Ludington is known as a relaxing beach town as it is home to 28 miles of sandy beaches, sand dunes, and the water of Lake Michigan. Beyond the shores of Lake Michigan, there are a ton of things to do in Ludington!
We just returned from a four-night trip to Ludington with the kids on a fun little summer road trip vacation. We took the S.S. Badger car ferry over. That way, we could have our own car with us. We stayed in the cutest little cabin on Hamlin Lake at Hobby Crest Resort.
When planning our trip to Ludington, we put together a big list of all the things to do in Ludington Michigan we wanted to do and the best restaurants we wanted to eat at. We covered a ton of ground in four days in Ludington, and our kids had a blast.
Ludington has a deep-rooted maritime connection and is the ideal place to learn about the region’s maritime history at locations like the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum or Sandcastles Children’s Museum. Ludington has a historic importance of shipping along the Great Lakes that began with its roots as a lumber town, and thus you will find many historic buildings.
The downtown area of Ludington offers a small-town feel and modern amenities with tree-lined streets, and amazing restaurants, including some of the best breakfast options in Ludington. Stroll and browse the unique shops or check out a local festival, such as live music and artisan events that run throughout the warmer months of May through September.
Ludington also offers natural landscapes that make it the ideal location for outdoor activities as it is in close proximity to both Lake Michigan, Hamlin Lake, and other inland rivers and lakes. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy hiking, boating, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, cycling, camping, and even bird-watching.
There is no shortage of cool things to do in Ludington as it offers unique boutiques and restaurants, outdoor recreation, historic locations, and a friendly community vibe, making it the ideal place to visit!
If you are traveling from Wisconsin, the most popular and easiest way is to take the car ferry to Ludington. You can also easily drive to Ludington. The drive time varies based on traffic, but it is about 4 hours from Chicago, 4 hours from Detroit, and 6 hours from Milwaukee.
First setting sail in 1953, the BADGER car ferry is the last coal-fired passenger steamship in operation in the United States, connecting Ludington Michigan, with Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The BADGER is a 4-hour ferry ride across Lake Michigan to Manitowoc and is part of the historic maritime tradition.
While onboard the BADGER, there are plenty of things to do, including shopping in the “boatique,” watching a flick in the movie theater, lounging inside and outside on the deck, walking along the deck, playing board games or the famous Badger Bingo, enjoying the toddler play area, enjoying live music, and visiting its small museum.
To keep the kids entertained, there is a scavenger hunt, game room, movie theater, and even a kid’s port play area. We also opted to get a private stateroom. That way, we had somewhere to set our bags. It was also nice to have our own private bathroom and a place where we could shut the door and have the kids stay in one place.
The ferry is seasonal and runs from mid-May to mid-October. It leaves the city of Ludington every morning at 9 am EST, arriving in Manitowoc at 12 pm CST, and turns right back around and leaves Manitowoc at 2 pm CST arriving back in Ludington at 7 pm EST.
*NOTE – Michigan is on Eastern time, and Wisconsin is on Central time zone*
Ludington is located in West Michigan on the Lake Michigan shoreline and is one of the best places to visit in Michigan during the summer. Ludington is the biggest city in Mason County and is known for being a harbor town on Lake Michigan.
Ludington is known for being a beautiful beach town located along Lake Michigan, as well as having incredible natural beauty with lakes and rivers, woods, and sand dunes. One of its biggest draws is Ludington State Park, where visitors can explore the natural beauty of the region through hiking, camping, and water sports.
Founded in 1873, Ludington also is a historic town established because of its plentiful timber for lumber plus an accessible waterway for shipping, contributing to a strong maritime history that includes the S.S. Badger carferry service that originally transported rail cars. The remaining car ferry is now used as a passenger ferry service.
The summer months have the most vibrant atmosphere in Ludington. However, it can be enjoyed all year long, depending on your activity, weather, and crowd-level preferences.
Here’s a breakdown of the different seasons in Ludington:
We would recommend planning to spend 3-4 days in Ludington. You will have enough time that you can truly explore and enjoy all that it has to offer.
We suggest spending one day downtown, one day at the beach exploring the miles of shoreline, and then 1-2 days exploring Ludington State Park and enjoying the nearby outdoor activities. Or you could take a half-day side trip to neighboring Oceana County to see Silver Lake Sand Dunes.
