Michigan Lighthouse Guide and Map: Cheboygan County Lighthouses
Cheboygan County is located at the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and its northern border runs for more than 30 miles along the shoreline of Lake Huron. Several reefs and shoal make this busy stretch of water dangerous and required the construction of a few lighthouses. Much like our last lighthouse guide (Emmet County and its seven lighthouses), this Cheboygan County lighthouse guide will help you get to seven different lighthouses. Three of these beacons are best seen from the water and Shepler’s offer several lighthouse cruise options that can help with this list. Two of these lighthouses are open to the public as museums, and three of them can be entered by the public. A fairly unique addition to this list is the opportunity to visit one of the best preserved lighthouse ruins sites in Michigan (at Cheboygan State Park). Check out some facts about each lighthouse below and find a map at the bottom of the post that stops at three lighthouses before visiting the Shepler’s dock in Mackinaw City then finishing at the Old Mackinac Lighthouse museum complex. Our Michigan Lighthouse Guide and Map: Cheboygan County Lighthouses begins with a stop at Cheboygan State Park to hike to the lighthouse ruins.
Cheboygan Lighthouse Ruins – From the trailhead parking lot it is a hike of just over a mile to reach the ruins of the 1859 Cheboygan Lighthouse. The first lighthouse was built here in 1851 closer to the water, which quickly doomed it. The ruins show that the second lighthouse, which was a brick “schoolhouse style” lighthouse, was built further inland. The lighthouse had a height of around 37 feet and served proudly until 1930, when the construction of the Fourteen Foot Shoal Light rendered it obsolete. Years later the land it stood on was transferred to the state for a state park, and much of the lighthouse was dismantled and sold off. It was cool to be here and try and picture what the station looked like when it was operational. We next head into town to see a pair of lights along the river (and get a distant view of two offshore ones).
Cheboygan River Front Range Light – One of the great stories in lighthouse preservation is the work the Great Lakes Lightkeepers Association has done here. After successfully saving and restoring the St. Helena Island Lighthouse, GLLKA turned its attention to the Cheboygan River Front Range Light. “The Front Range light was designed as a combination tower and keepers dwelling. The rectangular brown-painted, two-story wood frame building stood some twenty-four by twenty-seven and a half feet in plan. Its integral wooden tower, six feet two inches square, was located at the apex of the north end of the gabled roof. Since range lights are designed to be seen from within a narrow arc of visibility, a wooden lantern, rather than the normal cast-iron multi-sided lantern in general use at the time, was constructed on the tower gallery. The light was equipped with a fixed red Sixth Order Fresnel lens manufactured by Henry-Lepaute of Paris.” Parts of the interior have been restored to reflect an 1880s appearance, and on summer weekends the lighthouse is open for tours thanks to the efforts of volunteer keepers. If you’re lucky like we were, the keeper may have time to take you inside the Cheboygan Crib Light as well! Find out more at https://www.gllka.org/cheboygan-river-front-range-light.
Cheboygan Crib Light – One of the easiest lights to visit is Cheboygan’s iconic crib light at Gordon Turner Park. This light was erected and placed atop a concrete crib in the lake in the 1880s, and it had a difficult existence there until it was automated in the 1920s. By the 1980s it was made obsolete by advancements in radar and other technology, and it was moved to the park where it can be found today. It may no longer function, but it has a simple charm and is a reminder of maritime history. The tower is 25 feet tall and octagonal, painted white with red trim and a red roof. The crib light also features small circular and rectangular windows on its lower section. From the end of the pier here you can get distant views of both the Poe Reef Light and the Fourteen Foot Shoal Light.
Fourteen Foot Shoal Light – The next three lights are best viewed on the Shepler’s Eastbound Lighthouse Cruise out of Mackinaw City. The Fourteen Foot Shoal Light marks an incredibly shallow section of Lake Huron close to the busy shipping channel that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. A timber and concrete crib provides the base for this light. The cylindrical steel tower rises out of a rectangular one-story building with a sloped roof. All told, the focal plane for this light is over 50 feet, giving it a visibility range of up to 14 miles. This was designed to be a remotely operated (from Poe Reef) light, rather than one with a permanent keeper. The Fourteen Foot Shoal Light went into service in 1930 and it is still an active aid to navigation. It features a paint scheme that is mostly white with red trim.
Poe Reef Light – The Poe Reef Light stands 56 feet tall, with a focal height of 71 feet thanks to its large base. It is painted black and white with a red-capped lantern room and it is a square tower. The light was automated in the 1970s.
Spectacle Reef Light - The Spectacle Reef Light entered service in 1874 after four years of construction. The remote location and weather made construction difficult, but the finished product is a lighthouse that has stood the test of time quite well. The tower is 80 feet tall and it rests on a thick concrete base. The tower is constructed of light colored brick and topped with a red lantern room, while a small attached building is white with a red roof. This light was featured as the Lake huron representative in the 1995 Great Lakes Lighthouses postage stamp series. A nonprofit group was formed in 2020 to start work on the lighthouse and hopefully open it up for tours at some point. Find out more about their work at https://spectaclereef.org/.
Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse – Any road trip we take to the Upper Peninsula includes a stop at this lighthouse in Mackinaw City. The park here also happens to be a great place to view and photograph the Mackinac Bridge from. The Michigan historical marker in front of this lighthouse gives a brief overview of its history: “This lighthouse is opposite the turning point for ships making the difficult passage through the Straits of Mackinac, one of the busiest crossroads of the Great Lakes. McGulpin’s Point light, two miles to the west, had been established in 1856, but it was not visible from all directions. In 1889 Congress appropriated funds for the construction of a steam-powered fog signal here, which went into operation on November 5, 1890. Construction of the light tower and attached lightkeepers dwelling began, and the light was first displayed on October 25, 1892. Heavy iron and brass castings were used throughout the structure, and the light was visible to ships sixteen miles away. In operation until 1958, the lighthouse is now a maritime museum.” Find out more about the museum at https://www.mackinacparks.com/parks-and-attractions/old-mackinac-point-lighthouse/, and be sure to check out our Photo Gallery: Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse post for a better look at this unique beacon!