Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum
- 15500 N. Lighthouse Point Road
- Northport, MI 49670
- (231) 386-7195
Almost everything I do revolves around food. That’s why, from time to time, you see blog posts on this blog that aren’t really about food. They’re about great entertainment spots in this great state….but, 9.9 times out of 10, food is what led me to that spot.
Our second day in Traverse City, we wanted to get away from Great Wolf Lodge for a while. The last time we were in town, we went out to Mission Point Lighthouse. J and I really enjoyed the drive out Old Mission Peninsula and climbing to the top of the tower at the lighthouse. We wanted to do something similar this time…in fact, Mission Point was on our to-do list until I came across another lighthouse that wasn’t much further away.
Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum is in Leelanau State Park at the very tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. It’s about an hour drive up M-22 from where we were staying in Traverse City. We were really hoping for a fall color tour along the way, but the leaves hadn’t really started changing yet despite the fact it was mid-October.
J and I have a recreation passport on her car, so admission to the park was free. Our travel companions did not have the passport, but there didn’t seem to be anyone at the entrance to the park to pay. The day permit for the park should have been $9. I know they were going to go back and check before we left, but I’m not sure whatever came of it.
There’s a little parking area near a playground area and you have to walk the rest of the way back to the lighthouse. It’s a pretty short walk up a paved road. Once there, you come to a gift shop and a big area that eventually leads to the lighthouse itself.
We happened to be at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum during the Halloween season. Unfortunately, this meant they had the place decorated for Halloween. I’m sure this is fun for the staff and locals, but as a tourist seeing the lighthouse for the first time, I found it annoying and distracting. I really enjoy the history behind places like this and would have liked to enjoy it a little more.
The lighthouse was built in 1858 after the original lighthouse (built in 1852) was torn down. The original light was ordered by President Millard Filmore and was just to the east of the lighthouse that still stands. The new lighthouse was built in a location where it would be more visible to passing ships. The light actually had a keeper up until 1972. In 1986, the restored lighthouse was opened up to the public after two years of restoration. The lighthouse was under Coast Guard control until 2003 when it was transferred to the State of Michigan.
The cost to enter the lighthouse itself is $4.00 for adults and $2 for children, but kids 5 and under are free. All four of the kids with us are under the age of five, so it was just the four adults that had to pay. This is done right inside the door on the southwest side of the lighthouse which also serves as the main entrance. The good thing about the Halloween decorations here was that they gave the two older kids some candy which kept them happy as we made our trek upwards.
I would love to show you some pictures and talk a little bit about the history of the first floor of the lighthouse, but alas, Halloween got in the way. In 1900, the lighthouse was coverted to a two family dwelling. One of the employees told us both sides are exactly the same…kind of woulda been nice if the other side was opened up without the Halloween decorations….but, this side of the building is used as living quarters for the lighthouse’s Keeper Program and has been modernized whereas the other side of the lighthouse is set up as it would have been in the 1920’s.
The first floor was the main living quarters for the families that lived there. When the Fog Signal Building was added, a second keeper was needed…hence the two separate but identical living quarters.
The kitchen is the first area you come in to. According to a fact sheet from the lighthouse, this was added in 1916. Up until that point, the only kitchen area was a summer kitchen. The rest of the downstairs area includes a dining room, living room, and the Keeper’s bedroom. Again, all were decorated for Halloween.
The second floor was up a narrow stairway. There are two more bedrooms on this floor that were used as children’s bedrooms. Today, they are used for exhibits. There were a couple Coast Guard exhibits in these rooms and some information on the keeper’s who lived and worked in the building when it was an active light.
Interestingly, they have a light on display in one of the children’s rooms, but it’s actually from the Alpena Lighthouse 168 miles away. The Fourth Order Fresnal was pulled out of the Alpena Light in 1987. Nothing I saw says where the light from the Grand Traverse Light is now.
The part we were really excited about was the trek up to the tower where the light used to be. The first stage of this trip was up a metal winding staircase. The two ladies in our group were both wearing babies and had a little bit of a tight squeeze up these steps. The two four year olds had no problem and were up quickly as the adults chased after them. I think we all thought this lead to the tower, but we were wrong, there was still one more staircase to squeeze up.
The final staircase up to the tower was tight. It’s an almost vertical staircase with an opening just wide enough for a person to fit through. I’m a little on the larger side and my stomach was pressed to the stairs while my back was scrapping the backside of the hole. Again, the two girls easily climbed up as we followed them. The two women had to sit this one out. Our friend tried with her baby first and bonked his head so J decided not to even try once she came back down.
The views from the lighthouse tower are pretty awesome. The tower itself is another tight fit. There’s a volunteer stationed up there to answer questions and with him up there, there’s only room for three or four people. The girls found a plastic step stool that was in the tower and took turns stepping up on it to look out over the water. Again, had the leaves turned, this would have been an amazing view of the colors. It’s still a pretty great view of the point where Lake Michigan meets the Grand Traverse Bay.
After a few minutes and some picture taking, we started to head down as there was another couple waiting to come up. L has no fear and started to go down before I grabbed her and told her to turn around and face the stairs. She did great until she got down to a part where she should have had no trouble and slipped the rest of the way. J was waiting for her and laughed a little bit because it looked like she did it on purpose. L was able to smile after J started laughing, so no harm no foul.
We finished our trip to the lighthouse by heading down to the water. There’s no sandy beach like there is at Mission Point, but there is a rocky area that worked really well for picture taking. We took some pictures and skipped rocks in the lake before heading back up the hill and to the playground to play for a little bit before heading back to Traverse City.
I really enjoyed our trip out to Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum and I’m really glad we took the drive. I was a little disappointed in the Halloween decorations, but I’m sure they gotta break up the monotony for the people that are out there everyday. The lighthouse isn’t really all that far from Traverse City and there’s a lot of things to do along the way. There are many wineries, breweries, cideries, farms, and other attractions that make a trip out to the Leelanau Peninsula something you really should do when spending any amount of time in Northern Michigan.