Lake Michigan Car Ferries

The historic SS Badger and newer Lake Express with docks in Ludington and Muskegon, Michigan, respectively, offer trips across Lake Michigan.

Lake Express ferry dock in Muskegon, Michigan (photo courtesy of Visit Muskegon)

The ship carries 180 cars along with motorcycles, RVs, tour buses, 18-wheelers — just about anything on the road. It has even ferried the famous Budweiser Clydesdales over the years. The SS Badger sails across Lake Michigan between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, from mid-May to mid-October. The 60-mile water route is considered part of U.S. Route 10, and it shaves hundreds of miles off a drive from one side of the lake to the other while providing a fun four-hour cruise. 

The Badger — 410 feet long, or about seven stories tall — was built in 1953 to haul railroad cars across the lake. Loaded railroad cars. In 1992, the ship experienced a rebirth as a car ferry. A National Historic Landmark, the Badger is the last coal-fired passenger steamship in operation in the United States. The ship can also accommodate 600 passengers along with all those vehicles. A cruise can include napping but more often is filled with walking the outside decks, sunning, two food-service options, two bars and the popular Badger Bingo. Kids find face painting, scavenger hunts, and coloring contests. The Badger makes one round trip daily during the spring and fall seasons. In June, an additional round trip is added at night. 

Another automobile ferry option is the Lake Express. It crosses Lake Michigan between Muskegon, Michigan, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in two-and-a-half hours. Newer and smaller, the Lake Express made history as the first high-speed, auto-passenger ferry in the United States when it launched in 2004. It has more daily crossings, and its season is longer. Both ferries offer crossings for passengers and vehicles or just passengers. SS Badger Ludington Dock: 701 Maritime Dr., Ludington, Michigan 49431, 231/845-9614,; Lake Express Muskegon Dock: 1918 Lakeshore Dr., Michigan 49085, 866/914-1010,