Text copyright © Katie Mohar. All rights reserved.
Planning a summer vacation? Today, I share travel tips for the ultimate lighthouse road trip similar to the trip my family took last summer. We took eight days, but this trip can also be done in 10 days – especially if you stay overnight on Mackinac Island.
Mapping Your Lighthouse Road Trip
Do you know which U.S. state has the most lighthouses? High fives if you guess Michigan! Over 115 lighthouses along three Great Lakes make Michigan the state to visit to experience the natural beauty and historic charm of American lighthouses. Wisconsin, Michigan’s neighbor, boasts some 48 lighthouses.
We chose Michigan and Wisconsin for our lighthouse road trip for the sheer number of lights – plus opportunities to visit Mackinac Island, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in the Upper Peninsula, and historic Door County.
I’ll share the exact path we followed, highlighting our top experiences. Let’s go!
Day 1: Driving to Sister Bay, Door County
We loaded the truck and drove straight to Sister Bay in Door County, WI. On the way, we stopped in Hudson, WI at Bricks Neapolitan Pizza (407 2nd St). While our pizza baked, we strolled the St. Croix River – admiring the boats and scenic views. Verdict: Bricks Neapolitan serves ’em hot and delicious!
Note: If you fly into the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport and rent a vehicle this trip, begin with brunch at Longfellow Grill and a visit to local-favorite CorAzoN (4646 E Lake St) for a Minnesota-inspired souvenir. (CorAzoN is where I found Moonlight Animals, a children’s book featured in my post on owls.)
Day 2: Sister Bay, Eagle Bluff & Fish Boil Dinner
Our morning in Sister Bay, WI began with a leisurely bayside stroll and sailboat-sighting followed by scrumptious brunch at the historic Old Post Office Restaurant in Ephraim.
A highlight for families is Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik (10698 N Bay Shore Drive, Sister Bay). Kids will love watching (real!) goats graze on the grass roof! Parents will enjoy cold beverages at Stabbur Beer Garden. (In Norwegian, “Stabbur” means “storehouse.”) Inside Al’s Butik, you’ll find delightful Scandinavian gifts, clothing and books. My favorite finds were a whimsical goat bookmark and a hand-painted Christmas ornament.
The waters of Green Bay are literally across the street from Al’s. We walked along the water – taking in the parasailing and beach scene – and then headed to Wild Tomato Sister Bay’s patio for an amazing veggie pizza. (Even my husband, not as big of a pizza fan as me, agreed the pizza was phenomenal.) After popping into a local ice cream shop, we were fueled to hike Eagle Bluff!
Eagle Bluff Lighthouse is tucked into Peninsula State Park. (Enter by purchasing a pass of a nominal fee). It’s difficult to safely capture the front of the lighthouse on camera since it’s near the cliff ledge. The photo below, taken from the land side, shows the lighthouse tower rising behind the keepers’ quarters.
Besides visiting the lighthouse, we also enjoyed views 253 feet above Green Bay via the 60-foot lookout at Eagle Tower. (The lookout is also wheelchair accessible.)
Dinner was the highlight of the day! As the sun set over scenic rocky bluffs, we relaxed on the patio at Pelletier’s Restaurant & Fish Boil and watched a “Boil Master” throw an entertaining show over a fiery cauldron that drew cheers from the crowd. The meal was delicious, consisting of Lake Michigan whitefish steaks, corn on the cob, onions, red potatoes, bread, homemade cole slaw and pie made with local cherries.
Additional spots for quality fish boils: Old Post Office Restaurant (mentioned above) and White Gull Inn (mentioned below) where I found this fun history of Door County fish boils.
Day 3: Fish Creek, Menominee Marina & East Breakwater Light
Note: This is a long driving day, but there are plenty of wayside stops with spectacular views of Lake Michigan if you’re traveling with children.
It’s no surprise that Forbes named Fish Creek, WI one of America’s Prettiest Small Towns in 2013. The natural beauty of Fish Creek is simply inspiring.
