If you love the outdoors and you’re looking for somewhere to enjoy Lake Michigan or beautiful hiking trails, then you can’t go wrong visiting Ludington, Michigan. Ludington is an absolutely beautiful location to visit. It has 28 miles of beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline and it’s also the home of one of the most popular state parks in Michigan.
Ludington is a nature-lover’s paradise. There are so many things to do in the area and the vast majority of them take place in the great outdoors. This is a wonderful place for families to visit to unplug and get away from the busyness of life for a while. No matter your favorite outdoor pastime, you will easily find a place to enjoy it in this area.
1 – Ludington State Park Campground
Ludington State Park comprises nearly 5,300 acres of scenic sand dunes, ponds, marshlands, and forests. It is situated between Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan, with several miles of shoreline and beaches on both bodies of water. It consists of beautiful sand dunes, forests, wetlands, lakes, rivers, and more.
There are four areas for camping inside the state park. The Pines, Cedar, and Beechwood campgrounds all have 20/30 amp and 50 amp sites. There are even a few mini cabins mixed into these areas for good measure. And the Jack Pine area contains rustic walk-in sites.
Hamlin Lake is a wonderful spot to take the kids swimming or to rent a canoe or kayak for a leisurely paddle. The star of the show, however, is Lake Michigan. When we visited as kids, it was always an absolute MUST to swim in the lake every single trip – even if the water was only 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, the state park is located between Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan so less brave souls can always take a swim in warmer water as well. Hamlin Lake is a wonderful spot to not only take the kids swimming but it’s also a great spot to rent a canoe or kayak for a leisurely paddle.
2 – Ludington State Park Hiking Trails
Ludington State Park is also filled with more than 21 miles of marked hiking trails. My favorite hiking trail in the state park is the Island Trail. This trail is about a 2 mile trek to the end and then you can either turn around and come back, or you can jump over to either the Lost Lake Trail or the Ridge trail and come back one of those ways. My personal preference is either take the Lost Trail Trail or to just to turn around and follow the Island trail back because I much prefer the scenery on those trail. The Ridge trail goes along the top of a wooded sand dune. The island trail hops from island to island and is very scenic.
Whenever we get up to Ludington, I’m drawn to that Island Trail. Sometimes, time doesn’t allow us to go all the way to the end. But as often as possible, we walk the Island Trail and come back on the Lost Lake Trail. Such beautiful scenery and quaint bridges!
Another favorite is the Lost Lake and Lighthouse Trail. This trail is the most difficult in the park, being 4.9 miles one way. This is especially true because the last couple of miles are dunes and full sun. If you take this trail, be sure to bring plenty of water. When we tackled this trail, it was a bright summer day and we greatly underestimated how much water we would go through. Fortunately, when we reached the lighthouse we were able to refill our water bottles with a water spigot on the back of the lighthouse. We absolutely love the beauty of the lighthouse and the beauty around it. But the easiest way back to the campground is to hike back along the 2 mile gravel lighthouse access road, which is what we did. However, be aware that you will then end up on the opposite end of the state park and will also have to walk back the several miles to where you left your car.
3 – Big Sable Point Lighthouse
While at the State Park, another favorite activity is to take a two-mile hike each way on an access road to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse holds a lot of historical significance for me because one of my ancestors, Burr Caswell, was the fourth lighthouse keeper from 1874-1882.
One of the best ways to get to the lighthouse and back is to ride a bike. There are bike racks by the lighthouse and there are bathrooms out there as well, which is really nice. This would be a fun location to bring a picnic lunch! The road to the lighthouse is also how you access the Jack Pine walk-in rustic camping sites.
When we were on the hunt for Comet Neowise, the hike to the lighthouse was one of the trails we chose. The skies are nice and dark out there and it’s a great place to do some stargazing! If you stay near the lighthouse until after dark, however, be aware that more than just the stars come out in the darkness. The access road runs along some ponds and during the summer, the road may be filled with frogs and toads on your way back.
Have a good light source with you and be prepared to maneuver around them as they will cover the road in front of you. Also, the majority of the road cuts through some dense trees, which can also be a bit spooky on the walk back. But being able to experience the lighthouse at sunset and after dark makes it worth the harrowing journey back.
A few years ago, Dennis and I hiked back along the lakeshore from the lighthouse to the parking lot and that was a much more strenuous walk. There’s something about walking on sand that is more exhausting. Plus, there’s no relief from the sun. And I had a nagging feeling that we were going to get trapped between the sandy cliff walls and the lake at some point and would have to turn around. That didn’t happen when we attempted the trip, but the lake levels were at record highs in 2019 so I would definitely use caution before attempting it again.
