Tag Archives: lighthouses

September Solitude in Michigan’s U.P.

One nice thing about the late summer and early fall is that summer vacation has ended and the kids are back in school so the parks are virtually empty and it’s easier to find a campsite.  Traffic is thinning out at the popular attractions and the pace is relaxed.

The second blessing is that the lakes are still warm enough for a refreshing dip.  The water of the Great Lakes cools down more slowly than the air temperature in the fall, so though the days are cool and comfortable and nights are getting chilly, the water is still enjoyable.

Here are some quiet spots where you will likely find the crowds thinning out after Labor Day.

Whitefish Point

There is a world-class Shipwreck Museum that’s part of the complex at Whitefish Point Lighthouse north of Paradise.  The state forest campgrounds are still open into October, and there are abundant vacation rentals and cabins in the area.

Whitefish Point HDR boost

Want a historical adventure?  Stay overnight at the old Coast Guard Station at Whitefish Point.

Crisp Point Lighthouse

It’s best not to attempt the road to Crisp Point with a low-slung sedan.  You’ll be bottoming out several times on the one-lane 19-mile logging road that is rough and sandy and takes an hour to drive one way.

Your reward for the tedious drive is a remote lighthouse on a mostly deserted stony beach.  The site is tended by volunteers who stay in their campers next to the beach.

Crisp Point Lighthouse edit
Rock hounds love the pickin’s at Crisp Point.

Au Sable Point Lighthouse

The trailhead to the isolated lighthouse is at the Hurricane River Campground that is part of the large Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  The 1.5-mile hiking trail hugs the shore just above the rock ledges and stony beach.  The road through the national lakeshore is nicely paved but winding, so your average speed will be about 35 mph getting there.  Don’t rush.

Au Sable Point HDR boost

AuTrain Bay, AuTrain

This tranquil shoreline is super easy to reach as highway 28 runs right along the lake here just a few miles west of the little village of Christmas.  Pull off at one of the beautiful roadside parks where there are restrooms and running water.

The sandy beach is walkable for nearly a mile and the water is shallow enough for wading and swimming.  Rocky outcroppings bookend the beach at both ends.


Scott Falls is visible from the highway, but pull into the roadside park at the east end of the bay for an easy walk across the road to this personable little falls where you can walk right up to it… or behind it.  On a warm day it may seem to invite a shower, but you are in for a bit of a shock, as the water is not as warm as the lake.

Scott's Falls lomo

This is a great time of year to explore the wilderness of northern Michigan, but the window of opportunity is short.  By October 1st the lake will likely cool beyond the tolerable range and a tranquil dip in Lake Superior will be out of the question.  Snow isn’t unheard of in this part of the world during the month of October, and the warm pasties will warm body and soul at the local restaurants in Munising.

So get while the gettin’ is good.

Life’s a Trip – At the Beach

This is the second in the Life’s A Trip series.

There are many ways to approach the journey of life and we have explored a bunch of them.  This is about the different beaches where we have lived for a time.

One of Kaye’s favorite activities in the whole world is beach walking.  I love sitting and soaking up the sun and synthesizing vitamin D.  So beaches work for both of us.

Tropical Beaches

It seems that the ultimate destination in the Caribbean is the beach and we have had the experience of enjoying many of them, mostly in the Dominican Republic, one of our favorite island winter respites.

Playa Rincón, Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic.

Because of it’s remoteness, this beach is still largely undeveloped.  It is possible to be alone and unbothered.  We first visited this beach in 1990, camping in a tent in the coconut grove.  Our last visit there -via a rented quad runner – was in the winter of 2016 and it was still unspoiled and beautiful.

DR Bob on quad
Our favorite ride to Playa Rincon is the rented four wheeler.

BobnKaye wquad on Rincon

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DR edit 0801

La Playita,  Las Galeras, Dominican Republic.

The Little Beach offers snorkeling on the reef just offshore, and there is a beach restaurant and masseuse on hand.  It was a 15-minute walk from our last vacation rental in the little fishing village.

la playita scene

La Playita at evening

DR 4 Palms vivid

Las Galeras Municipal Beach, Las Galeras, Dominican Republic

A short walk from our vacation rental, the “town beach” offered beach bars and “tipico” restaurants and shuttle boats to other beaches nearby.