We started the day with a splendid breakfast at White Gull Inn (4225 Main St). We had a wait, but it was worth it. After all, White Gull Inn is a winner of Good Morning America’s Best Breakfast Challenge.
While waiting for our table, we visited Fish Creek shops. I found a handmade Deneen Pottery coffee mug featuring a map of the maritime passageway between Wisconsin’s peninsula and Washington Island known as Porte Des Mortes (Death’s Door) for my father. (He loves it!)
After breakfast, we hit the road. We stopped at the peaceful National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, WI. By the time we reached Menominee, MI, we were famished. We enjoyed hearty sub sandwiches at Downtown Sandwich and Ice Cream Shop (100 10th Ave). Then, we walked across the street and stretched our legs by strolling the scenic Menominee Marina.
After more driving, we stopped along the shores of Little Bay de Noc in picturesque Gladstone, MI. Families with young kids will note this spot features a sandy beach, lighthouse, playground, restrooms and paved walking trails.
As night fell, we stopped for a tasty meal of burgers and fries at Clyde’s Drive-in (201 Chippewa Ave, Manistique, MI). Clyde’s won ABC10’s 2017 title for “Best Burger in the Upper Peninsula.” We savored a starlit walk along the boardwalk, spotting the striking East Breakwater Light. Our final stop of the day was Mackinaw City, MI.
Day 4: Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse & Fort Mackinac
History buffs will love geeking out at Colonial Michilimackinac (102 W Straits Ave) on the shore of the Straits of Mackinac. Kids will love watching smoke surge from muskets, cannons and mortars operated by historical interpreters representing French-Canadian merchant families, British soldiers and voyageurs. The entire family will awe over breathtaking views of Mackinac Bridge – which connects the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan.
Next, head over to Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse (526 N Huron Ave), rated “One of the 10 most scenic lighthouses in northern Michigan” by My North Magazine. Inspect the keepers’ quarters restored to their 1910 appearance. Learn more about lighthouses on-site in the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum.
Our favorite part was climbing the lighthouse tower and viewing Lake Michigan from the same porthole windows used by original keepers. Remember to duck as you descend the narrow staircase – and plug your ears when it’s time for the Fog Signal Whistle demonstration!
For dinner, we enjoyed a mouthwatering meal of reasonably-priced fine dining at Audie’s Restaurant (314 N Nicolet St). A local recommended Audie’s, and we are glad we took their advice!
Day 5: Mackinac Island, Round Island Light
Rise early, grab coffee and a fresh pastry at Mackinaw Bakery (110 Langlade St) and head across the street to board a ferry if you only have one day to explore Mackinac Island. Or, extend your visit by booking an island hotel or bed-and-breakfast.
As you ride the ferry, look for the iconic red-and-white Round Island Lighthouse in the Straits of Mackinac. Fun fact: Built in 1895, Round Island Light is the twin of Minnesota’s Two Harbors Light.
Bring your own bikes on the ferry (budget-friendly option) or rent bikes on the island. Wear comfortable shoes and hit the many hiking trails or take a horse-drawn carriage tour. From golfing to horseback riding, activities abound on Mackinac Island!
Highlights of our visit included hiking to Sugar Loaf Rock, Lookout Point and Fort Holmes. We awed at the beauty and longevity of historic Ste. Anne’s Church. Originally located at Ft. Michilimackinac, Ste. Anne’s was dismantled in 1780 and rebuilt on Mackinac Island. I loved admiring the island’s beautiful flowers and landscaping, particularly in shop window-boxes and at the Historic East Bluff Cottages.
Mackinac Island Shopping on a Lighthouse Road Trip
Mackinac Island is a book-lover’s paradise. Both for buying books and reading books. You’ll love reading while sipping a dockside drink at Watercolor Cafe (6939 Main St) or while lolling in the lakeside breeze from a Mission Point Adirondack chair. Shops worth your time:
Benjamin of Mackinac, 7301 Main Street, a friendly store where we found a gorgeous wall calendar featuring scenes from Mackinac Island to help us remember our trip year-round.
