Ludington State Park – Day Trip – Hiking the Lighthouse Trail

Ludington State Park – July 5, 2015


It was the Tuesday after the Forth of July and we had a floating summer holiday- a day off!  After all the Independence Day weekend festivities we were ready to get away, even if it was only for the day.  We started going through the places that were around an hour drive from our house, but nothing sounded good, so we decided to go a little further north to Ludington State Park.  Our plan for the day was simple: hike, picnic lunch, beach and then out for dinner.


We got a little later start than we planned and it was just after 10 a.m. when we arrived at Ludington Sate Park.  We parked the van in the lot just past the contact station at the park entrance.  This parking area is the starting point for trips out to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse.  There are spaces for about 50 cars, but it can fill up on busy weekends.  Nearby there is a pit toilet and a couple picnic tables near the winter warming shelter.  However, we avoided the pit toilet and stopped at the campground bathhouse.  Drinking water can also be found in several different places in the campground loop.


From the parking area it is 1.8 miles to the Lighthouse if you walk the dirt road.  Our plan was to hike out on the Coast Guard and Lighthouse Trails and then loop back on either the road or the beach.

To begin the hike, find the path above the leads into the Pines Campground.  Stay to the left side of the campground loop and follow it to the north end where you will find the trailhead.  Along the way you pass the entrance to the lighthouse road where you will come out on the return trip.


Leaving the campground the Coast Guard Trail starts out wide and fairly hard packed.


It didn’t take long before we had to stop and put bug spray on everyone.  A little further down the trail we passed several ponds and low areas that were likely the source of all these little pests.


You will pass 2 trail junctions on the way to Big Sable Point Lighthouse.  The first is a 4-way intersection, you will want stay straight to pick up the Lighthouse Trail as the Coast Guard Trail turns off to the left.  At the second intersection, shown above, you stay to the left.  The routes are all very well marked with maps and numbers.


At about 1 mile, the trail turns to soft sand as you climb a small dune.


At the top of the climb, you break out into the open dunes and get the first view of Big Sable Point Lighthouse in the distance.


The trail continues through a mix of open dunes and small pines that offer a little shade along the way.


There were several bunches of these yellow flowers blooming out in the dunes.


The trail in the dunes is marked with brown arrows, but they are really not needed as the path is well traveled.


As we made the turn west, Reid picked up a hitchhiker for a few minutes.  It must have liked his sticky lollipop fingers.


As you get closer to Lake Michigan you start seeing interdunal ponds.  We found several different sets of tracks in the sand from animals on their way to get a drink.  According to the US Forest Service website, Ludington State Park and Nordhouse Dunes have the largest area of fresh water interdunal ponds in the world.


The last climb on the way to Big Sable Point.


The panoramic view from the top of the dune in the previous photo.

Click on the image to see the larger version.


The final approach to Big Sable Point Lighthouse after about 2.5 miles on the trail.

Notice anything missing in this photo?  Leave it in the comments at the end of the post.


The Big Sable Point Lighthouse is operated by volunteer keepers from the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association.  In exchange for working in the gift shop, leading tours or doing maintenance they get to live in the lighthouse.

If you wish to climb the tower, it takes a donation of $5 for adults and $3 for children.  This also includes a short video presentation about the history and restoration of the lighthouse.

Lean more about the Big Sable Point Lighthouse on:


Reese signing us into the visitor register.


Looking out the bottom window of the Big Sable Tower.


There are 130 steps leading to the top of the 112 foot tower.  It is well worth the climb for an awesome view of the undeveloped shoreline and sand dunes.


Looking north to the Nordhouse Dune Wilderness Area.


The view to the south of Ludington State Park. You can see the dirt road on the right, leading back to the campground.


After touring the Lighthouse, we decided to take the dusty dirt road back.  Everyone was tired of walking in the soft sand and hungry for lunch so we opted for the easier route.  We got a head start while the girls used the facilities.

