For a fun and easy getaway with or without kids, consider going from Wisconsin to Ludington, Michigan. We just returned from a four-night Ludington vacation and had a blast.
It was the perfect long weekend away from Milwaukee. What I really loved about our trip was how easy and stress-free it was. I was able to pack whatever I wanted since we had our car, no crazy wakeup times to make a flight, and everything was very relaxed and chill in Ludington.
If you have heard anything about Ludington, it most likely involved the S.S. Badger car ferry that goes from Manitowoc to Ludington. We took the BADGER and brought our car, but you don’t have to bring your car as the downtown is very walkable from the dock. Another option is to take the ferry one-way with your car and then road trip the other way to create a loop trip.
Where is Ludington?
Ludington is a city in Michigan on the other side of Lake Michigan. It is almost directly across from Manitowoc. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Ludington is a popular summer destination in Michigan.
If you have been to the sand dunes at Kohler Park, the sand dunes in Ludington are WAY bigger and more impressive. Ludington State Park not only has great sand dunes and beaches but really good hiking too.
How Far is the Drive From Wisconsin to Ludington?
You can easily drive to Ludington from Wisconsin. Drive times will vary based on where you are coming from, how many stops you make, the route, and the traffic. Here are a few distances from popular Wisconsin cities:
- Milwaukee to Ludington – 341 miles, 5.5 hours
- Green Bay to Ludington – 455 miles, 7 hours via 1-94 OR 468 miles, 7.5 hours via US Rte 2 through Northern Michigan
- Madison to Ludington – 392 miles, 6 hours
- Oshkosh to Ludington – 424 miles, 6.5 hours OR 516 miles, 8.5 hours via US Rte 2 through Northern Michigan
Is there a Ferry to Ludington?
If you don’t want to drive to Ludington, you can take the SS Badger car ferry to Ludington that leaves daily from Manitowoc, Wisconsin. We opted to take the ferry round-trip, but you can also purchase one-way tickets.
Since we are traveling with two toddlers, taking the ferry was the best option for us. Our daughter is not a good car rider, and the ride would have taken much longer with all the required stops we would have made.
How Many Days do you Need in Ludington?
Two or three nights in Ludington will give you enough time to see the main attractions and not feel too rushed.
We stayed four nights because we really wanted to do everything, and we have two young kids, one who still naps. We try not to over plan our day and instead try to do a max of two main attractions a day, and if we visit three, awesome. If you are a parent, you will understand.
Manitowoc to Ludington Ferry FAQ
When Does the SS Badger Car Ferry Operate?
The SS Badger is seasonal and operates from mid-May until early October. Click here to see the current schedule.
How Long is the Ferry from Manitowoc to Ludington?
The ferry crossing is 4 hours. The ride is smooth, but it can get a little windy and cold on the outside decks.
How Many Times a Day Does the Ferry Cross?
The car ferry leaves daily from Manitowoc to Ludington at 2 p.m. Central and arrives at 7 p.m. Eastern. The ferry leaves Ludington daily at 9 a.m. Eastern and arrives at 12 p.m. Central.
The Badger sometimes adds a second crossing during the high season, such as the recently added second crossings from July 6 to Aug. 6, 2023, on weekends. A second crossing leaves Ludington 8:45 p.m. ET Thursday to Sunday, arriving in Manitowoc at 11:45 p.m. CT. The second crossing from Manitowoc departs 1:30 a.m. CT Friday to Monday, arriving in Ludington at 6:30 a.m. ET. Check the schedule on the website for the latest crossing information.
*Ludington is on Eastern time, therefore an hour ahead of Wisconsin.
How Much Does the Badger Ferry Cost?
Prices vary based on age, one-way or round trip, dates, if you are bringing a car/truck/RV/motorcycle/bike/trailer, etc. Click here for rates.
Here is a quick general price:
- Kids under 4 FREE
- Adults $155 round trip (with discounts for seniors, college students, and active military)
- Automobile $167 round trip
- Stateroom $55 each way – optional private room with sleeping area and bathroom
They also sometimes run specials, which will be listed on the rates page but usually require you to call to get the discount price.
Where to Stay in Ludington
There are a variety of accommodation options in Ludington – from cute cabins on a lake to small local hotel properties to short-term vacation rentals to national chain hotels.
We stayed at Hobby Crest Resort in a cute two-bedroom cabin right on Hamlin Lake. There is something special about staying in a cabin on the lake. They have a sandy beach, a fun trampoline in the water for the kids, boat rentals, fire pits, and more.