Las Galeras bob table beach

The Cove, Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic

This beach is smack in front of the resort by the same name and is shared with the local fishermen who store their boats on shore every night.  The local kids love to get attention from the tourists and will put on a show whenever there is a camera around.  We stayed here for the winter of 2013.

Hammock Bob at the Cove

DR boys on palm tree

Dominican beach boys frolick fix

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DR Birdsall edit 0012
At the Cove we could buy the fresh catch of the day directly from the fishermen on the beach.

West Coast Beaches

Santa Barbara Beach, California.

This large beach is nicely maintained by the city of Santa Barbara.  There is a bike path, volleyball courts, an art show every Sunday, and a wharf with restaurants on stilts.  We visited several times when we were doing the work-camping thing at nearby Fillmore, California, in the winter and spring of 2014.

Santa Barbara Beach volleyball

Santa Barb beach at sunset

While in California for the winter, we also explored Mugu Point Beach and had lunch at the famous beach diner, Neptune’s Net pictured in movies and TV shows.

We also enjoyed camping at the beach at the linear park at Seacliff where the beach was walkable for miles.  Boon docking at its best (no hookups).

The campground is linear at Seacliff, California, 2 miles long and 20 feet wide.

The Gulf Coast and East Coast

Dauphin Island Beach, Dauphin Island, Alabama

In the winter of 2015 we set out to spend the entire winter on island beaches.  Dauphin Island was our home for January where the beaches are white sand.  They are walkable for many miles.

Bob on Dauphin Island beach 2511

St. Augustine Beach, St. Augustine, Florida

We spent the month of February in this historical town where driving on the beach is permitted.  Bonus!


Emerald Isle Beach, Emerald Isle, North Carolina

In March, our RV site was a short dune walk from this beautiful white sand beach.

Driving on the beach is permitted at Emerald Isle… for a price.

The Great Lakes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire, Michigan

Being Michiganders most of our lives, this is probably one of our most frequent beach destinations.  Of course, Lake Michigan is too cold for swimming except in the late summer and early fall.


Empire beach at twilight

Port Crescent State Park, Port Austin, Michigan.

The closest beach to our house for over 40 years, this beach and several others along the east shore of Michigan were our favorite sun-and-sand destinations in the summertime.

Port Crescent silhouette 0020

Turnip Rock 0004
Turnip Rock is a kayaking destination reached via a 1-1/2-hour paddle along the shore from the harbor at Port Austin, Michigan.

So this is a sampling of the many beaches where we have spent some time.

Life’s a trip!  What is your favorite beach?

A Top Down Road Trip in New England

Milepost 6-27-16

Having just acquired a red convertible, it seemed proper to immediately venture out on one of the road trips we have been delaying for awhile.  We took a quick glance at our calendar and saw that we could invest 7 days and 6 nights in a whirlwind tour to the northeast that would also help us check off 6 more states for a total of 49 states visited.

Driving a sports car makes for a different sort of touring experience than hauling the RV.  The miles fly by faster, and there seems to be less effort overall.

Cutting across Canada from Michigan saved 150 miles and 3 hours of road time.  Fortunately, the border crossings were hassle-free as well.

Every little town in Vermont has that classic white church that you see in calendar photos.

In order to catch Vermont and New Hampshire we had to leave the expressway and take to the hilly winding 2-lanes that connect the quaint little towns in the valleys.  We call it “red-lining” because the backroads are printed in red on a map.  By the second night we were on the Maine coast.

Bass Harbor seashore drive

Portland Head Light from south

The famous Portland Head Lighthouse was rather gray-looking under a heavy sky, but beautiful nonetheless.  Heading up the coast from there, we made it to our motel near Bar Harbor in time for dinner and a leisurely stroll around the town and the wharf.  I had my first taste of blueberry soda.  Mmm.


The next day was our 45th wedding anniversary, and we picked Acadia National Park for our destination for the day.  Cadillac Mountain was socked in with fog at the top, but we stayed long enough to watch some of it drift away on the morning breeze.

