Why Michigan City’s Magical Lighthouse is Worth a Visit in Winter

One of Indiana’s top winter attractions is the Michigan City Lighthouse—especially when it’s covered in icicles after a winter storm.

Michigan City, Indiana lighthouse and pier in ice and snow


Lake Michigan is one of the largest and most capricious lakes in the world. The lake is cold and freezing in winter, but this is also a magical time to see its famous lighthouse. One of the most striking attractions on the shores of Lake Michigan is the Michigan City East Pierhead Lighthouse. Despite its name, Michigan City is not in the state of Michigan but in the state of Indiana.


The Great Lakes were very important to the development of the Midwest and the Canadian region of Ontario. They are full of historic lighthouses, many of which are now open to the public. Lighthouses around the world can be some of the most impressive coastal attractions. Iceland has a lighthouse called Þrídrangar (or Thridrangar), impossibly perched on a steep cliff island.

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Why the Michigan City Lighthouse is the top attraction in Michigan City

The Michigan City Lighthouse is arguably the most notable lighthouse in the Great Lakes — at least in the winter after a storm. The lighthouse stands on a breakwater guarding Michigan City Harbor in Indiana.

  • Built: 1904
  • farms: By the US Coast Guard 1933 to 2007

An elevated walkway – dubbed the “catwalk” – leads to the lighthouse and is open to the public. The catwalk was used by lighthouse keepers for 29 years to access the lighthouse. That was until 1933 when the light on the east pier was electrified. In 1939 the operation of the lighthouse was taken over by the US Coast Guard.

For a time, the catwalk was threatened with demolition, but fortunately, local residents rallied and the landmark was preserved.

The Michigan City Lighthouse is one of the few lighthouses on the Great Lakes that still has its iron walkway at the top of the pier. Other lighthouses that still retain their iron walkways include Manistee Pierhead Lighthouse and the Grand Haven South Pierhead Inner Light.

Michigan City’s lighthouse is rightly called the city’s crown jewel.

Also See: Visit Indy: Here’s What to Do in Indiana’s Most Famous City

Visit the Michigan City Lighthouse in the winter

During the summer and warmer months, the pier is a popular spot for locals to watch the sunset and go fishing. Come winter; it changes completely. Visit the lighthouse in winter and see another world. The spray from the lake covers the lighthouse and the catwalk, and everything is covered with ice.

Ice covered the lighthouse and a fascinating array of ice stalactites, or icicles, grows on the walkway.

  • Best travel time: Winter after a winter storm
  • Open: All the year long

Visitors are free to walk down the catwalk to the lighthouse. If you come in winter, be very careful. The whole pier and lighthouse are covered with very slippery ice. So be careful and don’t fall over. Dress very warmly and in layers as the winter winds blowing off the lake can be bitterly cold. Make sure everything is covered (including wearing a ski mask).

In 2003, a spiral staircase was built to allow visitors to climb up to the lantern room.

Near Michigan City is Indiana’s Gary. An unfortunate ghost town in the making, Gary is a town that in some ways embodies the decline of the Rust Belt.

See also: Where to go shipwreck diving in Lake Erie, the shallowest Great Lake?

The 170-year history of Michigan City’s lighthouses

The lighthouse seen today is the successor to the Old Michigan City Lighthouse. The oldest lighthouse was built in 1858 and replaced in 1837 by another old lighthouse made of brick and stone. Michigan City’s modern lighthouse received the lantern, lens, and light from him when it was built in 1904.

Today the old lighthouse is in Washington Park and is open daily (but closed on Mondays) from 1pm to 4pm and closed during the winter.

Michigan City Old Lighthouse:

  • Opening hours: 1pm to 4pm (seasonal)
  • days open: Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays)

Built in 1904, the Michigan City Lighthouse is one of the most notable attractions in the Great Lakes during the winter. The lighthouse has become a popular and powerful symbol of the small town of Michigan City. Today the lighthouse is the only publicly operated lighthouse in Indiana. Learn more about the history of the lighthouse on the Lighthouse Friends website.

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