There are outhouses available by the keepers parking area and one of the volunteers also let us refill our water bottles with the hose on the north side of the keepers quarters.


Looking back as the girls started to catch up.


There are a few places where you can rest along the road.


Finishing our hike back in the Pines Campground.  You can see the gate in the upper left of this photo.  The only cars allowed on the road are the volunteer lighthouse keepers and the DNR.  Everyone else has to walk or bike out to Big Sable Point.

The total distance for our hike was 4.8 miles and you should plan around 3 hours for the trip.

The Ludington State Park hiking trail map. Download this map >>

Our route followed the numbers in this order: 1, 3, 4, 15, 18 and 2.

For more on this hike and others in the area pick up a copy of: Explorer’s Guide 50 Hikes in Michigan: Sixty Walks, Day Trips, and Backpacks in the Lower Peninsula (Third Edition) (Explorer’s 50 Hikes)



After the hike we drove over to the Hamlin Lake Day Use Area to find a shady spot for lunch.  The beach here was bustling with people launching their boats and rental kayaks and paddle boats going in and out.


After lunch it was time to head to the beach, but first we had to make good on the ice cream promise we made on the hike.  When we left the trailhead parking we noticed that the beach parking was already full, so instead of going the beach house concession we stopped at the store in the Cedar Campground.


Even when the beach parking inside Ludington State Park is full, there are good options along the 3 mile road that leads to the main park entrance.  There are a few small parking areas with beach access and also a wide shoulder to park on.  From the road it is just a short walk down the small dune to the water.


We loaded up our Wonder Wheeler Beach Cart and dragged it down to claim our spot on the beach for the afternoon. The nice part about going to the beach along road is that it is not as busy as the main beach.  We had at least a 30 foot section of shoreline all to ourselves.  The dune also seemed to do a good job blocking all the noise from the road.  We had a great afternoon swimming and relaxing in the sun.


Our days off always go too fast and soon it was dinner time.  We packed up and started heading back towards home.  Just south of Ludington we stopped at Bortell’s Fisheries for dinner.  Bortell’s is one of those little seasonal places that we really wanted to love.  It is off the beaten path and family owned and operated since 1898. You choose your fresh fish from the display case and they fry it while you wait.  You can eat outside at the picnic tables or take it to the nearby park on Lake Michigan.  Make sure to bring cash because they do not take credit cards.

We shared 2 whitefish dinners and a lake perch dinner.  Some of the older photos online of their menu board show chicken strips, but they are no longer served, so we had to get Reid some cheese sticks instead.  The dinners come with fries and cup of coleslaw.  We thought the fish was good, but not great and the fries were soggy and very average.  Unfortunately we left a little disappointed with the quality of the food.  Most of the reviews do not agree with us, so give it a try and let us know what you think.  We will probably give it another chance the next time we are in the area.

More Bortell’s Fisheries Reviews >>

Directions to Bortell’s Fisheries >>

After dinner it was quiet drive back home with everyone full and tired out from the day’s activities.



Our Favorites:

Wonder Wheeler Beach Cart – Ultra Wide Wheels

Our family doesn’t mind walking a little further than the average person to find the perfect spot on the beach. That’s why the Wonder Wheeler comes with us on every trip, we use it all summer long! It can handle up to 100 lbs. and we don’t need to leave anything behind- beach chairs, boogie boards, 2 umbrellas, cooler of food and drinks, books, towels, everything you need to enjoy a long day at the beach. On sidewalks, boardwalks and hard packed trails the Wonder Wheeler pushes with very little effort. When you get to the soft sand, just turn it around and drag it behind you. The oversized wheels can handle the sand, no problem.

It also comes in handy when a picnic lunch is needed and so is the huge cooler full of food. The Wonder Wheeler makes going to the beach a breeze. The kids aren’t complaining about the walk because their hands are free and they can skip ahead and enjoy the day- and so can you. – MMT Mom

Find Wonder Wheeler Beach Carts on Amazon >>

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