Arguably one of the most photographed lighthouses on the Great Lakes, the Point Betsie lighthouse sits atop a sand dune overlooking Lake Michigan. Located just north of Frankfort, it is an essential stop along the famous M-22 route near Sleep Bear National Lakeshore. The lighthouse and museum are open for tours and a little gift shop is full of fun souvenirs. It is also one of the very few lighthouses available for overnight stays in Michigan.
The Last Lighthouse in Michigan to be Automated
Construction on Point Betsie lighthouse started in 1854 and completed in 1858 with operations beginning the following year. Due to its perch on a sand dune, the tower is a mere 37 feet tall with only 37 steps required to reach the top. The light itself is 52 feet above lake level, which is still only half the height of some Great Lakes lighthouses. The combination of short tower and large keeper’s house gives Point Betsie an unique profile, which is framed nicely by trees and lilac bushes for beautiful photos.
Point Betsie was the last lighthouse in Michigan to be automated. It operated under the care of lighthouse keepers for over 100 years, from 1859 through 1963, though it wasn’t fully automated until 1983. Today, it continues to be an active beacon marking the Manitou Passage channel for ships plying the waters.
Tour the Point Betsie Lighthouse and Climb the Tower
Benzie County and the Friends of Point Betsie Lighthouse now oversee the lighthouse and have built a museum and gift shop for visitors. The lighthouse sits at the end of Point Betsie Road just off of M-22. There is no parking lot, so be careful of getting stuck in the sand on the side of the paved road. The beach at the end of the road is open to the public.
Visitors are welcome to wander the grounds and there is a small fee for guided or self-guided tours of the lighthouse and keeper’s home. Tours include climbing the short tower for a beautiful view of Lake Michigan. The center piece of the museum is the original 4th order Fresnel lens, which was installed in the tower from 1900 until 1996. The complex lens has been restored to its former glory.
Point Betsie was also the location of an early Life Saving Service station. . An original lifesaving service boat is on display at the museum, but the boathouse no longer exists. A similar example can be toured at the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Museum in nearby Glen Haven. If you look across the street to the South, one of the larger Coast Guard buildings, now a private residence, can be seen.
You Can Spend the Night at The Point Betsie Lighthouse
Point Betsie is one of only a handful of lighthouses available to overnight guests in Michigan. The Keeper’s Quarters accommodations can be reserved for stays ranging from 2 to 7 nights. Shorter stays, 2-5 nights can be only reserved within 60 days if available. Prices range around $350/night and sleeps up to 6 guests in 2 bedrooms. Check the website or call for more details on amenities, pricing, and availability.
Is Point Betsie Lighthouse Haunted?
Of course, I always have to ask the staff at historic buildings if there are any ghost stories. Lighthouses always seem to have their tales, but I was surprised that there weren’t any at Point Betsie. There is, however, a gravestone with an unusual story! Lighthouse keeper Edward Wheaton (served 1934-1946) made a headstone for his mother, Martha, who had died in Cheboygan in 1941. Unable to lift the heavy stone into his car, he simply left it near the lighthouse as a memorial.
A great compilation of local ghost stories, with much research by the author, is Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses by Dianna Stampfler.
Admission Prices, Hours, and Gift Shop
The gift shop is chock full of souvenirs for lighthouse and beach lovers. Proceeds go back into lighthouse upkeep. There is a drinking fountain and restrooms located at the entrance; always an important feature while traveling. At time of writing, admission prices for touring the home and museum are $5 for adults and Check the Point Betsie website for the current seasonal hours, tour pricing, and directions.