Hobby Crest Resort is the perfect spot to act as a home base while you adventure and explore. We stayed at Hobby Crest Resort, located in Ludington. We chose to stay at a cottage, and we really liked that it was conveniently located on the shores of Hamlin Lake so we could rest, relax, hang out on the sandy beach area, and enjoy water sports, such as a water trampoline right on site.
Each cabin is equipped with a picnic table and chairs, as well as a gas grill and fire pit. There are plenty of restaurants and grocery stores nearby if you’d like to eat out or have a nice meal at the cabin.
You could easily spend the entire day back at the resort. You can go fishing, boating, and swimming, and there are rentals for kayaks, paddleboards, and even pontoon boats. Kids of all ages (and adults, too) will enjoy the sandy beach, large grassy area, and playground. If you have your own boat, they offer boat slip rentals.
Ludington State Park’s eastern border is steps away from Hobby Crest Resort, and it is only a 5-minute drive to enjoy the 5,300 acres of land to explore. It is about a 10-minute drive to downtown Ludington.
In addition to Hobby Crest, when looking at where to stay in Ludington, there is a variety of accommodation options. From family-owned cabins and local Ludington hotels to national hotel chains, there is something for everyone’s budget and travel style.
We have a whole post on the best restaurants in Ludington here and the best breakfasts in Ludington here. But to sum it up, here are some of our go-to restaurants in Ludington, Michigan:
Being a beach town on the coastline of Michigan, most of the things to do in Ludington involve the water in some way or another. We have rounded up all the best things to do in Ludington, Michigan, to help you plan your next summer trip or weekend getaway at this summer hotspot.
Ludington State Park wins the title of best Michigan State Park as it has such a large variety of activities to enjoy as you enjoy the beautiful natural setting of the forest as well as the beach along Hamlin Lake.
The park has a variety of different terrains and unique features, including islands, boardwalks, bridges, rivers, and even sand dunes that you can traverse.
If you are looking for more rustic accommodation, then you might consider camping at Ludington State Park, as the park has three modern campgrounds (Beachwood, Pines, and Cedar) and one hike-in site (Jack Pine), all named after trees. The park has a variety of site types and locations, from rustic to electric, and some cabins, depending on your interests and needs. It can be difficult to get a reservation. Sites become available to reserve six months prior to your stay date, so mark your calendar and contact Michigan DNR Reservations as soon as your date is available to book.
Ludington State Park has more than 25 miles of hiking along ten major trails running through the park, all labeled by colors. The shorter trails include Coast Guard Trail, Lighthouse Trail, Sable River Trail, Lost Lake Trail, and Skyline Trail. These trails can all be completed in around 2 hours.
If you are looking for a longer hike, then you may consider the Ridge Trail, South Ski Trails, and Logging Trail, which are longer hikes and take in the 3-4 hour range. Also, many hikes can be combined for longer routes. If you have time, one of the most scenic views is at Hamlin Dam and along the Sable River. Along many of the trails, you will get to view the unique sand dunes or even climb a sand dune on the Skyline Trail.
If you enjoy water sports, stop at the Hamlin Lake Watercraft Rental to rent canoes, single and tandem kayaks, paddle boats, row boats, or stand-up paddleboards. Those renting water equipment can enjoy the marked four-mile Canoe Trail along the eastern shore of Hamlin Lake, which is home to many wildlife and waterfowl. This can take 2-3 hours, depending on your paddling abilities and pace (and note there are at least three portages, so intermediate paddling skills are recommended). While you are out in the water, you may enjoy fishing as the Lake has an abundance of walleye, perch, northern pike, bass, and bluegill fish.
If watersports aren’t of interest, then you may enjoy lounging on the sandy beach, swimming in Hamlin Lake, or stopping at the Beach House at the Lake Michigan beach for ice cream. There is a large and fully accessible playground for the kids, located conveniently to Hamlin Beach.
Lastly, Ludington State Park has a great paved cycling path along the park road for visitors to enjoy.
Check out the historic Big Sable Point Lighthouse, which stands at 122 feet tall in Ludington State Park since 1867 and is one of the oldest continuously working lighthouses in Michigan. Enjoy a sandy hike of 1.8 miles long to reach this fabulous structure. However, be prepared. This hike does not have a lot of shady spots, so you will want to pack a hat, sunscreen, and lots of water.
