Until last year, I knew Ludington only as the homeport of the S.S. Badger.
Then I had an opportunity to spend some time in Mason County’s largest city. I discovered Ludington offers a historic village, a dandy maritime museum, a welcoming and walkable downtown, and picture-postcard beaches. And the Badger car ferry still steams in and out of Ludington.
New attractions include: Ludington Harbor Tours on Lake Michigan and the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) Inside | Out outdoor art installation through November.
“The Ludington area offers a perfect and affordable getaway on one tank of gas from most major Michigan and Midwest cities,” said Brandy Miller, executive director of the Ludington Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We continue to add new attractions to our offerings, in addition to being home to stunning natural resources where you can get off the grid. And we have put many safety precautions in place to help reassure visitors during the pandemic. Squeeze in one last summer trip to Ludington, or plan a fall visit when crowds lessen, the weather is still stellar.”
Ludington Harbor Tours operates out of Lake Street Marina. The Princess of Ludington sails on Pere Marquette Lake and Lake Michigan. Tours range from 90 minutes to three hours.
Ludington Splash Pad in Copeyon Park is a 3,000-square-foot splash pad overlooking Pere Marquette Lake. Featured are 12 ground sprays, six water features and a variety of showers, streams and mists at different heights for recreational water play. Although the pad is scheduled to close after Labor Day, it may stay open if the weather remains warm.
Ludington is one of six northern Michigan communities participating in the DIA’s Inside | Out program that brings high-quality reproductions from its permanent art collection to outdoor venues. This program comes to Ludington for the first time in partnership with the Ludington Area Center for the Arts (LACA). Visitors can share their favorite artwork on social media with #LACAInsideOut. The eight pieces and their venues are listed on a walking map on the LACA website.
The 30 historic exhibit buildings at Historic White Pine Village interpret life in a late 19th- and early 20th-century village. The buildings hold thousands of authentic artifacts, said Rebecca Berringer, executive director of the Mason County Historical Society, which operates the village.
The village is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
One of the village buildings is the original 1849 Mason County Courthouse, which also was settler Burr Caswell’s home. “We have a Mr. Caswell interpreter in here who will interpret his home,” Berringer said. “That really brings it to life.”
Opening in September at the village is the “Beyond the Game” exhibit. The interactive exhibit helps visitors understand and appreciate the value of sports and its impact locally and nationally.
Seven historic and iconic vehicles will be displayed in the “Travelling in Time” exhibit, which opens at the village in October. The oldest and most significant vehicle, a Detroit Electric Opera Cope, was owned by Ludington lumber baren Warren Antoine Cartier.
The Port of Ludington Maritime Museum, also part of the historical society, opened in 2017. The museum is located in a former U.S. Coast Guard Station and is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This museum overlooks Lake Michigan’s shoreline, Ludington’s iconic North Pier Light and the S.S. Badger, when the vessel is in port.
At the museum, digital storytelling as well as images and artifacts from the historical society’s extensive maritime collection convey the region’s maritime history.
An interactive experience allows visitors head back in time to the 1930s in the pilothouse of the Pere Marquette 22. Take control of the helm and telegraphs to pilot the car ferry, under the guidance of veteran Captain Wallace Van Dyke, into and out of the harbor as well as across Lake Michigan in a deep fog.
Fun fact: each of the seven car ferries that once steamed into Ludington had its own distinctive whistle.
Set to open in October is an Armistice Day exhibit. This major permanent addition to the museum commemorates the Armistice Day storm of Nov. 11, 1940, that killed 154 people (including 64 sailors) on Lake Michigan.
While in downtown Ludington, stroll through Waterfront Sculpture Park and follow a free trail depicting Ludington history. Check out the beach at Stearns Park. Eat in the locally owned restaurants and shop in the galleries and boutiques on Ludington Avenue and James Street.
I closed out my visit with a dish of Blue Moon ice cream at ’50s-themed House of Flavors Restaurant. The signature flavor is super tasty and is made at the plant right behind the restaurant.