A Walk Around the Mission Point Lighthouse

The Mission Point Lighthouse

The Mission Point Lighthouse


Dear friends and readers,

“Loving Traverse City” now has a new address. (It’s a lot easier to remember, too)  You can reach it easily by going to http://blog.traversecity.com/. Or just follow this link.




It was a lovely sunny morning with a hint of cool breeze wafting over the bay. Karen was determined to exercise a pent-up urge to do some housekeeping, and it was obvious that the best “help” I could contribute was to go elsewhere and stay there until she was finished.

“All right then,” I said cheerfully. “I’ll go hike around at the lighthouse for a while. I wanted to see how the water levels are doing there anyway.”

Then, suddenly, it struck me, how awesome it was to be able to say that – for a city-raised landlubber like me, anyway — as if it was no big thing. “I’ll go hike around at the lighthouse” like I was saying, “I’ll go hang out at the hardware store.” (Which, actually, is a lot farther away from our place than the lighthouse is.)

How cool is that? I wondered. I live near a lighthouse. There’s a shipwreck just around the point, and eagles nesting on the bluffs. And I’ve been here so long now that I don’t even give it much thought. That’s the human mind for you. If you don’t keep an eye on it, it’ll take the most amazing circumstances and make you forget how wonderful they are.

The Mission Point Lighthouse isn’t a big fancy lighthouse, to be sure. In fact, it’s about the smallest, least fancy lighthouse you can imagine. Cozy is the word that comes to mind. You take the long drive along M-37, past cherry orchards and vineyards, up hills and along beaches, until you come to the very end of the road – where the sign tells you you’ve reached the 45th Parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole — and there it is, standing on a low bluff above the shoals. Like a white clapboard cottage with a fat little cupola poking up through its roof.

A view north from the lighthouse tower.

A view north from the lighthouse tower.

But we love it just the same. Walking out over the bleak and stony shoals where the indescribable teal blue of the water lies at the edge of the horizon, listening to the cries of gulls, terns and killdeer, it’s quite wonderful to look back and see the little lighthouse peeking out from the thick forest that surrounds it. Like an old friend. “It’s not the end of the world,” they told us when we first moved to Old Mission, “but you can see it from here.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see why a lighthouse was needed here; all you have to do is walk out to the edge of the bluff and look out over the broad shoal where the east and west arms of Grand Traverse Bay come together. In this season of low water, it’s a wide puddly expanse of shingle and rock – including some large boulders — cradled between two narrow spits of land. But when the water is high, it’s hiding just out of sight, waiting to rip the bottom out of any unwary vessel.

Which is what happened back in the middle of the 19th century, when a large ship ran up on the shoal and sank. In response, Congress set $6,000 aside to build a lighthouse. Unfortunately, the War Between the States intervened, so the project wasn’t finished until late 1870. It stood guard over that treacherous reef for the next 63 years, and was finally decommissioned and replaced with an automatic light offshore in 1933.

A historic photo of the lighthouse (notice the white horse!)

A historic photo of the lighthouse (notice the white horse!)

Like so many other abandoned lighthouses around the country, the Mission Point light fell into disrepair and was in danger of being torn down. But in 1948, the residents of the Peninsula took up a collection among themselves and raised around $1,900 to buy the lighthouse and the surrounding property and turn it into a park. When I first moved out to Old Mission almost 30 years ago, the township park supervisor used to live there with his family, and my son would go there after school to play with their kids. But most people couldn’t just go up to the door and ask to have a look around; it wasn’t open to the general public.

The keeper's office.

The keeper’s office.

That’s all changed now. The place has been added to the National and State Historic Register, and has been beautifully restored with historic furnishings, documents and exhibits. (Thanks to the National Park Service, the lighthouse’s long-lost Fresnel lens has been replaced.) There are self-guided tours where you can climb to the top of the little tower and look out over the shoals just as the real keepers did a century ago, and even a well-organized “volunteer lighthouse keeper” program where you can pay a modest fee to live and work in the lighthouse.

The Mission Point Light is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. between April and October, and on weekend in November and December. Admission is $4 for adults, and $2 for kids age 6-12. (Younger kids get in free.) Also free – to everybody – is the extensive network of hiking trails in the hundreds of acres of deeply forested township and state land that surrounds the lighthouse.

For more info, you can go to their excellent website, www.missionpointlighthouse.com.


About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
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3 Responses to A Walk Around the Mission Point Lighthouse

  1. Mike, thank you for posting this beautiful piece and photo. My name is Elizabeth Smith, the manager of the lighthouse. I’d love to chat with you about possibly using your photo on our website or other publications – it is gorgeous! Also, just an update to the pricing – it is now $4.00 for adults and $2.00 for children, and our hours are 10-5pm. (We are in the middle of a website change which will update the prices and hours). Thank you so much for spreading the good word. Please email me if you would be interested in working together in the future – and like our facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/missionpointlighthousetc. Thanks for spreading the good word and enjoying our beautiful home!

    • mikelovestc says:

      You’re very welcome, Elizabeth! And thanks for the kind comments, as well as the new information about hours and tickets. I’ve changed the post to reflect that new information. You’re most welcome to use the photo in any of your publications; just credit it to the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. Should I send it to the lighthouse email address?

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