The Lighthouse trail takes about 2-3 hours to complete if walking. However, you can reach the final destination a little faster if you are riding a bike with fat tires.
Once you reach the lighthouse, you can check out the gift shop that used to be the lighthouse keepers’ quarters, explore nearby sand dunes, or climb a 130-step spiral staircase to enjoy scenic views of the Michigan shoreline and passing freighters.
We did not make it to the Big Sable Lighthouse. If you are traveling with small kids, note that the trail isn’t suitable for a stroller. We decided with two small kids and a 3.6-mile hike, our time was better spent exploring other attractions.
However, the nonprofit that manages the lighthouse offers Bus Days once a month, June through September, to drive people out to the lighthouse and back for a small fee.
Relax on the historic steamship car ferry that connects Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on this 4-hour ride across Lake Michigan. Click here to check rates and schedule.
Onboard activities include shopping in the “boatique,” watching a flick in the movie theater, lounging inside and outside on the deck, walking along the deck, playing board games or the famous Badger Bingo, enjoying the toddler play area, enjoying live music, and visiting its small museum. To keep the kids entertained, there is a scavenger hunt, game room, movie theater, and even a kid’s port play area.
Stearns Park Beach is located on the western edge of Ludington, where it meets Lake Michigan and offers 2,500 feet of shoreline, and is Ludington’s biggest beach.
The beach has lots of activities for families to enjoy, including picnic areas, playgrounds, a volleyball court, and concession stands to purchase snacks.
Here you can enjoy swimming in the clear waters of Lake Michigan, playing in the sand, or walking along the beach. Families can enjoy a view of the North Breakwater Lighthouse or enjoy recreation activities nearby. Recreation activities include Skate Park Plaza, shuffleboard courts, a playground on the sandy beach, and Ludington Area Jaycees Mini Golf Course.
This Ludington beach is wheelchair accessible as it has three ramps that lead from the free parking lot to the water.
Our kids LOVED Sandcastles Children’s Museum. We spent over three hours here, and our kids would have stayed all day if we allowed them to. This is the best children’s museum we have ever been to.
It is really great for 1-4-year-olds. Most children’s museums are for older children, but Sandcastles has many areas and activities for smaller toddlers.
Families can create, explore and discover at this hands-on museum that will keep the kids entertained for hours. The Sandcastles Children’s Museum is ideal for children aged 2-10 and is a great activity for a rainy day, and is one of the best ways to burn off some energy.
The museum offers four full levels of family-friendly hands-on activities such as:
Climb to the top of this iconic focal point on the Lake Michigan shoreline, and enjoy the relatively easy mile-long round trip walk along the breakwall on your way to the Ludington North Breakwater Light.
This popular attraction in Ludington is the perfect place to enjoy the nearby picturesque settings, watch the BADGER cruise in Lake Michigan or a great place to simply sit and enjoy the sunset from the top deck of the lighthouse. From top to bottom, the climb is approximately 53 steps.
The area around the lighthouse is a great spot to go fishing, and the nearby beach offers a great spot for swimming or having lunch in the picnic area on the beach. The lighthouse features a porthole on each of its three decks, and each level has unique artifacts and pictures for visitors to view and learn more about the history of the lighthouse on their way to the lantern rooms.
Lighthouse tour climbs are available during the high season, typically from the end of May until early September.
If you have small kids, I suggest putting them in the stroller. We had both of our kids in our Zoe double travel stroller, and I felt more comfortable knowing they were strapped in.
If you are a beer lover like us, you’ll be pleased to find several microbreweries here in Ludington. Here you can enjoy a good meal and locally crafted beers. We are always on the hunt for the best beer when traveling and trying unique local craft beers.
Here are a few microbreweries in Ludington that you can visit:
Celebrating 75 years of operation in 2023, House of Flavors once held the Guinness World Record for the Longest Ice Cream Dessert. A third-generation family-owned business, it manufactures over 25 million gallons of ice cream a year. Serving over 40 unique flavors of ice creams, sundaes, milkshakes, and ice cream sodas, it makes the perfect place to grab a sweet treat!
This 1950’s themed diner serves everything from sandwiches, salads, soups, and burgers in addition to their tasty desserts. Click here to see what ice cream flavors they have available. It is a super popular spot on hot summer days!
There is more than just ice cream at the House of Flavors restaurant. They have a full menu and are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
If you are a foodie and enjoy local restaurants, then you will want to check out downtown Ludington. Offering a variety of restaurants, cafes, and fine dining establishments serving everything, including American, Mexican, and Italian.
