We often take the very long way home from a trip to Michigan’s northwestern Lower Peninsula by driving down the west coast of the state before heading east towards the Detroit area. Stopping for a few minutes to admire the breakwater light at Ludington, or for a short walk along the beach at the easily accessible Little Sable Point near the town of Pentwater, makes for a nice break in our trip home. But we never had time to hike out to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse before our most recent stop at Ludington.
We knew we needed to allow a couple of hours to go out to Big Sable Point and take photographs because the visit entailed parking near the entrance to Ludington State Park and walking along the campground road to reach the 1-1/2 mile trail out to the lighthouse.
Picturesque lighthouses like Big Sable Point typically draw a lot of visitors during warmer weather, but temperatures hovering just above the freezing mark, light snow cover and a slightly overcast, yet windless, day still made for an easy walk along the flat trail out to the beach.
We admired frozen Lake Michigan and snow-kissed beaches along the way as we occasionally met other hikers, people walking their dogs and one hardy guy riding his bicycle out to the lighthouse and back along the trail.
Big Sable Point soon appeared in view behind the low dunes. We were delighted to see that we had the beach to ourselves, giving us plenty of time to take our photographs without worrying about people walking into our shots.
The historical marker at Big Sable Point tells that a dozen shipwrecks in 1855 and the importance of safe transportation through area to Michigan’s then-booming lumber industry led to an 1866 Congressional appropriation of $35,000 to build the lighthouse.
The marker also says that Big Sable Point Lighthouse is one of few Michigan light towers exceeding 100 feet (30 meters), with the tower’s full height reaching 112 feet (34 meters).
Over the years, Big Sable Point’s crumbling cream brick tower received steel cladding and the keeper’s original single-family dwelling became a three-family home to accommodate additional light keepers. A plastic lens eventually replaced the lighthouse’s original third-order Fresnel lens, but the beacon still helps guide area mariners to safety today.
The Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association helps maintain Big Sable Point Light, along with Little Sable Point Light and the Ludington North Breakwater Light. Visit the SPLKA Web site for schedule and fee information for seasonal tours and opportunities to climb the lighthouse towers during spring, summer and autumn.
Visiting Big Sable Point on a dreary winter day meant that climbing the light tower would have to wait until another day for us, but the quiet isolation and beauty of the deserted beach probably gave us a much truer picture of the lives keepers experienced throughout the light’s history.
We waited a long time to make the trek out to Big Sable Point Lighthouse. I’m thinking we won’t wait so long for a return trip out to the point.
© Dominique King 2009