Bob on Cadillac Mtn. in the fog


We chose Bass Harbor for lunch and had a great meal of seafood on the wharf.  The neighboring docks were stacked with lobster traps.  The tide rose 2 feet in the harbor while we dined.  They said their tides can vary by as much as 12 feet.

Bass Harbor edit

Kaye at Seafood Ketch

The classic view of Bass Harbor lighthouse was reached by means of a rather strenuous climb over rugged boulders and stairways.

Bass Harbor Light boost

Wandering around the rocky coastline all afternoon, we arrived back in Bar Harbor for dinner and another perusal of the gift shops all over town.



Our return route took us down the coast to visit Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut all in one day.  By chance, we were at Mystic, CT, for lunch and had shrimp cocktail and a footlong hotdog on a patio by the harbor.  No pizza this time.

We skirted wide around New York City to miss the traffic; we had already toured the Big Apple a few years ago.  From there it was pedal down for home.

I’ll have to admit, there was an element of “git-er-done” attitude on this trip.  Not only were we tallying states visited, but we also had limited time to devote to the venture.  I am sure that we missed a lot of good stuff — but we were able to identify some favorite spots and moments anyway.  I think the anniversary lunch on the wharf at Bass Harbor was one of our most memorable.  And of course, we both have a thing for lighthouses.

Portland Head Light west view

I don’t know what we will do about that 50th state.  Hawaii might have to wait a while for us.

The Color Red in Outdoor Photography

Milepost 5-22-16                  –At our apartment in Michigan

It is no secret to outdoor photographers that the color red is an eye-catcher, and they use it at just the right times (usually) to add pizzazz to their photos.  I don’t know what aesthetic operative comes into play when I see a nature photo with red in it, but it gets my attention anyway.  I have been using this natural phenomenon in my photos for a long time.

Bob promo at Denali 1461_2

When I rented kayaks for a recent paddle along the rugged shoreline of Michigan’s Thumb, I chose red kayaks.  The outfitter had yellow, blue, orange and green, but I knew what red would do in my photos of the event.  Yes, yellow or orange would probably have provided a similar effect, but red delivered the classic look I was hoping for.

Turnip Rock 0004

Sometimes, it’s not up to me to be intentional about using the color red.  Sometimes, I get lucky and it is already there.  Last weekend I was camping at Tawas Point State Park to test some new camping gear and when I hiked out to the historic lighthouse — Voila! — the lighthouse keeper’s dwelling had a red roof.  Cool.  That was easy.  Somebody on the lighthouse restoration committee apparently knew the secret too.

Tapas Point lighthouse fair skies

This knowledge has cost me a small fortune.  It didn’t cost any more money to rent a red kayak than a green one, but I have spent money on red shirts, jackets and sweaters to insert in my photos, and now, anticipating some upcoming road trips to the seacoast, I have bought a red convertible.  No joke.  I would not buy any other color than red, and I actually have been watching the online market for two years waiting for the right car and the right time.

Bob w '07 Mustang HDR

Two years ago, when we were hauling the RV up the Pacific Coast Highway from southern California to Alaska, we had to bypass the California redwoods because we were pressed for time and we couldn’t invest the necessary extra day that it would take to handle that winding narrow road through the tall trees.  At that moment we pledged to ourselves that we would return sometime later and approach it in the proper manner…  in a red convertible.

So, you will be seeing this car on the blog a lot in the coming days.

For our first major road trip with it, we have chosen to take on an adventure we missed last year while heading up the east coast from Florida in the spring.  We want to visit New England and pick up six states that we have never been to, bringing our tally from 43 states to 49.  Not only that, the trip will coincide with our 45th wedding anniversary.   We plan to be cruising the coast of Maine on our special day.

I can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate 45 years together than to cruise the seashore in a red convertible — with the top down, of course.

Maybe we will get back to the redwoods sometime –  and now we have the right car for it – but for this time it will be the other end of the country and a place we have never been before.

It’s the appropriately color-coordinated adventure of a lifetime!

Watch for the red sports car in subsequent posts.


Unfortunately, not every photographic prop can be purchased in red.  Part of the new inventory of camping gear that I was testing last weekend is a new tent.  It’s yellow.  But a red light stick inside changes the color for photos.

And anyway, it is possible to get too much of a good thing, so yellow will be fine for my photos of my tent in future camping pics.  Any bright color will add visual punch to a photo.

