Michigan Lighthouses: Munising Area

One of Michigan’s major historical features is its lighthouses. Michigan has 116 structures which once served as navigational beacons for ships on Lakes Superior, Erie, Huron and Michigan. My husband and I traveled in 2011 to the Munising area of the Upper Peninsula. I attempted to photograph as many lighthouses as we could find. Many of them were not open to the public. Some were no longer utilized as beacons.

If you travel to the Munising area, you can find these historical structures.

Christmas Range Lights

This pair of range lights are mentioned in Laurie, Bill and Ruth Penrose’s book “A Traveler’s Guide to 116 Michigan Lighthouses.” In that publication they were called the End of the Road Range Lights. This is the only publication in which they are called that and the authors do not indicate the origin of the name. Because they were the replacement range lights for the Grand Island East Channel lighthouse, they have also been called the Grand Island Harbor Range Lights.

Some sources refer to the lights as the Bay Furnace Range Lights. Bay Furnace was the main employer in the small nearby community of Onota which was founded in 1869. Fire leveled the town in 1877. Bay Furnace smelted and shipped pig iron west of the present community of Christmas. The remains of the iron smelting kilns are on the National Register of Historic Places. Range lights have been in this location since 1868.

I located the front range light on the shore of Lake Superior first. It was within view from the road at the end of a sandy pull-off. If all I saw was the front range light, I would have been disappointed.

The light is 20 feet tall. It was built of steel in 1968. Its conical design is what is called the D-9 style, created by the Ninth Coast Guard District. The structure looks like a white battery. When we visited, it was early evening. I missed the opportunity to explore the 1914 stonework ruins of the light which preceded this one. If I had walked around to the beach side of the light, I would have found them.

If I had not seen the Penrose reference, I would not have noticed the rear range light. It rises just a short distance above the surrounding forest. This structure was more like what a lighthouse fan like me envisions.

The lighthouse stands 62 feet tall. Its lower portion is black and the upper tower is white with a black gallery and lantern. The upper half of the structure was recycled from another Great Lakes light according to Terry Pepper of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Association. I did as Pepper did and peered inside one of the barred windows. The metal stairs climbing to the lantern room are attached to the outer walls of the light tower. In many other lighthouses, the stairway spirals around a central post.

Both lights are located in the Hiawatha National Forest and are maintained by the U. S. Forestry Service.

If you happen to be in Christmas, Michigan, during the holiday season, look for the rear range lighthouse in the evening hours. Both Pepper and the Penrose guide state that Christmas lights decorate the supporting guy wires and tower.

Munising Range Lights

After you enter the town of Munising on M-28 headed toward the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, look for a white tower on your left where Hemlock Street intersects with the lakeshore drive. This is the Munising front range lighthouse.

When this beacon, the keeper’s residence and rear range light were constructed in 1908, the cost was $15,000. The lights were transferred into the care of the National Park Service and added to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore public properties in 2002. The Park Service has plans to restore the structures and include interpretive displays in future years.

The front range light is a 58 foot tall white tower topped with a red ventilator ball. The lantern room is octagonal in shape with a parapet. The steel plated tower is closed to the public since it and the rear range light are still utilized as navigational aids. The two story brick and wood keeper’s residence is closed to the public as well. It is used by the National Lakeshore administration staff.

Range lights were placed in a line to guide watercraft into the harbor. I knew we had to look directly up the hill from the front range light to locate the rear range light. This time, my husband was the one to be disappointed.

The steel-plated white tower is only 33 feet tall and stands atop a hill at the end of Hemlock Street. At first glance, it seems like a child’s playhouse replica of a lighthouse instead of the functioning light it is. Its single window is covered by a red clear panel. A well worn foot path leads to the small tower.

An excellent photo of the interior stairway of the Munising Front Range light may be found in Charles K. Hyde’s book “The Northern Lights: Lighthouses of the Upper Great Lakes.”

Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse

I was delighted to learn that when we took the Pictured Rocks Boat Cruise out of Munising harbor we would pass by one of the oldest lighthouses on Lake Superior. The Munising range lights replaced this historic structure in 1913 but it has been standing since 1868.

The lighthouse design is like a wooden frame schoolhouse with the 45 foot square light tower built into the front center of the keeper’s residence. The foundation is stone. Because the land around the lighthouse and the building itself is owned by a private consortium, you can not walk around the grounds.

The Grand Island East Channel lighthouse was the victim of poor planning and a Congressional desire to cut costs. During its time of operation, yearly repairs were required. In 1899, the stonework crib meant to prevent the sands of the beach from undermining the foundation had to be replaced.

After the light was abandoned, Lake Superior continued to be merciless in its attacks on the exposed structure. The white paint was worn off the exterior and boards and roofing material were blown off the frame. At one point, the light was considered one of the most endangered on Lake Superior.

In 2001, a group of concerned local citizens and the American Lighthouse Foundation rebuilt the shoring in front of the lighthouse and restored some of its exterior. This will be an ongoing work since the beach in front of the structure is sand and Lake Superior continues to rage with temper tantrum storms. Still, the lighthouse is so popular that the Pictured Rocks Boat Cruises gift shop has several souvenirs emblazoned with the image of the light.

For my slideshow with lighthouse photos I took on our 2011 trip, go here.


Berger, Todd R. Lighthouses of the Great Lakes:Your Guide to the Region’s Historic Lighthouses. Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2002.

Hyde, Charles K. The Northern Lights: Lighthouses of the Upper Great Lakes. Lansing, MI: TwoPeninsula Press, 1990.

Penrose, Laurie. A Traveler’s Guide to 116 Michigan Lighthouses. West Branch, MI: Penrose Publishing, 1999.

Christmas Range Lights



Munising Range Lights



Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse



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