Northwest Michigan Ports of Call

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Northwest Michigan Ports of Call have served shippers and summer's people for over 150 years--though at first, in places like Frankfort, goods and people had to debark their schooners in small boats, and pigs and cows were simply shoved overboard to swim for shore. This tour is filled with opportunities to experience historic boats, fishing villages, harbors and lighthouses. It starts at Ludington and works its way toward the Straits of Mackinacbut any place along this 250-mile shoreline is a good place to start.
In the 1840's Northwest Michigan had no railroad tracks, no roads, not even docks. But it wasn't long before lumbering, trade, settlers and summers people demanded and got real ports, where small boys, such as Bruce Catton, would wait on the beach and watch the boat come over the horizon then scamper back to the dock while the vessel came in past the pier heads . . . so silent, so unhurried, so purposeful . . . touched by the perils of the open water. This tour explores those ports from Ludington to the Straits of Mackinac.
On July 15, 1859, some 148 citizens of Wisconsin, and two of Detroit, left Manitowoc, Wisconsin, aboard the Gazelle. Their destination was Pere Marquette, now Ludington, the future terminus of the Flint and Pere Marquette Railway. The next day, they docked at Little Sable (where Dr. Zielley delivered a baby), but they could not dock at Pere Marquette because there was no pier. Nevertheless they returned home with bright hopes and anticipations for a cross-lake connection to their proposed Manitowoc and Mississippi Railroad. It would be almost 17 years before the railroad reached Ludington and cross-lake service began.
Today you can still travel from Ludington to Manitowoc with your car or RV on the Lake Michigan Car Ferry S.S. Badger. The lumbering town of Little Sable is gone, but the Big Sable Point Lighthouse in Ludington State Park gives visitors an extraordinary view of lake and dunes.

In the 1880's, you could join a timber drive in Grayling or Baldwin and end up at Manistee Lake, where 45 sawmills made lumber, shingles and siding and loaded them onto boats. On average, 14 freighters and passenger boats arrived every day.
Great Lakes freighters still come up the Manistee River Channel. And they still make traffic stops at the Victorian Port City's two drawbridges. You can tour, eat, sleep and shop aboard another car ferry, the S.S. City of Milwaukee. Built in 1930, it could carry a whole train 30 boxcars through water or up to three feet of ice. You'll find pictures of the port at the Manistee County Historical Museum and birds eye views with Orchard Beach Aviation.

In 1892 Ann Arbor Car Ferry #1 left Frankfort for Kewaunee, Wisconsin. Built of wood, with steel plating, it was the first ferry in the world to carry loaded railroad freight cars instead of relying on break-bulk shipping (transferring the cargo by hand from train to boat and back to train on the other side). On Valentines Day 1923, Ann Arbor Car Ferry #4 spent the night lost in a blinding blizzard. Several train cars washed overboard before the ferry finally stranded on a sandbar. A mural of that dramatic night is in the Frankfort Post Office, about fifty feet from where the ferry ran aground.
Just north of Frankfort, the Point Betsie Lighthouse has guided mariners through the Manitou Passage for nearly 150 years. Today, on summer weekends it invites visitors to step inside and climb the circular stairs to the top of the tower. Inland is Benzonia, where the Benzie Area Historical Museum exhibits celebrate the car ferries and Civil War historian Bruce Catton.

The Leelanau Peninsula 
Snowstorms and lake navigation do not mix well. Just ask the then young captain of the freighter Francisco Morizon, who in 1960 lost his way in a squall in the Manitou Passage. He turned his ship, and turned it again, and ran into South Manitou Island. The Morizon is one of the few Great Lakes shipwrecks visible from the shore.
South Manitou Island was the first port of call in the area. It was established by 1840 as a cording station a place where early steamers stopped to take on wood for fuel. Before long, fishing became another economic driver. Today at Lelands Fishtown you can still wander down an authentic commercial fishing dock the shanties, the nets, the boats, and the fishermen returning with their catch are all still there. And the fish and the peninsulas wine make a great combination at local restaurants.
Empire, now home to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, got its name when the schooner Empire State spent the winter frozen into its natural harbor. Sleeping Bear Point Maritime Museum has a lifesaving station with breeches buoys, Lyle guns, surf boats and other rescue equipment. The Leelanau Historical Museum in Leland tells the stories behind the fish, the wine and the water, and in Northport the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum has tours of the keepers quarters. Suttons Bay is homeport to the schooner Inland Seas and the sloop Liberty, both engaged in aquatic science education on Grand Traverse Bay.