Try it if you want to, and see what happens to your photos.

And have fun!


Collecting Lighthouses

Milepost 12-16-15         Rockford, Michigan

There is something innately alluring about lighthouses.  Maybe it is the unique architecture and ingenious engineering of these old towers – or the attraction of the seashore lifestyle, but just about everybody loves them.  Some folks love them so much that they “collect” lighthouses.  That is, they make intentional trips just to connect the dots, as it were, traveling from one light to the next in a quest to see how many they can visit.

Big Sable Point edit _0018
People don’t visit the Big Sable Point Lighthouse by accident; it is at the end of a 1.8-mile hike through the sand dunes at Ludington State Park.

At various times in our lives, Kaye and I have been “collectors” as well.  Living in Michigan, it’s not a difficult thing to do, since the Great Lakes are lined with scores of these beautiful old structures.  Anyone who travels along the lakeshore will sooner or later spot the next one, and if their timing is right, they may get to climb the tower or tour a historic light keeper’s house.

Locals often gather at the shore to enjoy the evening sunset at Point Betsie Lighthouse near Frankfort, Michigan.

Fortunately, lighthouse tours are becoming more common as the state and federal governments turn over more and more of the old properties to preservationist groups who take over the maintenance and open them up to the public for tours.

Little Sable Point lighthouse wcaption edit.jpg
The Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association (SPLKA) is raising funds to rebuild the keepers’ house from the ground up at Little Sable Point Lighthouse, Mears, MI.
White River Light Station wcaption.jpg
White River Light Station at Pentwater, Michigan, is now a museum; the curator lives in the upstairs of the original keeper’s house.

Lighthouses are designed to be visible, and it’s fun to notice the differences from one to the next.  The original day mark – appearance by daylight – had be distinctive so that ship captains would not confuse them with neighboring installations.  This makes for a plethora of beautiful designs from stripes to contrasting colors.

Holland Lighthouse 020.jpg
The day mark at the Holland, Michigan, lighthouse is a highly visible solid red paint.

The night mark – or characteristic – of the lights at night had to be distinctive as well, so they were varied by colors: white, red, and green, and also by duration: flashing or solid.

Pointe aux Barques Light lom 041
The Point Aux Barques lighthouse  near Port Austin, Michigan, has a flashing white light separated by intervals of 20 seconds and 4.8 seconds.  There are two beacons aimed in different directions on a rotating turntable to deliver this effect.

Most of the still operating lights are owned by the Coast Guard, but only the actual lamps and lenses in the towers.  The properties and structures are now leased and operated by maritime history lovers.  There are several at which you may volunteer and help with the preservation.

Kaye and I spent two weeks at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse near Ludington, Michigan, staying in the keeper’s house and running the gift shop and museum every day with five other volunteers.

Big Sable leaf blower
I used a leaf blower to clear the sand off the boardwalks every day.
Big Sable tower guy
Answering visitors’ questions was part of the job at the top of the tower.

Lighthouses are fascinating structures, and there are loads of folks who are living under the spell, chasing  along the seashores and lakeshores of America from one light to the next.

Are you following the wandering shoreline to see the next tower around the bend?   It is a lot of fun.  And those who live in the Great Lakes state are especially blessed to be in such close proximity to so many great landmarks.

Here are a few more photos of lighthouses we have “collected” over the years:

St. Augustine Light lomo
The day mark at St. Augustine, Florida, is a black and white spiral.  Cool.
Fort Jefferson and lighthouse
The lighthouse at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Florida, is perched on the top of the brick walls of the massive old fort.
Grand Haven Lighthouses wcaption.jpg
The Grand Haven, Michigan, lights are lined up on a long pier that extends almost a quarter mile from shore.
Grand Haven lighthouse in a storm
When the gales of November come howling across Lake Michigan, hundreds of people gather at the shore to watch the gigantic waves crash over the 36-foot-high pierhead lighthouse.
S. Manitou Island Lighthouse 400.jpg
Many lighthouses are on islands, like this beauty on South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan at Leland, Michigan.  It is reached by a 1-1/2 hour boat ride.