Downtown Ludington is home to many historic buildings, such as the Mason County Courthouse, Ludington Area Center for the Arts, Mason County District Library, and the Ludington Masonic Temple. Legacy Plaza, in the heart of downtown, has picnic tables, a gas fireplace, a covered pavilion for farmer and artisan markets, and a stage for live music. Rotary Park offers a quiet spot to rest with a fountain, benches, and green space.
Ludington Avenue is a picturesque street to take a stroll and window shop the shops and boutiques that sell clothing, home decor, and gifts. Another great place to stop is the Mitten Bar serving only Michigan-made beer and wine, also located right on Ludington Avenue.
Climb to the top of sand dunes and catch some amazing views of Lake Michigan and Silver Lake on a Mac Wood’s Dune Ride. This thrilling tour is a must for all ages. Our three-year-old son loved it!
Since 1930, Mac Wood’s has been offering dune rides with a four-passenger dune scooter. You can catch a glimpse of what the 1934 Ford Scooter looks like in their museum shop. Today the ride is a little different in a 20-person four-wheel drive vehicle.
Tours are 40 minutes long and run throughout the day from mid-May through the end of September. They don’t take reservations or sell tickets in advance. You just show up and purchase your ticket for the next leaving tour. We only had to wait about 5 minutes.
Who doesn’t love a nice glass of wine? Visitors can learn more about authentic artisan wine-making by learning more about the wine techniques used and enjoying some samples in the sampling rooms that highlight local wines.
There are multiple wineries located in the Ludington area including:
Ludington is a popular destination for fishing in both Lake Michigan and nearby rivers and waters such as Hamlin Lake.
Anglers looking to fish in Lake Michigan can fish from the pier, shoreline, breakwalls, or hire a charter boat to go on a deep-sea fishing experience. Lake Michigan is popular for fishing a variety of fish species, including trout, walleye, salmon, and perch.
There are many experienced professional charters that can provide equipment and knowledge on the best spots to fish. Ludington is known as being the best port to catch salmon in all of Michigan.
The Pere Marquette River is a great location to go paddling and fish for trout or salmon, or steelhead in the spring. The water is low enough that you can wade in the shoreline to fish. Hamlin Lake allows anglers to fish from small boats such as canoes and kayaks or from the shoreline. Hamlin Lake offers fishing for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pike, panfish, and walleye.
If you are traveling with kids, a visit to Lewis Adventure Farm & Zoo is a must. It was a favorite spot for our kids. You can easily spend an entire morning or afternoon here.
The Lewis Adventure Farm and Zoo is the perfect place to spend the day with the family, as there is so much to do on the farm. Our kids loved the giant slide (it was one of their favorite things), riding the Bumpalong Barrel train, riding the carousel, the big fun jumping pillow, pedal carts, low ropes course, crawly spider web, and so much more!
Kids can enjoy all the games on the farm, including skeeball, balltown, cornhole, and rubber duck races. If you want to pet some furry friends, then you’ve come to the right place. You can enjoy the petting zoo or visit Bunnyville to learn more about the farm animals and view them.
We didn’t eat here, but the farm has four different food venues to try including Grilled Cheese, Burgers, Chicken Sandwiches, and Mac & Cheese. We did, however, grab a fresh dessert from the bakery, where they serve fresh pies, donuts, cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, lots of cookies, and more!
It is a great way to spend the morning. Expect to spend 3-4 hours here or longer if you have the time. If you are hungry for lunch or need some ice cream, head to County Dairy, which is only a two-minute drive away. They have a full lunch menu and really good ice cream too.
Get up close with Elk at the Amber Elk Ranch, which provides guided tours and allows visitors to learn about elk conservation and other wildlife. Visitors will learn all about elk habitat, elk behavior, and their role in the ecosystem on this 130-acre farm.
The ranch is home to a couple of hundred elk and is located just outside of Ludington. Don’t forget to try the Elk Burger when you visit the ranch!
The Port of Ludington Maritime Museum offers visitors a fascinating journey into the maritime history of Ludington, Michigan, providing a wealth of knowledge to its guests.
