12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Ludington, MI

Written by Meagan Drillinger
Dec 29, 2022

Author Meagan Drillinger visited Ludington in the fall of 2022 on her travels through Michigan.

Ludington is one of the Great Lake Michigan towns along the western coast of the state. It sits perched at the mouth of the Pere Marquette River, where it empties out into the lake, which means it has been a booming harbor town for more than a century.

Beaches, green space, a rich maritime history, and a thriving downtown are some of the highlights that make Ludington a fun place to visit. The town is one of the leading tourist destinations in Michigan, thanks to its landmarks, attractions, and things to do in every season.

In terms of history, Ludington has it in spades. It's the home port for the S.S. Badger, which is one of the largest passenger ferries in the world and shuttles people across Lake Michigan to Wisconsin.

Ludington is also a great base for exploring the gorgeous Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness and the wild Ludington State Park.

Plan your time here with our list of the best things to do in Ludington.

1. Explore Ludington State Park

Ludington State Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Of the many things to do in Ludington, Michigan, visiting Ludington State Park is at the top of the list. The sprawling park extends over 5,300 acres across sandy beaches, sand dunes, wetlands, forest, and marsh, making it one of the most diverse landscapes in the state. It's often regarded as one of the best state parks in Michigan.

The park sits between Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan. It features 18 miles of hiking across eight different trails. Tip: Try the Lighthouse Trail, which is three miles long and meanders past sand dunes toward the Big Sable Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse is another top attraction in Ludington.

Paddlers will also love a visit to the park. You can launch a canoe at the Hamlin Lake Beach and follow along the shoreline of Hamlin Lake. The lake is also known for its lovely beach, though most beach lovers head to the shores of Lake Michigan for a perfect beach day.

Address: 8800 M-116, Ludington, Michigan

2. Visit the S.S. Badger

S.S. Badger | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Though you may have just arrived in town, one of the best things to do in Ludington, Michigan is to sail away from it aboard the S.S. Badger. The largest, cross-lake passenger service on the Great Lakes, the S.S. Badger is an incredible steamship that shuttles between Ludington, Michigan; and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, from mid-June through mid-October.

The S.S. Badger is known as the Queen of the Great Lakes because she is the largest car ferry to sail Lake Michigan, and has been doing so for more than six decades. The onboard experience is something really spectacular, almost like a luxury ocean liner experience. Visitors can explore the outdoor decks, dining areas, private staterooms, lounge, a video arcade, gift shop, museum, and a movie lounge. The 60-mile cruise takes roughly four hours to complete.

The Badger was built as a rail car ferry in 1952 and was originally used to carry railroad cars, passengers, and cars.

Address: 701 Maritime Drive, Ludington, Michigan

3. Tour Big Sable Point Lighthouse

Big Sable Point Lighthouse

You cannot visit Ludington, Michigan, without stopping by its most famous landmark: Big Sable Point Lighthouse. Located within Ludington State Park, the 112-foot lighthouse overlooks the shores of Lake Michigan, and is one of the prettiest lighthouses in the state.

Big Sable Point, about nine miles north of Ludington, was a notable landmark for sailors who were sailing through this treacherous part of Lake Michigan. A lighthouse was approved in 1856 to help guide the earliest mariners, but the lighthouse didn't actually open until much later.

The lighthouse was the first station lighthouse in the area when it opened in 1867. Its story took a few twists and turns over the years, but it emerged as one of the grand landmarks of the area. Today it is open for tours every day between late May and the end of October. Visitors can even climb to the top, or explore the gift shop, which lives within the original Keeper's Quarters.

Address: 8800 W M-116, Ludington, Michigan

4. Visit the Ludington North Breakwater Light

Ludington North Breakwater Light | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

If you haven't quite had your fill of Ludington lighthouses, then you'll want to make a stop at the Ludington North Breakwater Light. In fact, this particular lighthouse is one of the most popular lighthouses in Michigan. You can find it on the north breakwater pier at the end of Main Street.

The structure stands at 57 feet tall, where the Pere Marquette River meets Lake Michigan. It was first established in 1871, and the light was lit in 1924. The lighthouse remains operational to this day, though it is now automated. It was not until 2006 that the lighthouse became open to the public.

Today it's possible to tour the Ludington North Breakwater Light, which is a popular activity for lighthouse hunters and lovers of history. The structure is shaped like a four-sided pyramid and has four round porthole windows for each of the three decks. Inside the lighthouse are photographs and artifacts that help tell the history of the lighthouse.

Tours are available from late May to early September.

5. Stroll through Stearns Park

Stearns Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

If you're looking for the best beaches in Ludington, Michigan, look no further than Stearns Park.

The largest beach in the city, Stearns Park has 2,500 feet of shoreline overlooking Lake Michigan and the Ludington North Breakwater Light. The lighthouse sits at the end of a half-mile long pier and makes for a really lovely walk from the beach, weather permitting. You may get lucky and be able to see the S.S. Badger sailing by from the shore, as well.

Among the amenities at the park, aside from the beach, is an expansive grass area with picnic tables and grills, as well as concession stands, mini golf, and shuffleboard. The park is tech-friendly, too, and offers free Wi-Fi for visitors.

Stearns Park is not far from downtown Ludington, so it's easy to find parking or to simply stroll up to the beach area to spend the day.

