Big Red Lighthouse, at the channel connecting Lake Macatawa with Lake Michigan
Frederick Millett/

Is there a ferry from Milwaukee to Michigan?

By Dianne Titos | Published on 27 January 2023

Milwaukee sits on the west coast of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, to the north of Chicago. As this vibrant city sits right on the lake shores, it makes a perfect port to sail across to reach Michigan, which is located to the east of the city and is home to beautiful cities and gorgeous landscape and fantastic beaches.

You can take a direct vehicle ferry from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Muskegon, Michigan. This straightforward journey across Lake Michigan will take 2 hours and 30 minutes one way, and there are several daily crossings during spring, summer and fall seasons.

Read on to learn more about how to make the ferry trip from Milwaukee to Muskegon, whether the ferry runs year-round, some of our top tips to make this journey as easy as possible and some of our suggestions as to what to see once you reach Michigan.

Is there a ferry from Milwaukee to Michigan?

There is a vehicle ferry from Milwaukee to Muskegon, Michigan, meaning that you can easily take your car across Lake Michigan. This ferry service is operated by Lake Express and runs daily except during the winter months.

Chicago pier and skyline aerial drone view from above, lake Michigan and city of Chicago downtown skyscrapers
Take the ferry across Lake Michigan and you are in for a treat once you arrive with so much to see and do.

The Milwaukee-Michigan ferry travels across Lake Michigan up to 4 times daily during its spring and summer schedules. Check their websites for up-to-date information on what time the ferries set off from Milwaukee.

During the summer peak season, there can be 6 crossings including evening crossings depending on the day. In the fall, the Milwaukee-Michigan ferry makes 2 daily crossings and ceases its operations for the year in late October.

How to reach Michigan from Milwaukee

The easiest way to reach Milwaukee from Michigan is by the Lake Express ferry as it runs quite frequently between Milwaukee and Muskegon. Instead of driving, you can relax on board and take in the scenery during the ferry trip.

To take the ferry, you will need to arrive at the Milwaukee Terminal for the Lake Express High-Speed Ferry, but keep in mind that this ferry only runs between May and October.

Alternatively, if you want to make a trip out of it, you can drive from Milwaukee to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and then take the vehicle ferry across to Ludington, Michigan. It is a short and scenic 80-mile drive from Milwaukee to Manitowoc on the western shore of Lake Michigan.

A winding road leads to a church that stands in the countryside near Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
If you decide to drive from Milwaukee to Manitowoc you can be sure it will be a scenic journey.
Bill Chizek/

Due to the winter weather conditions in the area, the ferries don't run during the colder months between October and May. If you wish to reach Michigan from Milwaukee during this time, you might need to drive to your planned destination.

Another option is to fly to your destination in Michigan from Milwaukee, which has an international airport. Major airlines like Delta, United and American Airlines all have regular direct or connecting flights to various major cities in Michigan such as Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing.

How to drive from Milwaukee to Detroit

Driving from Milwaukee to Detroit is a 370-mile journey and will take you about 5 hours and 40 minutes to complete following Intestate 94 (I-94) all the way to your destination.

You will start by heading south out of the city on I-94 and drive through Chicago, following the shore of Lake Michigan all the way. The interstate will then take you east past Benton Harbor and through Portage and Battle Creek.

You will soon reach Detroit, approaching the city from the east via Ann Arbor.

How long does it take to reach Michigan from Milwaukee?

Traveling from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Muskegon, Michigan by the Lake Express fast ferry will take 2 hours and 30 minutes coast to coast. However, keep in mind that you will need to arrive early to make sure you don't miss the ferry. This will add about 30-45 minutes to your travel time.

If you are taking the ferry from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to Ludington, Michigan, you will first need to drive from Milwaukee to Manitowoc. This drive will take 1 hour and 20 minutes.

You will then take the vehicle ferry (S.S. Badger Car Ferry) across, which will take 4 hours, with a total travel time of 5 hours and 20 minutes.

If you are driving from Milwaukee to Michigan, your travel time will vary according to your destination. Traveling to Detroit from Milwaukee will take 5 hours and 40 minutes, whereas getting to Grand Rapids will take 4 hours and 10 minutes.

How much does it cost to travel to Michigan from Milwaukee?

