s house is handicap accessible and houses artifacts and historic photos of the area.
Each time I have climbed to the top, I have seen something different. Bring your binoculars, and be prepared for a windy experience! Afterward, have a picnic lunch on the grounds and enjoy Lake Erie. The lighthouse grounds are family friendly and offer beautiful views.
2. North Point Lighthouse
The North Point Lighthouse in Milwaukee is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For a small fee, you can climb the 84 steps to the top for incredible views of Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee skyline. I always find the keeper’s quarters and stories interesting. Georgia Stebbins worked as the keeper here from 1881 to 1907. It’s estimated that she climbed the steps at the lighthouse 63,800 times to keep the structure functioning. Can you imagine climbing the steep, winding stairs that many times?
The lighthouse is located in Lake Park along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. There is plenty of parking, and the museum and grounds are handicap accessible. You will want to plan to spend up to 2 hours exploring the lighthouse and its beautiful grounds.
3. Grand Marais Lighthouse
Grand Marais, Minnesota
The Grand Marais Lighthouse sits on the stunning shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota. As you enter Grand Marais from the south on Highway 61, look toward the water, and you’ll see the lighthouse come into view. You can walk out on the pier to be closer to the lighthouse, but note that it is not a level surface. The walkway to the pier is rocky in places, and the path can be narrow if several people are on it.
You can view the lighthouse from the shore or by boat. For an epic photo of this lighthouse, get up bright and early in time for the sunrise. Summer brings warm temperatures and blue water. Winter brings an iced-over lake and a beauty all its own.
4. Cana Island Light Station
Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin
The Cana Island Light Station in Baileys Harbor has been a fixture in Door County for more than 150 years. The 89-foot tower has 97 steps for you to climb for a view from the top. The home of the original lighthouse keeper and his family is also located on the island.
This lighthouse offers an experience that I have yet to find elsewhere: You board a hay wagon pulled by a tractor to cross the causeway from the parking lot to Cana Island. If you want to brave the crossing by foot, come prepared with sturdy footwear that will protect your feet.
The island is open seven days a week during the season, which runs from May 1 through October. There is a small fee to visit the lighthouse, which includes a visit to the keeper’s quarters and outdoor museums. Dress in layers, since this area of Door County can be windy and chilly. Afterward, take the time to explore the harbor area that surrounds the lighthouse. I have seen many species of birds from the shoreline and boats of all sizes in the harbor.
5. Sturgeon Bay Pierhead Light
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
The Sturgeon Bay Pierhead Light in Door County is my favorite lighthouse in the Midwest. Its red color stands out in the bay, and visiting it is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. You cannot walk all the way to it, but you can get really close. The concrete is not level, so if you have mobility issues, you will want to view it from the shoreline.
This lighthouse is one of the most photogenic that I have visited. The blue waters and clear sky make for beautiful pictures. You can visit at any time of the year, but the summer is best, since you will be able to walk to the end of the breakwater. There are no fees to visit. Sunrise and sunset are the prime times to view this incredible lighthouse in Door County.
6. Split Rock Lighthouse
Two Harbors, Minnesota
Split Rock Lighthouse near Two Harbors on Lake Superior sits high above Minnesota’s scenic North Shore. This landmark was constructed after a November gale destroyed 29 ships in 1905. Construction was completed in 1910, but the Split Rock Lighthouse was closed in 1969. The lighthouse was designated a National Landmark in 2011.
Today, you can visit Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and enjoy the 2,200 acres that offer hiking, picnicking, and tent camping. There is a small fee to explore the area. The views and experiences that the lighthouse and surrounding buildings provide make them worth your time and money. For a classic photo, climb the 170+ stairs for a picture that you will be happy to add to your collection.
7. Big Red Lighthouse
The Big Red Lighthouse stands tall and proud in the harbor in Holland, Michigan. This may very well be the most photographed lighthouse in Michigan. For a memorable view and incredible photo opportunities, arrive around sunrise or sunset. You will walk across sand and gravel for nearly a quarter of a mile to the lighthouse. Wear comfortable walking shoes, and dress in layers. You can stay for an hour, but dogs are not allowed in the park. A fun time to visit is in May, when the area’s famous tulips are in full bloom.
If you want a fantastic view of this bright red lighthouse, visit Holland State Park. You can walk along the handicap-accessible boardwalk to the north pier. The twin-gabled structure reflects the Dutch influence in this area of Michigan. The light that shines from here can be seen for 20 miles. The original lens from the lighthouse is on display at the Holland Museum.
What To Know Before You Go
Lighthouses offer fantastic viewing opportunities and a chance to learn more about the history of an area. Each of these lighthouses has something unique. You cannot go inside all of these lighthouses, but you can experience the areas around all of them.
Be sure to carry binoculars with you when exploring these lighthouses. The 360-degree views from above are incredible, as are the grounds. Explore the shorelines, and don’t forget to look back. The lighthouses offer magnificent views from the ground, too.
These lighthouses have steep staircases, and it’s vital that you stay safe while climbing to the top. To avoid the disappointment of being told that you cannot climb the stairs, wear a sturdy pair of tennis shoes.
Lighthouses represent hard work and perseverance. The people who worked in these iconic landmarks are an important part of American history. Many of these lighthouses have museums on-site or nearby. Plan a visit to them to learn more about the local people and their dedication to these lighthouses.