4 – Stearns Park and Pier
Stearns Park is the most popular beach in Ludington. The Ludington Breakwater Lighthouse is located at the end of the pier and it’s a favorite activity to walk the pier to reach the lighthouse. Like most of the Lake Michigan Shoreline, the sand here is soft and beautiful. There are lots of places to picnic, there’s a nice playground, and they even have a skateboarding area. There are bathrooms and a place to purchase snacks as well.
Being so close to downtown Ludington makes this beach the most accessible, which is what contributes to its popularity. There is also lots of parking. Many people drive through the parking lot to take in the view and keep on going.
5 – House of Flavors
House of Flavors has been a Ludington icon since 1964 but its history goes back even farther. The Neal family has owned and operated it for three generations. They started in 1948 with five flavors including their iconic Blue Moon. They now produce over 25 million gallons of ice cream per year and they also have a full-service restaurant as part of their business.
Everyone comes for the ice cream but their food is delicious as well. If you want to visit their establishment in the summer, avoid the weekends in the evening unless you don’t mind a long wait. If you’re willing to eat at a slightly less busy time, the experience is fantastic. And they also offer takeout so you can order your food and take it to the park next door for a lovely picnic. Or even drive down the street to Stearns Park to enjoy your food on the beach.
6 – Watching the Badger Car Ferry Arrive/Depart
The SS Badger is the last remaining coal-powered ferry in the United States. Passengers can take the ferry from Ludington across to Manitowoc, WI which is about an hour from Milwaukee. It is a four-hour journey and you can choose between buying round trip or one-way tickets. The ferry can even accommodate RVs and larger vehicles.
When visiting Ludington, it is always fun to watch the Badger arrive or depart. Check the schedule to confirm times. You can watch the ferry from Stearns Park or you can drive to the ferry docks and watch from there as well.
7 – White Pine Village
White Pine Village is a 20th Century Pioneer Village which features the home of Aaron Burr Caswell, the first non-Native American settler in Mason County. Built in 1849 by Burr, it was the first frame house in Mason County. Burr Caswell, his wife Hannah, and their four children lived in this house. In 1855, six years after building the home, Burr offered the first floor for county government use. The family moved upstairs and the main floor became the courtroom. Across the back of the main floor was a trading post and in the basement was the first jail. Visitors can tour his home and many other buildings from a similar era.
The buildings have been restored and they contain lots of artifacts and local history. The Ludington area has a rich history of lumbering and visitors are given the opportunity to see what life was like in the area during the 1900s. White Pine Village is open early May through October and takes about 2 hours to tour. Combo tickets can be purchased for this village and for the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum.
8 – Shopping in Downtown Ludington
Ludington has done a good job of keeping their downtown area vibrant and walkable. Visitors will find plenty of parking behind the buildings on W. Ludington Avenue. Many of the shops have sidewalk sales in the summer and lots of tourists walk up and down the sidewalks. There are plenty of places to shop for souvenirs or to grab a bite to eat. House of Flavors is a popular destination in downtown Ludington and so are some of the t-shirt shops that line the avenue.
Even though Ludington is a tourist town, the buildings in the downtown have maintained a historic feel rather than becoming kitschy as some tourist area often do. Park your car and get out and explore. Remember to also wander some of the side streets so you don’t miss any of the hidden gems that are just off of the main street.
9 – Amber Elk Ranch
Amber Elk Ranch is located just a few miles east of Ludington. It’s a fun family-friendly location which gives visitors the opportunity to view elk up close and personal. They offer hour-long wagon rides through their 130 acres. They also have a petting zoo and a gift shop. And in the summer, they offer BBQ dinners as well. Experiencing these majestic animals is a unique experience and the whole family will enjoy. They do close during inclement weather so be sure you call ahead if you aren’t sure.
10 – Port of Ludington Maritime Museum
Port of Ludington Maritime Museum is located in the former Coast Guard Station. It is a state-of-the-art museum filled with exhibits that offer rare glimpses into the past. It contains authentic artifacts and historic photographs of people who played key roles in maritime industries of the region. This museum contains three stories of goodness for the whole family.
The museum is open from May 1st – October 23rd. History buffs should consider purchasing combo tickets for this museum and for White Pine Village.
As you can see, Ludington, Michigan is a wonderful place to visit, especially for those who love nature, hiking, beaches, and history. If you’d like to get even more of a glimpse into the area, be sure to check out our Ludington Michigan Playlist on YouTube.