7 Ways to Experience Shipwrecks in Michigan Without Diving the Great Lakes
Michigan is known as the “Great Lakes State” and also home to more lighthouses than any other state. Many of these lighthouses helped navigate ships along the Great Lakes throughout the years. Some were built too late as the waters also have seen more than 6000 shipwrecks since the late 1600s. The recent find of a fully intact shipwreck in Lake Michigan has popularized Michiganders and out of state tourists demand to see shipwrecks. While many of you won’t be able to go diving to shipwrecks, the state offers several easy locations to see shipwrecks and experience the history of the treacherous Great Lakes.
40 Mile Point Lighthouse
The 40 Mile Point Lighthouse began operation in 1897 offering a guide to those traveling the waters from Mackinaw to St. Clair River. The lighthouse gets its name from its distance to Mackinaw Point. While touring the lighthouse, you can see the remains of a shipwreck on the beach.
The Joseph S Fay is one of several area shipwrecks in this area known as the “graveyard of ships”. The Fay was one of the first ships built for the Great Lakes iron ore trade and began operations in 1871. The ship washed up near shore in 1905 and now visitors can see wooden sides, metal rods, and spikes from the ship. A trip to 40 Mile Point Lighthouse was on our Presque Isle Day Trip guide as well.
Alpena Shipwreck Tour
While in Alpena, you can check out some of the nearby shipwrecks aboard the “Lady Michigan”. This glass bottom bout tour lasts for two hours and covers six nearby shipwrecks. The boat tour runs most days with three times of 10 am, 1 pm, and 4 pm. Admission is $30 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under.
Au Sable Lighthouse
The Au Sable Lighthouse is found in Pictured Rocks and is the only lighthouse in the area, despite the very shallow shoreline. There is no car access to the lighthouse, but a hike to the light provides not only a view of the lighthouse, but also views of shipwrecks on the shore. The trip back to the light shows remnants of shipwrecks in the sand that are very easily viewable.
Glass Bottom Boat Tour in Munising
Labeled America’s first glass bottom boat shipwreck tour, a trip on this boat stands out as a highlight in the Upper Peninsula. A tour (check out their website here) takes you to the sites of three different shipwrecks and also gives an excellent view of the Grand Island Lighthouse. Admission is $32 for adults, $12 for children 6-12 and free for children 5 and under. This glass bottom boat tour was on our list of family friendly things to do in Munising.
We took a trip on this ship years ago to get a better view of the Grand Island Lighthouse while on one of our many lighthouse trips. I was surprised with just how good of a view of the shipwrecks you could get from the boat. This is a truly unique experience and well worth the money. Kids will also have a good time enjoying the up close views of the lighthouse and shipwrecks.
Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum/Whitefish Point
The ultimate guide to shipwrecks in Michigan can be found at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum on Lake Superior. This museum is open May 1st to October 31st and open daily from 10 am to 6 pm. Admission costs $13 for adults and $9 for children. Children under 5 get free admission. The highlight of the museum is exclusive exhibits on the Edmund Fitzgerald. The museum even houses the 200lb bronze bell from the legendary shipwreck, brought up in 1995.
The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald has been a famous Michigan tale for years and was made popular by the Gordon Lightfoot song about the legend and mystery of the shipwreck. On November 10th 1975, 29 men lost their lives in a shipwreck 17 miles from this museum. Since that time, the museum has been a part of three expeditions to the wreck, with the most recent being 1995.
This year and next year will likely see an increase in traffic as the 2015 year brings the 40th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. On November 10th the museum will feature a memorial ceremony honoring the lives lost at sea on the boat. The bell will even be wrung 30 times, one for each member lost and an additional one to honor all those lost at sea.
While the museum’s highlight is the Fitzgerald, it also has artifacts and information on shipwrecks like Steamer Vienna, Comet, Samuel Marher, John M. Osborn, John B. Cowle, and Cyprus. The Whitefish Point beach was also highlighted recently as one of our favorite Lake Superior beaches. At the beach is a memorial to the Edmund Fitzgerald.
NOAA Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena
The NOAA Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center is an underrated shipwreck history experience for the state. This museum is open year round and also has an unbeatable admission price, FREE. Inside, visitors will see scale models of area shipwrecks. One of the coolest features is video footage and photos from nearby shipwreck dives. While most of us will never dive to a shipwreck in our lifetime, this free museum provides a close enough experience to see what’s below the Great Lakes. More than 1000 artifacts are inside the museum.
South Manitou Island/Francisco Morazan
The Manitou Islands are two of several that you can travel to with a ferry. In this case a $35 ticket gets you round trip transportation to the South Manitou Island. The Manitou Islands are surrounded by more than 50 shipwrecks, but also have one of the most visible and cool ones to see.
The remains of the Francisco Morazan can be seen from the South Island. The remains of the boat are floating on top of the water about 300 yards from the shore. A hiking path takes you to some great viewable areas to get pictures of what’s left of the boat. The ship was a frequent location for divers and islanders also traveled to the remains to bring back toys and food from the boat. The ship is now the property of the state of Michigan. Back in 1960, the Francisco Morazan ran over an exisiting shipwreck (Walter L. Frost) and became stuck.