Traverse City 
In 1847 Chicago investors decided that the southern end of Grand Traverse Bay would be a great location for a port sending out lumber and bringing in merchandise and settlers. The resulting frontier port was noisy, dirty, and filled with sawdust.
The noise and the sawdust are long gone, but chances to imagine the transportation of another century abound. Traverse City is home to two boats that are historic reconstructions the 1845 schooner Madeline and the 1775 sloop Welcome.  You can enjoy a quiet evening sail on the 20th century Tall Ship Manitou or even spend a night aboard. You can also test the waters in recreational rentals of all types or to just enjoy the scenery, all the way to the lighthouse at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula. The Grand Traverse Heritage Center has images of both the gritty and the modern town.

Little Traverse Bay 
In June 1917, Ed Hemingway put his family, including 17-year-old Ernest, in his Model T and left Oak Park, Illinois, for Michigan. The trip took 22 gallons of gasoline and 5 days. It included an ice cream stop, a flat tire, repair shops, and a road north of Scottville with ruts that broke one of the cars springs. The family enjoyed their summer on Walloon Lake, between Charlevoix and Petoskey, but the car returned to Chicago that fall aboard the S.S. Missouri.
Summer people like the Hemmingways first came to the ports of Little Traverse Bay Charlevoix, Petoskey and Harbor Springs as part of colonies, such as Bay View. Founded in 1876 by Michigan Methodists, Bay View promoted moral, scientific, and intellectual culture. That first year, 600 people camped in tents. Today the National Historic Landmark has 435 private cottages and 3 hotels. The Little Traverse History Museum and the Crooked Tree Art Center in Petoskey are great places to learn more about the region. And at Horton Bay, you can still buy a snack at the general store once frequented by Ernest Hemingway.

The Straits of Mackinac 
In the summer of 1634, a young French explorer named Nicolet paddled into the Straits of Mackinac. He was looking for a new route to China. Instead, he and the Huron tribesmen who shared his birch bark canoe found Ojibwa and Ottawa summer fishing villages and bays that would one day be ports for boats carrying furs, fish, lumber, iron, missionaries, soldiers and, of course, travelers.
Until the Mackinac Bridge was completed in 1957, the only way to cross the Straits was by car ferry and the wait during hunting season could last for hours. The spectacular bridge eliminated the car ferries; but there are still plenty of opportunities to see the Straits from the water. Ferryboats bring travelers to Mackinac Island from Mackinac City or St. Ignace. Sheplers Lighthouse Cruises offers one-day trips out of Mackinaw City, and the tall ship Roseway sails out of St. Ignace.
The Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse was particularly valuable to the car ferries. Today, it is among the many land-based attractions that celebrate the areas history, from Fort Mackinac on the island, to Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City, to the Museum of Ojibwa Culture in St. Ignace.