Island Bookstore Mackinac, 7372 Main Street, a delightful independent bookstore where we made several fun reading purchases. Located under the Lilac Tree Hotel.
Little Luxuries Mackinac Island, 107 Main Street. Vacations are the perfect time to pen a friend. Find a treasure trove of unique greeting cards and “little luxuries” with which to pamper yourself or friends.
Loon Feather & Balsam Shop, 7427 Main Street – true to its name, you’ll find delightful gifts inspired by one of North America’s most majestic birds, the Common Loon.
Poppins on Mackinac, 7388 Main Street – I visited this shop twice in one day. Hard to miss with its turquoise awning and whimsical namesake, this store carries unique children’s books, puzzles, stickers, cards and more. The owner is British and I was told that she dresses up like Mary Poppins on Halloween!
Sign of the Loon Gifts, 311 East Central – while this shop is on the mainland and not the island, it’s worth a visit by anyone who loves books and gifts inspired by the Upper Peninsula!
Day 6: Shipwreck Museum, Whitefish Point Lighthouse & Tahquamenon Falls
Drive to Whitefish Point (about 11 miles north of Paradise, MI) to see the Shipwreck Museum and Whitefish Point Lighthouse. The most famous of the 6,000 ships lost on the Great Lakes is the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which lies 535 feet below the surface, 17 miles out from Whitefish Point. The “Fitz” was memorialized by Gordon Lightfoot’s grand ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
After visiting the museum and light station, walk to the beach at Whitefish Point. On a peaceful, sunny day like the one on which we visited, it is hard to imagine that the same waters frequently erupt into waves of destruction – especially in the month of November.
Nearby Attractions: Crisp Point Lighthouse is only 14 miles west of Whitefish Point. If you’re like me and love owls, loons, eagles, hawks and falcons – consider visiting Whitefish Point Bird Observatory.
Grab a sandwich, soup or pastie at Fresh Coast Cafe (8239 N Hwy M-123) and then drive to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. One of the largest falls east of the Mississippi River, Tahquamenon’s Upper Falls is over 200 feet across with a nearly 50-foot drop. The Upper Falls have a unique burnt-orange shimmer due to the presence of copper and minerals. Hike the beautiful nature trails, or plan ahead for a train ride or riverboat tour.
We had hoped to stay the night in Escanaba, MI. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize our trip coincided with a logger’s convention until a few weeks before our trip – and every room or Airbnb was booked. So, driving a little out of our way, we instead stayed at the historic Nahma Inn (13747 Main St, Nahma, MI).
Note to light sleepers: Friday night at Nahma Inn appears to be local Karaoke Night. Fortunately, we were tired and slept like logs. Well, I did wake up once to the sound of creaking floorboards. Was it “Miss Nell,” who reputedly haunts the Inn? Or, do I read too many mysteries…?
Days 7 & 8: De Pere, St. Norbert’s & Jefferson Street Inn
After breakfast and a brisk hike, we drove to De Pere, WI where we walked the beautiful grounds of St. Norbert College campus along the banks of the Fox River. St. Norbert College (100 Grant St) is home to the National Shrine to St. Joseph, a tranquil place of prayer where we lit a candle.
Walking across the street to Nicky’s Lionhead Tavern (331 Main Ave), we enjoyed a delicious lunch of club and BLT sandwiches on the outdoor patio.
Next, we drove to Wausau, WI. We highly recommend staying at Jefferson Street Inn (201 Jefferson St). Jefferson Street Inn offers a boutique experience of spacious, modern rooms in the heart of Wausau – steps away from many restaurant and entertainment options.
The following day, we drove home. It was a great lighthouse road trip – topped off by a visit to a local farm off the Edgar, WI exit where we filled our truck bed with local produce. (Kids will love selecting their own Halloween pumpkins if your family passes the Edgar exit in September or October.)
Enjoy Your Family’s Lighthouse Road Trip!
We’d make this lighthouse road trip again in a heartbeat! To share this post with your friends who may find it helpful, please use the gold social share icons below.
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