Michigan Lighthouse Guide and Map: Emmet County Lighthouses
Emmet County is one of our state’s smallest counties by land area yet it is home to roughly 33,000 Michiganders. Petoskey is Emmet County’s largest city and the county boasts more than 65 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. This county Northern Michigan is home to seven lighthouses, but this edition of our lighthouse guide and map series will show that visiting all but two of them present some challenges. Four of these lights are located out in the waters of Lake Michigan and a fifth is located on private property and only open to the public once each year. In our Michigan Lighthouse Guide and Map: Emmet County Lighthouses post today we will share with you how to view all seven of these beacons!
McGulpin Point Lighthouse – After decades of private ownership, the McGulpin Point Lighthouse was purchased by Emmet County in 2008 and transformed into a great museum complex. Tens of thousand of visitors now make the short trip west of downtown Mackinaw City each year to see this 1869 lighthouse. You can tour the inside and even climb the tower, and a trail with interpretive signage lets you “meet” some of the area’s earliest residents. Find out more at https://www.mcgulpinpoint.org/.
White Shoal Lighthouse – There are a couple options for viewing White Shoal Lighthouse. The easiest is to join a Shepler’s Lighthouse Westbound Cruise out of Mackinaw City, which will also allow you to see a few of the other lighthouses on this list. The White Shoal Light Preservation Society (https://www.preservewhiteshoal.org/) has done extensive restoration work to the country’s only “barber pole” lighthouse, and has offered tours and overnight stay in previous years. That is a pricier option, but a truly unique experience! This stunning lighthouse was completed in 1910 and has a focal plane of 125 feet.
Grays Reef Light Station – Like the White Shoal Light, this light station is best viewed from a Shepler’s Lighthouse Westbound Cruise out of Mackinaw City. “The lighthouse was constructed from 1934-36, and a keeper manned this lonely spot until 1976 when it was automated. Grays Reef Light is 65 feet tall, covered in steel plates with a black lantern room. The light sits on a concrete square, and the tower rests on a square two story base. It may not be as eye-catching as the White Shoal Light, but this lighthouse has weathered the years quite well and has its own simple beauty. From a distance it looks like a small structure and the thought of people having to live there seems farfetched, but up close it looms large and you are able to see there was plenty of room for a crew in the structure below the tower.”
Waugoshance Lighthouse – Michigan’s most endangered lighthouse can also be seen from the Shepler’s Lighthouse Westbound Cruise, and distant views are sometimes possible from Wilderness State Park on the mainland. “Deactivated and abandoned in 1912, the lighthouse has endured years decades of severe weather and countless harsh winters; it was even used as a target for bombing practice during World War II. While the Waugoshance lighthouse certainly wasn’t going to win any awards for its looks, it has always held a special place in the hearts of lighthouse lovers for continuing to stand against all odds. With some sad news shared by the (now former) Waugoshance Lighthouse Preservation Society earlier this week, it seems that the lighthouse could soon be lost to Lake Michigan. It certainly won’t be the first Michigan lighthouse to be lost, but it will be one of the most tragic examples of preservation efforts not being enough to combat the forces of nature combined with government red tape.”
Skillagalee (Ile Aux Galets) Lighthouse – One of the two more elusive lights on this list, the Skillagalee Lighthouse guards a small, rocky island between Beaver Island and Cross Village on the mainland. Distant views of this light were available on the Shepler’s Westbound Extended Lighthouse Cruise (it has since been replaced by the Squaw Island Lighthouse) and we hope that it one day is added back into the rotation. This 1888 light still stands tall at 48 feet, and numerous shipwrecks in the waters nearby show why this remote post was needed.
Little Traverse Lighthouse – The hardest lighthouse to view in Emmet County is the Little Traverse Lighthouse, which is located within the Harbor Point Association gated community in Harbor Springs. The best views of this privately owned light come from the water in a boat or kayak, although once a year tours have been offered by the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society. We hope to take the kayaks up here in 2022 and make the trip out to visit this lighthouse from the water, while also checking out some fun new additions to Shay Park!
Petoskey Pierhead Light – It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing, but the Petoskey Pierhead Light helps guide many vessels into the marina each year. This simple steel cylindrical tower is white with a red stripe and rests on a concrete base. If weather conditions are favorable it is possible to walk out and see this beacon up close. The best access comes from Bayfront Park, but the light can be seen from several parks, beaches, and trails along the shoreline.
The map below begins at McGulpin Point, then heads to the Shepler’s dock for the lighthouse cruise. From there it runs south to Harbor Springs where you can view the Little Traverse Lighthouse from a private boat or kayak (or on a tour if you time your visit correctly) before ending in Petoskey where you can walk the breakwater out to the pierhead light.