Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Ludington, Michigan

The beautiful blue waters of Lake Michigan have amazed us all summer so as our summer travels were winding down we decided to hang out in more coastal towns before heading south through the heartland.  This time we chose Ludington where rolling sand dunes meet Lake Michigan and iconic lighthouses penetrate the sky.  Ludington is beautifully similar to other western Michigan coastal towns each of which have their own unique charm and character.  Despite the fact that this beach town was slowly closing down after their busy summer season, we found plenty to do. 

Visiting in October meant we had the beach to ourselves, quiet in the campground, and beautiful fall colors to grace our hikes.  It’s easy to image downtown Ludington a bustling place in the summer with marinas and shoreline parks to attract beach goers and water lovers.  Lucky for us, it was pretty much empty which is just the way we like it.  Fall camping in northern states can be dicey weather-wise and campgrounds and attractions shut down.  The flip side of that is there are less people which sometimes makes for a more enjoyable experience overall.  There are trade-offs.

Downtown Ludington is cute with streets lined with shops, a few breweries, interesting restaurants, a great gourmet market, and various other businesses.  Venture west of downtown towards the water and you will find Pere Marquette Lake which connects to Lake Michigan but provides a protective harbor.  Along the lake you will find two large marinas sandwiching Waterfront Park.  The 5-acre park is home to a sculpture garden where nine bronzes highlight the area’s history and culture beautifully telling the story of immigrants, logging history, shipping, and more.  One prominent feature along the shoreline is the S.S. Badger – a car ferry that traverses Lake Michigan from Ludington east to Manitowoc, Wisconsin.  The Badger was launched in 1952 and is the only coal-fired steamship in operation in the United States and is a designated National Historic Landmark.

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Along Lake Michigan is Stearns Park Beach which is home to the North Breakwater Light (one of two lighthouses in the area).  Originally built in 1871, the light was replaced in 1924 and is one of the most photographed places in Ludington as it has a distinctive design which some say resembles a ship (not sure how they get that, but o.k.).  The breakwater provides easy access to the lighthouse which is open for tours and tower climbs during the summer season for a fee.  The light shines across nearly 20 miles into the lake warning mariners of danger and guiding them through the channel into Pere Marquette Lake.

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We spent lots of time at Ludington State Park exploring the dunes, hills, and lighthouses via miles and miles of trails. Despite there being a couple of campgrounds in the park, the trails were never very crowded. The most popular trail is the Skyline Trail, a short 0.5 mile boardwalk that takes you along the crest of a dune where you get a great view of the lake and fore dunes; as well as the surrounding woods.  We were impressed with how much there was to do in this park and would be a nice place to camp if you are content without full hook-ups.  There is fishing, plenty of beach for enjoying (no dogs allowed though), hiking trails, watercraft rentals, concessions, picnic areas, playgrounds, and hiking trails.

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Another hike we took led us out to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse.  You can only reach the lighthouse by walking or biking to it so we chose to hike out the Lighthouse Trail.  The trail starts off in the woodlands and then winds over and through open and wooded dunes.  Hiking through the dunes really gives you a sense of being small among the tall rolling dunes not to mention how the soft sand gives your legs quite a workout.  We opted to return to the parking lot via the shorter, level, and hard packed surface road.  Spirit was happy with our choice to hike the long trail out to the lighthouse but Betsy and I were tired and opted for the easy walk back.  The Big Sable Point Lighthouse is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017.  The 112’ lighthouse sits beautifully perched between the sand dunes and blue waters of Lake Michigan.  Ever dream of staying in a lighthouse for an extended period of time? At this one you can. Volunteer “keepers” stay at the lighthouse for two-week stints between April and November serving as interpretive guides, performing maintenance tasks, and running the gift shops. (If you are interested, click here for more information.)  The lighthouse is also open for tours and to climb the tower for a fee and they have various events and programs throughout the season.

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One day we took to exploring the more rural country side around Ludington – we called it “farm day.”  We drove north of town to visit Andrulis Specialty Cheese which has been around since 1940.  Andrulis cheeses are farmer’s cheese made from cows’ milk in the traditional Baltic-style.   In addition to the traditional farmer’s cheese, they make feta and a variety of flavored cheeses like chive, dill, caraway, basil, garlic and onion, and more.  We left with a free sample of feta which was delicious so when we found Andrulis cheese in the grocery store we decided to try the traditional farmer’s cheese and the basil variety, both of which were very good.

The woman we spoke to at Andrulis mentioned delicious homemade cookies at a local place called Orchard Market which sounded like a place we should visit.  The market has been around since 1960 supplying fruits and vegetables and cooking up fudge, fruit pies, and freshly daily baked goods.  The Orchard Market has two locations, and lucky for us, one was within walking distance of the campground.

Next up was a stop at Sander’s Meats which is a family-run butcher and specialty meat market that put down their roots in 1925.  The company specializes in smoked hams, homemade brats, hotdogs, sausages, bologna and much more.  We loaded up on porterhouse steaks and pork chops that were cut to our specifications.  This is one of those old style meat markets that has a local following and goes above and beyond to please their customers.

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There are a few notable Ludington eateries to mention.  You didn’t think we were going to starve, did you?
  • Just south of town is The Jam Farm - a little shop selling homemade jams, jellies, condiments, and gifts. All the fruit comes from their farm or a neighbors and when we walked in it was clear their goods were homemade as a women was stirring the pot creating a new seasonal jam flavor.
  • Ludington Bay Brewing Company is a new game in town serving up cold beer and a crafty menu.  We went a little overboard with our ordering which included warm pretzels with cheese and mustard dipping sauce, brats, and beer.
  • Downtown on Ludington Avenue (which is essentially the town’s Main Street) is home to Biercamp Market a neighborhood grocery with specialty items, prepared foods, a great deli, and a wine/beer bar.
  • After a morning walk along the marina, Spirit and us wandered up into town and found ourselves in the parking lot of Cops and Doughnuts - McDonald’s Precinct.  This is a doughnuts shop that has been around since 1898 and was known as McDonald’s Bakery before a band of cops bought it and changed the name.  Their wide range of fresh made doughnuts has generated quite the following and Spirit encouraged me to sample some of their flavors.
  • The last place to mention is actually a fast food chain but ranks high on Betsy’s food list.  She grew up on Big Boy’s and relishes the chance to eat that double stack of meat, cheese, lettuce and tartar sauce sandwiched between sesame seed buns.
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Ludington was a great stop for us and one of those places that we kept extending our stay because we liked the town and the RV park (Ponchos Pond RV Park - review to follow) so much.  We would definitely return to Ludington and it was a great end to four months in Michigan. 



















1 comment:

  1. Looks like a pretty stop. We're heading to the area next summer and I've been using your well documented travels as a planning guide.

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