With 28 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, Mason County is a water wonderland containing 2,000 miles of streams, 40 inland lakes, three rivers and two lighthouses. The best part? It’s easy to visit at 100 miles from Grand Rapids.
Nestled halfway up Michigan’s west coast on Lake Michigan, Ludington is a place to get off the grid on a trail or kayak yet have a gourmet meal and craft beer. This city of 8,500 has a laid-back vibe — providing a perfect combination of northern Michigan natural beauty with small-town charm.
Here is a sampling of Ludington’s offerings.
Ludington is a beachgoer’s dream. Rated one of the Midwest’s top beaches, Stearns Beach is a half-mile of Lake Michigan shoreline walking distance to downtown with a bathhouse/concession, volleyball courts and picnic area, plus adjacent shuffleboard, minigolf and skate park. Visitors also can walk the pier to Ludington North Breakwater Light. Nature lovers enjoy Ludington State Park with 7 miles of coastline bordered by dunes or the designated beach area with the historic Lake Michigan Beach House. Buttersville Beach south of town is popular with locals and dog owners. For warmer waters, inland Hamlin Lake Beach in Ludington State Park fits the bill.
Another way to enjoy the water is from a boat on Lake Michigan (Ludington is Michigan’s No. 1 salmon fishing port with 45 licensed charters) or a canoe or kayak on the Pere Marquette River, legendary for steelhead and salmon. River guides are available through the Ludington Charter Boat Association. Or rent a tube for a lazy float down the Big Sable River in the state park.
Ludington has trails for every mode of transportation. Cyclists can ride 10 miles of singletrack in the city plus the Big M, a 38-mile trail system north in the Huron-Manistee National Forests. Hikers can explore 25 miles of trails in 5,300-acre Ludington State Park, including a trail to Big Sable Point Lighthouse only accessible on foot or bike except for select weekends. In town is Cartier Park, a paved 1-mile loop, plus the downtown waterfront loop to watch boats come into port.
Ludington has three golf courses (Hemlock Golf Club, Lakeside Links and semi-private Lincoln Hills Golf Club) and more in the region. It also is a disc golf mecca with six courses in the area, including Mason County Park’s 8,160-foot Goliath course — the third largest and one of the best in the country. Ludington also is home to one of Michigan’s only exclusive disc golf pro shops, Grip ‘N’ Rip.
Culture and history
Ludington offers an array of cultural treasures. The Port of Ludington Maritime Museum showcases the region’s rich maritime heritage rooted in salt mining, commercial fishing, car ferries and the U.S. Coast Guard (it is housed in a restored 1934 U.S. Coast Guard Station). Historic White Pine Village is a walkable village of 29 historic buildings from Mason County’s past. Children love visiting Sandcastles Children’s Museum, a hands-on discovery center. And six self-guided Mason County Cultural Trails offer themes from Lumber Heritage to Agriculture. For more maritime history, climb the tower at one of Ludington’s lighthouses, Ludington North Breakwater Light or Big Sable Point Light, or ride the S.S. Badger, the last U.S. coal-fired steamship, crossing Lake Michigan daily to Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
Food and drink
Ludington boasts a variety of eateries, from mom-and-pop diners like Café 106 to upscale restaurants like Table 14 and the new Crown & Cork, to craft breweries with extensive menus like Jamesport and Ludington Bay Brewing. Or grab takeout from Q Smokehouse or a hand-dipped ice cream cone from House of Flavors.