Address: 420 N Lakeshore Drive, Ludington, Michigan

6. See the Statues at Ludington Waterfront Park

Ludington's Waterfront Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Ludington has plenty of outdoor and green space across the city. But Ludington's Waterfront Park is something a little different, thanks to the nine bronze sculptures scattered throughout the five-acre park. Each sculpture is unique and tells a story about the history of Ludington.

Ludington's lumbering past, farming past, fishing, car ferry history, and even its baseball past are covered. It's a creative way to get a little bit closer to the history of Ludington. The statues are part of the Mason County Sculpture Trail. A downloadable map is available to discover the other sculptures across the county.

In addition to the sculptures, the Waterfront Park features a playground, picnic tables, and views over Pere Marquette Lake. You can even see the S.S. Badger pulling into port from a perch on Waterfront Park.

Address: 391 S William Street, Ludington, Michigan

7. Take the Kids to Sandcastles Children's Museum

Sandcastles Children's Museum | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

If you're traveling to Ludington with the family, the Sandcastles Children's Museum is a really fun and engaging way to spend the day together. The hands-on museum features more than 30 interactive exhibits that are both educational and fun.

Among the exhibits at the museum include a climbing wall, creation station, a real airplane that kids can explore, a vet center to learn about animal care, a baby nursery, and even a mini version of the S.S. Badger.

A favorite exhibit is the House of Flavors, where kids imitate their favorite restaurant owners. Pick up a menu, let the kids take your order, and watch as they "cook" and serve it up. It is one of the most popular museums for kids, bringing more than 20,000 visitors each year since 2011.

In addition to its exhibits, the museum has a year-round events calendar and weekly special programming, like holiday-themed activities in the winter, a Friday Toddler Time, music and movement classes, and Family Fun Days.

Address: 129 E. Ludington Ave, Ludington, Michigan

8. Visit the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum

Port of Ludington Maritime Museum | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Step back in time to discover the rich maritime history of the Port of Ludington. The Port of Ludington Maritime Museum was designed to tell the colorful stories of the lives in Ludington that revolved around the water. Housed in the former U.S. Coast Guard station, the museum uses digital storytelling, photographs, artifacts, and interactive exhibits to bring these tales to life.

The building of the museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside its walls are three stories of museum exhibits, which overlook the coast of Lake Michigan, as well as the North Pier Light and the S.S. Badger.

Inside the museum, visitors can try their hand piloting the Pere Marquette 22 into Ludington's harbor through an interactive exhibit. They can also meet holograms of its captains, learn about lighthouse optics, and even virtually dive for wrecks underneath the waves of Lake Michigan.

Address: 217 South Lakeshore Drive, Ludington, Michigan

9. Climb the Father Marquette Memorial Cross

Father Marquette Memorial Cross | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Among the notable figures throughout Michigan's history, few are as influential as Father Pere Marquette. Father Marquette was a French Jesuit missionary who helped found the first European settlement in Michigan – Sault Sainte Marie and later Saint Ignace, both on the Upper Peninsula. He was the first European explorer to chart the northern areas of the Mississippi River Valley.

Today his name and influence can be seen all across the state in the names of parks, rivers, and landmarks.

After his death, he was buried in 1675 on the Buttersville Peninsula, and a monument now marks the site of his death in what is now Ludington. It's a 2.4-acre site with 400 feet overlooking Pere Marquette Lake. One of the main focal points here is the hilltop cross that overlooks the park, though the cross has seen some controversy over the last few years. Regardless, the park itself is a beautiful place to visit.

Address: 760 S. Lakeshore Drive, Ludington, Michigan

10. Experience White Pine Village

White Pine Village | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

One neat way to learn about the history of Ludington, Michigan, is to actually live it. A trip to Historic White Pine Village is like a step back in time to the Ludington of the late 19th century.

Wander among the 30 exhibit buildings that serve like a living pioneer village. The park opened in the 1970s with just a handful of buildings, including the first Mason County Courthouse that dates to 1849. Later, other original buildings were moved to the site to create the village.

Points of interest include the Hamlin Lake Cottage, which shows what an original cottage from the early 1900s would look like; the White Pine Chapel; an authentic steam locomotive; and staff and historians that are dressed in character to help bring the stories to life. It's part of the Mason County Historical Society, which also runs the maritime museum.

11. Explore the Pere Marquette River

Pere Marquette River

Michigan's rivers provide so much beauty and promise for outdoor activity. When visiting Ludington, the Pere Marquette River is one of the local favorites for getting out to enjoy nature.

The river travels more than 66 miles and flows across four counties winding into Pere Marquette Lake and into Lake Michigan at Ludington. Fishing is one of the top things to do on the river, thanks to its teeming population of rainbow trout. Other activities are canoeing and kayaking, as well as camping along the river.

From Ludington, paddlers on the river can do the Pere Marquette Loop, which starts at Old US-31 in Ludington and circles to the State Road Bridge before turning into Scottville Riverside Park and continuing on. It's a really lovely way to get out onto the water and experience the local nature and wildlife.

12. Wander Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area

Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

The wild and expansive Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area is one of the most beautiful spots in Ludington. Covering 3,500 acres along Lake Michigan and tucked within the Manistee National Forest, this is one of the top parks in the state for getting up close and personal with wild nature.

Among the popular things to do within the wilderness area are hiking, dispersed camping, swimming, picnicking, and exploring the beach. The park has an impressive 10 miles of trails that weave through the thick forests.

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