Price comparison of different options for traveling from Milwaukee to Michigan
RouteModeProviderApprox. Cost
Milwaukee-MuskegonVehicle ferryLake Express Ferry$105
Ludington-ManitowocVehicle ferryS. S. Badger Ferry$85

* All prices are calculated at the time of writing and are based on a single journey including 1 adult ticket

Taking the fast Lake Express Ferry to travel between Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Muskegon, Michigan will cost $105 per person (one way). Buying the round-trip ticket is more economical if you need to travel back to Milwaukee. The round-trip ticket costs $181 per person.

The slightly cheaper but less direct S. S. Badger Ferry (traveling from Manitowoc, Wisconsin to Ludington, Michigan) costs $85 one way and $155 round-trip. Unlike the Lake Express Ferry, the prices of S.S. Badger vary by the time of the year. Check their website for up-to-date information.

Which ferry port should you choose as your destination in Michigan?

There are two port options if you are traveling from Milwaukee to Michigan by ferry. The Lake Express fast ferry will arrive at Muskegon port in Michigan. This port is located downtown, which means you can easily access major roads from here to continue your journey in Michigan.

If you are driving from Milwaukee to Manitowoc to take the S.S. Badger Ferry, you will cross Lake Michigan to arrive at the small and charming town of Ludington. The Ludington Dock is located in Northwest Michigan and is close to the main roads.

Things you need to know about traveling to Michigan from Milwaukee

One of the most important things to keep in mind about traveling from Milwaukee to Michigan is that the ferry options don't run year-round. Both Lake Express and S.S. Badger vehicle ferries run between May and October.

To board both of the ferry options, make sure to arrive early as the boarding process closes 15 minutes before departure. You will want to arrive about half an hour or more before the gates close.

If you are traveling during the colder months between October and May, you will need to choose another way to travel such as driving or taking a plane.

You might encounter some traffic as you approach the major cities, such as Detroit, Grand Rapid, Lansing and Ann Arbor. However, most of the cities in Michigan remain rural and this means that you will have to drive through empty spaces with spotty cell reception at times.

Best time to visit Michigan

Michigan is a popular state and is charming year-round, summer being the most popular season. This means that the accommodation prices will be at a premium if you visit between June and August.

Fall colors in autumn season at Mackinac Island, Michigan
Arrive in the fall and the scenery around Michigan and Mackinac Island is something else.

Spring and fall are beautiful times to visit Michigan as well. You can take a stunning scenic drive on the shores of Lake Michigan all the way north to the beautiful Traverse City and admire the spring blossoms on the way.

Enjoying the beautiful Michigan fall in Mackinac Island is a great incentive to make this trip from Milwaukee to Michigan during the months of September, October or November.

However, keep in mind that the ferries stop running in October, and if you are visiting in late fall, winter or early spring, you will need to drive or fly instead.

Winters in Michigan can get snowy and icy, so it is a good idea to check for any weather and road warnings before setting off.

Things to see once you reach Michigan

Michigan is a state that is filled with adventure, from the urban metropolis of Detroit to the coastal beauty of Muskegon and the cultural buzz of Ann Arbor, you will be spoilt for choice during your visit.

To make your planning easy, here are some of our favorite places to visit while in Michigan:

  1. Lake Michigan - The main star in Michigan (Depending on what you're after) is arguably the beautiful Lake Michigan. Here, you can enjoy beautiful sandy beaches and dunes. Make sure to visit Saugatuck, Traverse City and the quirky town of Holland.
  2. Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum - A must-visit for any history buff, this museum located in Muskegon exhibits naval artifacts from WWII.
  3. Michigan's Adventure - Shake off the cobwebs in this thrilling amusement park in Muskegon County, MI with over 30 attractions.
  4. Ludington State Park - State Park with multiple ecosystems including sand dunes, forest, wetlands, and marshlands. Great place for fishing, hiking and swimming
  5. Traverse City - Known for its beautiful freshwater beaches, fabulous vineyards and wineries, Traverse City is a fantastic vacation destination. Make sure to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore while in Traverse City.
Autumn Vineyard Traverse City Michigan
While away an afternoon in a glorious vineyard in Traverse City.
Gary R Ennis Photos/