You need to put Crisp Point Lighthouse on your bucket list of places to visit in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This remote lighthouse on the wild south shore of Lake Superior in the eastern Upper Peninsula isn’t easy to reach, but it’s worth the trip. In this case, it’s both the journey and the destination that are exciting.
Getting to Crisp Point Lighthouse
We set out for Crisp Point Lighthouse from Muskallonge State Park. The park is just about 18 miles west of the lighthouse on the Superior coast, but it took us over an hour and about 25 miles of driving on rough sand and gravel back roads to get there. Most people take a different route from M-123, coming from Newberry or Tahquamenon Falls State Park. It will also take you over an hour and be several miles on rough roads.
Rough Road Ahead to Crisp Point Lighthouse
The roads are packed down sand and gravel. Depending on the season and recent rainfall, bumps, ruts, deep puddles and even washouts are possible. Most summer days a regular car is fine. If you’re used to driving on unpaved roads, it’s no problem. An SUV or pickup truck with higher clearance is better, and 4-wheel drive is a bonus. We had an older F-150 with AWD. We were fine except for one little hiccup. I’ll get to that later.
I think the best way to get to the lighthouse is probably with an off-road vehicle or ATV. The area where Crisp Point is located is crisscrossed with ORV trails and many of the county and forest roads are legal for ORVs. There are places near there to rent ORVs if you don’t have your own. We saw lots of ORVs on our drive to the lighthouse, and it looked like a ton of fun.
You Need a Map
Now, let’s talk about directions. Your GPS won’t work. You are very unlikely to get a signal with your cell phone. Even if you do, the GPS might send you down two-track ORV or snowmobile trails. That’s fine if you have an ORV. Otherwise, stay on the county roads. Buy a map. Please buy a map. Let me say it one more time. BUY A MAP. We bought a map of Luce County at the Deer Park General Store for $1. It was worth the coins to avoid getting lost, running out of gas, and eaten by bears in the Lake Superior State Forest.
I can’t stress the importance of a map enough, wherever you are in the U.P. Cell phone coverage is unreliable at best, completely non-existent at worst. There is a web of logging roads and two-tracks that you don’t want to take a regular car down. You can easily get lost if you start making lots of turns in the dense forest. You risk getting stuck in soft sand or mud. You might even end up trespassing. It’s not easy to tell where state land ends and private property begins.
If it Snows, Don’t Go
Most people visit the U.P. in the summer. If you go up there when snow is on the ground do not drive down an unplowed road. Many roads are not maintained in the winter. Roads get buried under several feet of snow. In 2019 two out-of-state women tried to drive their Ford Explorer to Crisp Point Lighthouse and were stranded in the snow for two weeks. They survived on Girl Scout cookies and melted snow until a helicopter finally spotted them.
The View from the Windshield
We took our map and started driving to Crisp Point, staying on the county roads. It was an incredible drive through pristine forests. There were small lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams everywhere. We were so close to the mouth of the Two Hearted River. I wanted to stop, but we didn’t have time.
We drove through an area of the Lake Superior State forest that was devastated by the Duck Lake forest fire. The fire burned over 21,000 acres in 2012. We saw rows of young jack pines, just a few feet tall. Ferns and wild blueberry bushes filled in the rest of the small sandy hills. It was interesting to see how the forest was regrowing and what the landscape looks like without the dense tree cover. I should have taken photos, but I was too busy studying the view.
As we drove closer to the lighthouse, we found ourselves in the dense forest again. The road narrowed. There were puddles of standing water and large sandy soft spots in the middle of the road. The curbs were just soft ridges of sand. Occasionally we had to pull over in a wide spot to let cars coming from the other direction pass. We also started seeing signs directing us to the lighthouse.
Crisp Point Lighthouse in View
Finally, we could see the lighthouse tower through the trees, and we were there. There is a parking lot with room for 20 or 30 cars. We were there the Saturday before Labor Day. It was busy, and which is how we got into some trouble. The main parking lot was full. We saw more parking through the trees and ended up parking in the overflow parking. The sand was much softer there, but we parked on a ridge near the woods where it was solid. We thought it would be OK. It wasn’t, but let’s talk about the lighthouse first.
Crisp Point Lighthouse was built at the turn of the 20th century on the site of one of the five life-saving stations that sat on the coast of Lake Superior between Munising and Whitefish Point. Today it’s hard to imagine there was so much boat traffic five life-saving stations were needed in just an 80-mile area.
Normally you can climb the tower to the top. It was closed when we there, because of Covid-19. The visitor center is still open. Inside you’ll find information about the history of the lighthouse. Volunteer keepers are also available to answer any questions. Merchandise is for sale as well. Proceeds support the maintenance and restoration of Crip Point Lighthouse.
A boardwalk, set of stairs and trail gives you access to the beach and different views of the lighthouse. The beach is covered in colorful rocks. If you’re a rock hound, it’s a good spot to search for Lake Superior agates.
There are restrooms with flush toilets available. The lighthouse grounds are always open, but the visitor center hours are 10 am-6 pm daily, from the end of May to October.
The view is amazing. The wild, remote location is amazing. Imagine being out there, isolated with just a few other people. The harsh conditions would have made life very difficult.
Be a Volunteer Keeper
To be a volunteer keeper you must be a member of the Crisp Point Lighthouse Society. Volunteers can camp at the lighthouse if they choose. They have a cement pad to park your camper, but there aren’t any hookups. You don’t have to stay at the lighthouse to be a keeper. Volunteer Keeper duties include operating the gift shop, welcoming visitors, and light cleaning. I think this would be a wonderful way to spend a week. Who hasn’t dreamed of being a lighthouse keeper?
Our Stupid Tourist Mistake
So, back to that small problem we had. When we travel, I try hard not to act like an ignorant tourist. You know, the kind of people who ignore the signs in Yellowstone that say stay 25ft. away from the Bison, then end up getting gored trying to take a selfie. As I mentioned above, the main parking lot was full. We found a spot on solid ground in the overflow parking area.
Later I saw a sign that said it was the ORV parking area. That’s because the sand in most of that area is too soft for regular vehicles. Michigan sand is nothing like the sand on the beaches in Florida where people drive on it. It’s just too soft here.
We thought we were being careful and parked where we could stay out of the soft sand as long as we backed straight out of the spot. Then some wonderful person from Ohio parked their Yukon right in the middle of the through lane of the parking area, basically parking in our vehicle and a few others. We waited a while, but they didn’t come back to move their vehicle. There were a lot of people that day, and it was impossible to know whose vehicle it was.
When we tried to leave without backing straight out so we could get around the Yukon, we ended up getting too far into the soft sand. Even with the AWD, our truck couldn’t get out. Fortunately, a very nice man with an ATV and winch came to our rescue. He pulled us out, and we were on our way. So learn from our mistake, and don’t park in the ORV parking unless you have an ORV. Also, don’t park other people in with your vehicle. I’m looking at you Ohio Yukon!
Sure the drive out to Crisp Point Lighthouse is a little rough. It’s not for the faint of heart. But it’s an adventure, and when you reach the lighthouse, you’ll be glad you went.