Travel

You Can Play Lighthouse Keeper on Lake Michigan for $200 a Week

You basically get to live in a Great Lakes postcard.

Way, way cooler than a rental cabin | jscottsmith / shutterstock
Way, way cooler than a rental cabin | jscottsmith / shutterstock

Michigan’s west coast offers up a near-endless parade of postcard sights: sweeping sand dunes, fudge shops, idyllic small towns, and pristine beaches come one after another. Naturally, that also includes that most dreamy of waterfront landmarks: Lighthouses. It’s near impossible to come across one and not fantasize about a quiet life as a keeper: Just you, the waves, your thoughts, and sometimes a wildly drunk Willem Dafoe

Turns out, that fantasy is pretty easy to attain (minus Willem Dafoe), and in one of the most beautiful and popular parts of the Lake Michigan coast you can do it cheap. For around $200 a week—a fraction of the price charged for cabins, hotels, and Airbnbs in this heavily touristed area—you can call one of these timeless landmarks home for a spell. Oh, sure, you’ll have to do a little light labor, but it’s not like you’ll be lugging huge lightbulbs up stairs during a Nor'easter.

But you better act fast: These suckers are already booking up fast for 2021. Turns out that in an age of social isolation, this particular fantasy is getting more and more common.

At Mission Point Lighthouse, this is your yard | Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Mission Point Lighthouse

Located near vibrant Traverse City, the Mission Point Lighthouse is an absolute steal hiding in plain sight near one of the state’s most coveted (and pricey) vacation destinations. You can crash for $200 a week or $370 for two consecutive weeks. But you’re going to have to work for it… and that’s kind of the fun. 

Each week, a pair of keepers scores that drastically reduced price in exchange for window-washing, sweeping, vacuuming, and working the gift shop. And you get Wednesday off, which may or may not be embedded in the ancient Lighthouse Keeper Code. 

It’s not exactly backbreaking labor, and the perks of this particular job are unmatched: the lighthouse is located at the northern tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, which juts 19 miles into Grand Traverse Bay. You’ll have free reign over the sprawling lawn, spankin’ new Adirondack chair, and soft sands, plus access to hiking trails and the peninsula’s superlative wineries. All for less than $30 a night. 

Want an even more solitary experience? During the mighty northern winters—which some say are the most brutal in the country, but Michiganders just call “cozy”— you can take advantage of the “Off Season Keepers” program from December through April. The duties are essentially the same, minus the gift shop. The closed season also differs in that the rates are lower, you can play keeper solo, and weekend-only stays are an option.

Grand Traverse Lighthouse sits on the incredible Leelanau Peninsula | Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Grand Traverse Lighthouse

Ensconced in the beautiful Leelanau State Park near adorable Northport, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse can accommodate up to four adults at a time in the former assistant keeper’s quarters at a scant $150 per person per week. 

With a prime location on the very tip of Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula—the pinkie of the mitten, Michigan’s most bountiful wine country, and home to some of the nation’s very best beaches, period—you’ll be staying at one of the most beautiful spots in the lower 48. This program also offers one day off a week, so there’s plenty to explore in the area in terms of wineries, outstanding lake towns, and all the unique coastal Michigan nature you can handle. 

Guest lightkeepers get access to a handbook for their Friday to Friday weekly stay. Responsibilities include managing the flow of the on-site museum admissions, helping in the retail gift shop, and general building and grounds maintenance. Technically, booze isn’t allowed inside (sorry Willem).

This property also offers a winter keeper program from December through April. Embrace your inner Scandinavian and bring Nordic skis and snowshoes to get the most of the over 1,300 acres to explore in the nearby state park, which are all but empty in the winter.

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Katy Spratte Joyce is a contributor for Thrillist.