Badger - Histoic Lake Michigan Carferry
701 Maritime Drive
P.O. Box 708
Ludington, MI 49431
Toll Free: (800) 841-4243
Phone: (231) 845-5555
Book your discounted trip today on the S.S. BADGER - A National Historic Landmark, visit The SS Badger is the largest operating passenger steamship in the United States. The Badger provides a fun, reliable and affordable shortcut across beautiful Lake Michigan. The SS Badger provides a relaxing 4-hour, 60-mile cruise on a authentic steamship that takes passengers and their vehicles (including RVs, buses, cars and motorcycles) across Lake Michigan between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The ship features spacious outside decks for walking, reading or relaxing, as well as on-board amenities such as free movies, TV, entertainment, a toddler's room, a video arcade, free Badger Bingo, interactive games, a gift shop, two dining areas and private staterooms. Pets may be transported in the owner's vehicle or kept in a well-ventilated portable kennel on the car deck. Group travel discounts are available for groups over 10. With the excitement and romance of a sea voyage, plus uninterrupted time with family and friends - the journey is as much fun as the destination! Experience Amazing!...aboard the SS Badger.
Big Sable Point Lighthouse
8800 w M116
Ludington State Park
Ludington, MI 49431
Phone: (231) 845-7417
Big Sable Point Lighthouse was the first station constructed in this area. The Ludington North Breakwater Light in downtown Ludington guides vessels through the channel connecting the harbor, Pere Marquette River, and Lake Michigan. You can walk along the beach or the road in the Ludington State Park to reach the lighthouse. Open 7 days a week 10am to 5pm from May 1st to October 25 2015. Admission is $5.00 for adults and $2.00 for children 12 and under.
S.S. City of Milwaukee & USCGC Acacia
99 Arthur Street
US-31, North
Manistee, MI 49660
Phone: (231) 723-3587
The 360-foot long steamship City of Milwaukee is the last traditional Great Lakes railroad car ferry and was built in 1931. It is now a National Historic Landmark museum permanently moored on Manistee Lake and open to the public for guided tours. The knowleable guide will explain as they take you through all five decks. Learn about 1920's technology in the engine room. You will see the crew and officer quarters. You will also see the beautiful passenger deck with oak walls and brass accent's. You will finish off the tour seeing the Captains quarters and the wheel house. Museum exhibits are housed inside two of the ships boxcars.With reservations, you can stay the evening and enjoy stepping back into a simpler time walking the decks, meeting new friends or just pass the evening playing period and newer family games. The gift shop is located on shore. The ships are available for special events and facility rental. There are many volunteer opportunities available. The acclaimed "Ghost Ship" is operated Friday and Saturdays in October on board of the City of Milwaukee. The USGC Acacia is a 1944 buoy tender/icebreaker. Retired in 2006, Acacia is now moored next to the SS City of Milwaukee and is available for self guided tours. The Acacia is available for facility rentals, overnight opportunities for scout groups, and fishing parties. Marina slips are available and one travel trailer is available for weekly rental. Call for info.
Manistee County Historical Museum
425 River Street
Manistee, MI 49660
Phone: (231) 723-5531
This museum maintains the flavor of bygone days with fixtures and with fittings from the original double store built in 1871. Civil war mementos, pioneer exhibits, antique clocks, costumes, housewares, photos, and maritime and genealogy research are on display for all to enjoy when they come to visit our museum. Open Tuesday - Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm. Closed Mondays.
Orchard Beach Aviation Inc.
2323 Airport Road
Manistee Blacker Airport
Manistee, MI 49660
Phone: (231) 723-8095
Fly along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Manistee to Portage Lake. Only $30 per person! It is fun for the entire family and we are open seven days a week. Depart from Manistee Blacker Airport on US-31. Charter flying and scenic airplane rides. Rides available daily during the summer 10am-6pm (weather permitting), by appointment during the rest of the year.
Point Betsie Lighthouse
3701 Pt. Betsie Road
4 mi North of Frankfort
Frankfort, MI 49635
Reservations: (231) 651-0862
Phone: (231) 352-7666
This oldest standing structure in Benzie County, built in 1858, marks the all-important entrance to southern end of the Manitou Passage, a once-vital maritime shipping channel. Although the lane is no longer used by large commercial vessels, the operating light signal remains a US Coast Guard aid to navigation to this day, and the site shines as a treasured landmark to mariners and landlubbers alike. Because the USCG automated the light in 1983 and subsequently vacated the buildings in 1996, by 2004 it was possible to transfer title to Benzie County who, in turn, leased the site to the all-volunteer organization, Friends of Point Betsie Lighthouse, Inc. In a strong partnership, the County and the Friends have set about renovating the deteriorating buildings. By 2006, they had completed a nearly $1 M exterior restoration phase. Further work continues on a barrier-free access, the Fog/Signal structure, and the interiors of both major buildings. The site has been open for tours and gift shopping, primarily on weekends from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, since 2002. The public beach adjacent to the site is easily accessed, although roadside parking is problematic and there are no public facilities available until reaching Frankfort, 4 mi south, or Platte River, 8 mi north, on M-22. Assistant Lightkeepers Quarter is now available for weekly rentals in season.
Benzie Area Historical Museum
6941 Traverse Avenue
Box 185
Benzonia, MI 49616
Phone: (231) 882-5539
Featuring artifacts and exhibits of Benzie County history (logging, agriculture, railroads); as well as displays of Pulitzer-Prize winner and Benzonian native, author Bruce Catton (1954 for his books on the Civil War); the Ann Arbor Car Ferries, a General Store and more. Open Tuesday through Saturday, May through December. Also open on Mondays -- June, July and August.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
9922 Front Street
Highway M-72
Empire, MI 49630
Phone: (231) 326-5134
The National Park Service turns 100 on August 25, 2016. As we lead up to the centennial, we invite you to participate in Find Your Park Experiences to learn, discover, be inspired, or simply have fun in national parks. Find Your Park Experiences offer unique opportunities to explore national parks both in person and online. Check out Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and share your national park story at

Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore encompasses a 60 km (35 mi.) stretch of Lake Michigan's eastern coastline, as well as North and South Manitou Islands. The park was established primarily for its outstanding natural features, including forests, beaches, dune formations and ancient glacial phenomena. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore also contains many cultural features including an 1871 lighthouse, three former Life-Saving Service/Coast Guard Stations and an extensive rural historic farm district.

You will find a wide variety of activities for every age available to you at the Lakeshore. Climb the Dunes, swim at one of the many beaches, or take a hike through the Maple/Beech forest to some beautiful overlooks. Maybe you will want to spend some time in the museums or tour Port Oneida to learn about the rich history and culture of the area. The new Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail provides over four miles of paved trail. For more info visit our website.
Sleeping Bear Point Maritime Museum
9922 W. Front Street
Empire, MI 49630-9797
Reservations: (800) 365-2267
Phone: (231) 326-5134
The maritime museum is a Coast Guard Station restored to its appearance in days past when it played a vital role in saving the lives of mariners on Lake Michigan. The Maritime Museum displays examples of the history and daily life of the Life Saving Service. Open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Leelanau Historical Museum
203 E. Cedar Street
Leland, MI 49654
Phone: (231) 256-7475
We explore the story of the settlement and development of the Leelanau peninsula and its islands. Special displays feature Leelanau domestic arts, traditional Odawa arts, one-room schools and barns. The museum's archives houses thousands of historic photographs, documents and books.
Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum
15550 N Lighthouse Point Road
Leelanau State Park
Northport, MI 49670
Phone: (231) 386-7195
This lighthouse marks the end of the Leelanau Peninsula and has guided ships in the Manitou Passage of Lake Michigan for nearly 150 years making it one of the oldest on the Great Lakes. This lighthouse is sponsored by the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Foundation and features a historic and educational museum resembling a lighthouse keeper's home of the 1920s and 30s with a variety of exhibits depicting a broad spectrum of maritime and local history. You can also now become a Guide and a working hand at the light house, so contact the volunteer keeper program for more details.
Traverse Tall Ship Co.
13258 S. West Bay Shore Dr.
Traverse City, MI 49684
Toll Free: (800) 678-0383
Phone: (231) 941-2000
Sailing out of Traverse City, the 114-foot long, 59-passenger schooner Manitou offers three different 2-hour cruises every day of the week with specially catered picnic meals included during the evening sail. Join us for our Moomers Ice Cream sails! Enjoy the best ice cream in America (voted #1 scoop on "Good Morning America") on EVERY Afternoon Sail! Sunday evenings enjoy our Microbrew & Pizza Cruise featuring local favorites Short’s Brewery & Crusted Creations Pizza. Wine Tasting Cruises, with wine from Leelanau Cellars and Left Foot Charley, as well as savory cuisine from Silver Swan Homemade Foods, are offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Entertainment with "Song of the Lakes" takes place on the Wednesday evening cruise in July and August. Spend the night on our “Floating Bed & Breakfast,” Tuesday through Saturday.
History Center of Traverse City
322 Sixth Street
Traverse City, MI 49684
Phone: (231) 995-0313
Located in a riverside park, see the Con Foster Collection featured in new galleries including artifacts from Native American culture, railroads, the state asylum, a blacksmith shop, one-room schools, an old time parlor and guns. Free parking in adjacent lot or on street. An era gone by, but not forgotten, the Maritime Heritage Alliance is recognized for it's success in the construction, restoration of wooden vessels, promoting the history of maritime activities in these Great Lakes with artifacts, exhibits, seminars and activities designed to instill an appreciation of our heritage. The History Center of Traverse City also rents rooms for meetings and conferences.
Little Traverse History Museum - Petoskey
100 Depot Court
Petoskey, MI 49770
Phone: (231) 347-2620
On Petoskey's beautiful waterfront this museum is in the restored Pere Marquette train depot. Exhibits feature Ernest Hemingway's life in Michigan, rare Odawa Indian artifacts and historical exhibits which include the history of the Little Traverse Bay region. Admission is $3.00 per adult. Open seasonally call for times.
Crooked Tree Arts Center
461 E. Mitchell Street
Petoskey, MI 49770
Phone: (231) 347-4337
We are housed in an historic church and boast two fine art galleries where exhibits are held all year long of local artists and traveling exhibits. There is also a 220 seat theatre that is used by numerous local performing groups including the Little Traverse Civic Theater, Northern Michigan Chorale, Little Traverse Chorale Society and the Petoskey Film Theater. Center programming offers concerts throughout the year by local artists as well as regional and national talent.
Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
526 North Huron Avenue
Mackinaw City, MI 49701
Phone: (231) 436-4100
Look around. This is a setting that has inspired generations. With its impressive buff-colored brick walls, large square tower topped with battlements, and elegant fourth order Fresnel lens, this lighthouse-built in 1892-is a source for inspiration. Surrounding it is a beautifully landscaped lawn dotted with vibrant pine trees and the refurbished fog signal station and barn. And then there’s the backdrop: Sparkling beach sand, the majestic Straits of Mackinac, and the magnificent Mackinac Bridge, acting as a vista connecting the past, present, and future. Climb the tower and breathe in the spectacular view as generations of lighthouse keepers did before you. Step inside the lighthouse, and hear the Victrola play pre-World War I tunes in a period-styled sitting room. Explore nighttime navigation and Great Lakes’ shipwrecks. Interact with hands-on exhibits. Ask questions. Immerse yourself. Inside this stately structure, it’s always 1910, so welcome and discover. Lighthouse and museum is seasonal, opening in May.
Colonial Michilimackinac
102 W Straits Ave
PO Box 873
Mackinaw City, MI 49701
Phone: (231) 436-4100
Voted one of Top 10 Tourist Attractions by Family Fun Magazine. 