I have produced a calendar with 13 high-definition images of Michigan lighthouses, but the 2016 Michigan Lighthouses calendar is sold out.  I will be collecting more great lighthouse photos during 2017 and will offer a new edition of the calendar later in the year.  I will post a notice when it is ready.

Light Housekeeping and Lighthouse Keeping

Milepost 9-29-15  Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington, MI

Kaye and I just finished a two-week term of volunteer duty at a 148-year-old lighthouse on the western shore of Michigan, and we found it a rewarding experience if a bit exhausting.  Eight-hour days and six-day weeks can be a challenge for a couple of retirees who aren’t used to being on duty for anything but hammock swinging and beach walking anymore.

But rewarding it certainly was.  There is a noticeable boost to self-worth when you feel that you are providing a valuable service in helping to preserve a historical landmark and enriching the lives of hundreds of visitors who come to see a unique treasure of American history.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse is nestled between sand dunes and sandy beach.
Big Sable Point Lighthouse is nestled between sand dunes and sandy beach on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

Staying in the upstairs keepers’ quarters, the volunteers start their work day by tidying the yard around the buildings, then opening the gift shop, the archives room, and the tower for the daily shift.  The doors are open from 10 am to 5 pm, and guests arrive by land or sea, hiking a couple of miles from the trailhead at Ludington State Park, or paddling along the shore in kayaks or coming ashore in motorboats.

Workers rake, sweep, and empty trash bins preparing for the day.
Workers rake, sweep, and empty trash bins preparing for the day.
Board walks are cleaned with a leaf blower. Not very authentic, but a time saver.
Board walks are cleaned with a leaf blower. Not very authentic, but a time saver.  Whenever the wind blows – and that is often – the sand moves.

The day is spent welcoming guests, giving tours, and talking the science of lighthouse technology and the history and life of the old-time lighthouse keepers.

Kaye and Kathy sell souvenirs and snacks at the lighthouse gift shop
Kaye and Kathy sell souvenirs and snacks at the lighthouse gift shop.
Visitors are treated to scientific and historical data in the archives room on their way to the tower stairs.
Visitors are treated to a plethora of scientific and historical data in the archives room on the way to the tower stairs.
Visitors climb 130 steps to the top and a 360-degree view of dunes and lakeshore.
Visitors climb 130 steps to the top and a 360-degree view of dunes and lakeshore.
The view from the top is breathtaking - especially for those with a fear of heights.
The view from the top is breathtaking – especially for those with a fear of heights.

After hours, the workers enjoy the conveniences of modern living – in a very old house – and in the company of new friends.    The upstairs keepers’ quarters are comfortable and homey, and the workers sometimes cook for each other and play table games in the evenings.  There’s no TV, but there is wifi on site, so Kaye and I were happy campers.  Of course, the beach and the million dollar sunsets were available to us every day.

The kitchen is small but efficient with every possible appliance - and a grand view to the north.
The kitchen is small but efficient with every possible appliance – and a grand view to the north.
The old keepers' house has 3 apartments and 15 rooms, including sitting rooms where workers hand out in the evenings.
The old house has 3 apartments and 15 rooms, including sitting rooms where workers hang out in the evenings.
An evening stroll on the beach or dip in the lake is good for body and soul.
An evening stroll on the beach or dip in the lake is good for body and soul.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse is one of four historical lighthouses that are cared for by the Sable Point Lightkeepers Association (SPLKA).  Volunteers at the other three lights sign on for one-week tours, while Big Sable Point offers the only 2-week term.  There are also day keeper opportunities.

Though there are challenges to this sort of experience, Kaye and I are very happy about our time spent here and the new acquaintances we have made.  Some folks travel quite a distance to try this out (one of our fellow keepers was from Connecticut), because it is really a unique opportunity.  There are only so many shorelines and lighthouses in the world, and I am glad to have had the chance to live and work at this one.

Big Sable vertical

For more information about volunteering at any of these four west Michigan lighthouses contact SPLKA.org

I have posted a few more photos below, and made several more of them available from my online web gallery at SimsShots Photography.  Order prints from wallet size to 3-foot-wide sofa-size posters and lots of other products.

Also, there are a few of these on my photo-sharing stream at Flickr.