Located in the former U.S. Coast Guard Station and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this family-friendly, state-of-the-art museum overlooking the channel to Lake Michigan has permanent and changing exhibits that offer rare glimpses into the past with authentic artifacts, historic photographs, and the voices of people who played key roles in maritime industries that shaped the region.
Visitors will learn about the maritime heritage of Ludington through the three levels of the museum by viewing photographs, models, interactive exhibits, and artifacts that teach guests about the significance of fishing, lighthouses, boating, and shipping on the Great Lakes.
A favorite exhibit, especially for kids, is the interactive pilothouse of the Pere Marquette 22 car ferry in the 1930s, where visitors can take control of the helm and navigate into and out of the harbor as well across Lake Michigan.
STIX is a world-class entertainment facility and restaurant that is a staple in Ludington. Enjoy an adult beverage at either the second-floor patio or the Biergarten, which features a patio as well as a great space to enjoy lawn games like cornhole and tic tac toe.
If you happen to have a rainy day, they have a super fun bowling alley. The brand-new bowling alley features state-of-the-art bowling technology to offer guests the best experience possible.
Formerly known as Rainbow Ranch, Stony Lake Stables is a family-friendly ranch that brings a bit of the old west back to Michigan by offering trail rides along the shady paths in the beautiful countryside of Western Michigan.
Stony Lake Stables is home to miles of scenic trails that will take you through a variety of terrain, including rolling hills, deep ravines, agricultural fields, swamps, and rivers. Visitors can enjoy either a 1-hour or 1.5-hour trail ride option.
Waterfront Sculpture Park is the perfect place to let kids run wild at the playground, watch the sunset, or stroll and explore the sculptures throughout the park. The park features nine sculptures in the five-acre park, and each sculpture tells a story about the history of Ludington.
The sculptures in the park are part of the one-of-a-kind Sculpture Trail located throughout Ludington. You can find other sculptures along the route, including at Mason County District Library, Mason County Fairgrounds, Ludington State Park, Maritime Heritage Park, Stearns Park, and the Lake Michigan shoreline walkway.
Waterfront Park also features an amphitheater, a municipal marina, and scenic walkways that are the perfect place to enjoy the sunset from a nearby bench.
A fun free popular activity for the kids is always a plus for us, and when there is beer and cider on tap, even better! While parents enjoy the alcohol and food, kids will enjoy the petting barn, where they can interact up close with farm animals such as llamas, pigs, horses, sheep, rabbits, goats, chickens, and more.
Support local farmers as you can purchase farm fresh produce from the market or stop by the North Farm Market Bar and enjoy one of the eight different beers and ciders on tap or the wine selections.
The Up North Farm Market also runs several seasonal events, such as pumpkin picking and hayrides in the fall. There is also a fun kids play area to keep the kids entertained even longer.
On a hot summer day, Copeyon Park is the ideal location to cool down in the fun water features found at the splash pad. The park has a shaded pavilion and picnic tables, which are the perfect location to enjoy a picnic lunch.
We really liked this playground for our kids’ current ages. The playground isn’t massive, there weren’t a lot of open areas they could fall from, and when we were there at sunset, it was just us there.
Country Dairy has been producing milk since 1983 and, since 2004, has been serving a variety of ice cream treats, including over 29 different ice cream flavors.
There is also a full menu at the Country Dairy Farm Store. We stopped in for lunch and ice cream. The burgers are REALLY good! In the farm store, you can purchase cheese, milk, meat, jams, and more. If you can’t make it to the farm store, stop by a grocery store in Ludington, as many stores carry Country Dairy products.
While you stop for ice cream, you can also take a farm tour and learn more about the cows and other animals on the farm. There is also a playground for the kids.
Learn more about what Ludington was like during the late 19th-early 20th century pioneer times as you tour and explore the historic buildings. Historic White Pine Village features over 30 historic buildings, including the original 1849 Mason County Courthouse, steam locomotive, and working sawmill.
The buildings and artifacts teach visitors about the agricultural and rich lumbering history of the region. Guests can stroll through the buildings and step back in time to understand the past!
Ludington is a busy destination during the summer months as it offers a relaxing beach environment, a historic waterfront, tons of fun attractions in Ludington, and lots of outdoor recreation opportunities nearby.
Ludington is a great place to enjoy a three-day long weekend getaway as it is easy to travel to from within Michigan as well as Wisconsin, thanks to the BADGER car ferry service that operates regularly during the summer months.
We hope we help you plan your Ludington vacation!