At this 1770s-era fort and fur trading village, every day is kids' day. Children can immerse themselves in special kids' programs. Drill in the King's Army. Play colonial games. Lift a fur bale or zoom down a slide in the Kids' Rendezvous Interpretive Playground. Be a voyageur in a reenactment. Witness an ongoing archaeological dig. With 13 authentically reconstructed buildings, interactive displays, and demonstrations such as open hearth cooking, Native American crafts, and cannon and musket firings, the entire family will be engaged.
Fort Mackinac
P.O. Box 370
Mackinac Island, MI 49757
Phone: (231) 436-4100
Voted one of Top 10 Tourist Attractions by Family Fun Magazine. 

On a southern bluff of Mackinac Island, towering 150 feet above the majestic Straits of Mackinac, is a fort once occupied by 18th-century British Redcoats and 19th-century American soldiers. This is Fort Mackinac, a military compound that holds significant history spanning several centuries. At Fort Mackinac, history is alive and you’re a part of it! Step inside and hear bugle music, rifle fire, and a cannon blast. Dance to a 19th century tune, drill with soldiers, play Victorian children’s games. It’s the 1880s. Imagine it. And then walk inside and live it.
Museum of Ojibwa Culture/Native Expressions Gift Shop
500 North State Street
Saint Ignace, MI 49781
Reservations: (906) 643-6076
Phone: (906) 643-9161
A national historic landmark, this museum interprets the rich archaeology and history of a 17th century Huron Indian village, Marquette's French Jesuit Mission, and local Ojibwa (Chippewa) Indian traditions and contemporary culture. Exhibits, continuous videos, and live demonstrations by nature interpreters all help visitors explore this exciting chapter of the straits area history. This unique gift shop features an outstanding selection of authentic, locally-made Certified Native American art, crafts and gift items, and has the area's largest selection of native books. Located inside the Museum of Ojibwa Culture. Open Memorial Day weekend to early December or by appointment.