Big Sable dusk

Workers enjoy a twilight campfire on the sand dunes next to the lighthouse.
Workers enjoy a twilight campfire on the sand dunes next to the lighthouse.

Big Sable nighttime

This was our team of workers during our 2-week stay at Big Sable.
This was our team of workers during our 2-week stay at Big Sable.

Also, there is this:  While shooting the lunar eclipse on the evening of September 27th, a ghostly apparition showed up on one of my photos, adding another episode to the on-going legend that Big Sable Point Lighthouse is haunted.  I think it is some sort of optic anomaly, but others are sure they have seen this sort of thing before and that it is a paranormal occurrence.  What do you think?  Let me say, the night was absolutely clear with no fog or smoke anywhere near.  (Click anywhere on the photo to see it in full screen mode.)

Ghost Moon at Big Sable Lighthouse.
Ghost Moon at Big Sable Lighthouse.

Order prints of this photo at SimsShots Photography.

Work-Camping Goes to New Heights: Lighthouse Keeping

Milepost 10-17-14   Ludington, Michigan

I have just added lighthouse keeping to my bucket list.

Visitors approach the lighthouse after a 2-mile hike through the sand dunes from the park visitors’ center.

Kaye and I just spent some time at Ludington, Michigan, where we visited with the lighthouse keepers who are volunteering at the historical Big Sable Point Lighthouse.    This is one of multiple locations in America — there are several in the Great Lakes region — where volunteers may actually stay at a lighthouse for a period of time and offer their services in a variety of assignments.  At this site, they even stay in the original keepers’ quarters dating back to 1867.

The historical 1867 lighthouse and keepers' house at Big Sable Point.
The historical 1867 lighthouse and keepers’ house at Big Sable Point.

The folks who were on site when we visited are from all over the country and serve as guides, historical interpreters, and gift shop operators.  They also help with maintenance and upkeep when needed.  They stay here for two weeks at a time, then a new group arrives, a few of them overlapping to help with orientation.

Resident volunteers run the gift shop and museum for visitors inside the historical keepers house.
Resident volunteers run the gift shop and museum for visitors inside the historical lightkeepers house.

The volunteers often develop a camaraderie and lifelong friendship during their stay at the lighthouse.

Russell welcomes tourist to enjoy the museum displays on their way to the tower stairway.
Russell welcomes tourists to examine the museum displays on their way to the tower stairway.
Volunteers staff the lighthouse in 2-week stays.  Here, Thom welcomes visitors to the lantern gallery at the top of the tower.
Thom welcomes visitors to the lantern gallery near the top of the tower.
Thom offers to snap photos for the guests on the tower walkway.
Thom offers to snap photos for the guests on the tower walkway.
Nancy welcomes new workers to the front door of the old keepers house.
Nancy welcomes new workers to the front door of the old keepers house.
The volunteer light keepers stay in the upstairs rooms of the historical residence.  Wanna hear some ghost stories?
The volunteer light keepers stay in the upstairs rooms of the historical residence. Nancy’s first-hand ghost stories will send chills up and down your spine.

This is one of several Michigan historical locations where paranormal activity has been observed and ghost stories abound.  One of the regular workers,  Nancy,  tells of the ghost of a young girl who has appeared in an upstairs bedroom on at least one wildly stormy night apparently frightened and asking the residents if she can climb into bed with them.  Now that’s downright creepy!

Big Sable Point Lighthouse looks foreboding in a storm.  Is it really haunted?
Big Sable Point Lighthouse looks foreboding in a storm. Is it really haunted?

Kaye and I are looking forward to pursuing our new dream of living and working at a 150-year-old lighthouse, and this spot would be our number one choice…  even though the old fashioned beds are quite small and won’t offer enough room for more than the two of us in the bed at one time.   Hopefully.

My bucket list is a short one  (and it does not include sky diving),  and it’s going to take something pretty amazing to rival the Alaska Highway experience.  This looks like a promising candidate.


Postscript:  We have been accepted and scheduled for a two-week stay at Big Sable Point Lighthouse for next fall.  Come and visit us while we are on duty from September 14 – 28 and we’ll give you a personal tour of the historical light station!  Maybe get a campsite at Ludington State Park; the lighthouse is a 1-1/2 mile hike from the campground.