The location was great – only three minutes to Ludington State Park and five minutes to Ludington. We typically opt for places that have separate bedrooms. This way, we can separate the kids, and everyone can get a good night’s rest.
Things to do in Ludington
There are tons of activities in Ludington and the area to keep you busy for several days. For a complete list of things to do in Ludington, click here. Here are a few of our favorite attractions in Ludington.
Explore Ludington State Park
We suggest spending most of a day or a full day exploring Ludington State Park. There are some amazing hikes to follow, beaches to relax on, and sand dunes to explore.
There is a hike for everyone, with over 25 miles of hiking along ten major trails that run through the park. Since we had two small children, we went on the Skyline Trail and the Lost Lake Trail since they were shorter.
Take A Mac Wood’s Sand Dune Ride
One of the most popular things to do in Ludington is go on a sand dune ride with Mac Wood’s Dune Rides. There is no better way to explore the sand dunes than on a Mac Wood’s ride.
Tours run daily during the summer months and are constantly running. No need to make reservations in advance. Just show up and put your name on the list. We only had to wait about five minutes for the next tour. Tours are 40 minutes long, and our three-year-old LOVED it!
Let the Kids Play at Sandcastle’s Children’s Museum
If you are traveling with kids, this is the best thing to do in Ludington with kids. Both of our toddlers loved Sandcastles Children’s Museum.
There are three floors full of different exhibits, and we really like how they tie in local businesses. There is an S.S. Badger ship, House of Flavors ice cream shop, and more. We spent an entire morning here and could have easily stayed longer.
Climb a Lighthouse
Three historic lighthouses are within an hour’s drive of Ludington. And you can take a tour and climb to the top of all of them for some great views.
Big Sable Point Lighthouse is located inside Ludington State Park. To reach the lighthouse, you must take the two-mile (one-way) Lighthouse Trail, which will take 2-3 hours to complete, but faster if you are on a bike. 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.
The North Breakwater Light is a relatively easy half-mile walk on the breakwall at Stearns Park Beach. If you are traveling with small children, I suggest strapping them in a stroller for this walk. Be mindful of the wind and waves crashing over the breakwall.
Little Sable Point Lighthouse is located in Silver Lake State Park and is the busiest of the three lighthouses in Ludington. There is a paved pathway to the lighthouse.
Best Restaurants in Ludington
One of the best things about traveling to new places is trying new restaurants and food. When I am planning a trip, I am also planning out where to eat. Here are a few of the best restaurants in Ludington where we ate.
House of Flavors Restaurant
House of Flavors is great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They are open early, which is great for early risers for breakfast. The dining room is great for families, good food menu options with large portions, and the prices are reasonable.
In the hot summer months, you will often see a line out the side door for their famous ice cream. House of Flavors has 40 ice cream flavors to choose from. Blue Moon is the most popular and was a hit with our kids.
Ludington Bay Brewing Company
If you are from Wisconsin, odds are you like beer, and if you are from Milwaukee like us, you probably like visiting local breweries when traveling. Make sure to head to Ludington Bay Brewing for a casual dinner on the patio or grab a beer in their tap room.
They have a tasty, unique menu with fun pizzas, mac & cheese, sandwiches, salads, and more. Their burgers were really good.
STIX is more than a restaurant! They have a huge outdoor patio and beer garden, complete with lawn games and a stage for live music. Inside they have a dining room, a second-floor patio, and a bowling alley.
We opted to dine on the outdoor patio and let the kids have fun running around and playing games. They have really good cocktails and an upscale food menu. We opted to have pasta and fish fry.
Jamesport Brewing Company
One of the best restaurants in Ludington, and it has really good beer, is Jamesport Brewing Company. We visited for lunch and sat on the outdoor patio. It is a great lunch option with good wraps offered during lunch.
If you come around 6:30-7 p.m., you can sit outside and watch the S.S. Badger come in. They also have a weekday happy hour with beer specials. It is a great place to grab a local beer and a meal.
The 10 Spot is a collection of food trucks in Ludington that have set up a fun spot for customers to enjoy a meal and socialize. There is a large tent with tons of seating, portable heaters, and outdoor games. Make sure to check their event schedule for live music.
Some of the best food comes from food trucks! The 10 Spot is great because if someone wants tacos, but someone else wants a sandwich or hot dogs, everyone is happy. A favorite truck is Brunch Babes, with fun twists on breakfast options. We ate at the Lakeside Wiener Wagon, which has unique hot dogs and good BBQ sandwiches.
We had an amazing four nights in Michigan, and Ludington was the perfect getaway from Milwaukee. We know we’ll be back again. The car ferry makes it so easy!