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Saugatuck, Michigan: Human-Powered Chain Ferry

Propelled by a person turning a crank, who may let you give it a turn or two. The only remaining hand-cranked chain ferry in the U.S. Sorry, no room for cars.

500 Water St., Saugatuck, MI
Downtown, at the corner of Water and Mary Sts.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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Visitor Tips and News About Human-Powered Chain Ferry

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Saugatuck Chain Ferry.

Human-Powered Chain Ferry

The "captain" told me there are only three chain ferries in the world. This one is in very good shape and is powered by young college kids. It is also very busy. If you are staying on the east side of the river this is the easiest and quickest way to get over to Mt. Baldhead, Oval Beach and the great little historical museum.

The ferry is only open during the summer and the kids shut it down for lunch breaks. Nice piece of historical oddness.

[Casaflamingo, 05/25/2015]

Public Bathroom in Pointillism.

Public Bathroom in Pointillism

The public bathroom next to the human-powered chain ferry is painted beautifully in "pointillism," and is an exact replica of the famous painting by Georges Seurat, "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte."

[Pat Heinen, 05/01/2013]

Hand-cranked Ferry.

Human-Powered Chain Ferry

The ferry is a must-do when you're in Saugatuck. The drivers let our kids have a go turning the crank.

Take the time to disembark and explore the other side on foot. For the ambitious, there's the climb up Mt. Baldhead (300+ steps). It's worth it for lovely views of the town and harbor. But the best part is the mad dash down the otherside of Mt. Baldy which is actually a giant sand dune. You can slip and slide and leap in the deep, soft sand. Then climb a few more (smaller) dunes, and you'll reach lovely Oval Beach. If you don't want to climb back up the sandy side of Mt. Baldy, you can walk around via the road.

For the less ambitious, there's a lovely little museum located a short walk from the ferry landing. It also has a garden and benches to relax in and view the river.

[J Nichols, 08/07/2011]

Chain Ferry landing.

Saugatuck Chain Ferry

We did the Saugatuck Chain Ferry after riding the Saugatuck duck boat, two different perspectives of the same waterway.

Two college kids were operating the ferry the day we were there, one running the ferry one way, the other the other way. We took the round trip, not getting off on the other side. When we arrived back at the first terminal, we couldn't help but tip the operators. That was hard work.

And, just for some perspective, the previous tip calls it a "short walk" to Oval Beach. That's "short walk" straight up a steep hill.

[Steve, 09/07/2010]

Human-powered chain ferry, Saugatuck.

Human-powered Chain Ferry

The ferry in the resort town of Saugatuck, Michigan is claimed to be the only remaining chain driven ferry in the US. It goes back to 1838, but I think the present one was built in the 1930's.

Three pullies keep it in line as it is being pulled across the channel. This is an unusual operation to watch. When it is ready to cross the channel, the operator takes a can of compressed air and blows a very loud whistle (airhorn) alerting all boat traffic to stop. The ferry probably has not evolved much in its decades of operation. It is hand propelled! The operator turns a wheel on the inside and this pulls the ferry along the chain. The ferry goes from the immediate downtown, and after a short walk takes you to Oval beach, unquestionably one of the most fabulous beaches on the planet. The ferry beats making the long drive around the lake and then having to look for a spot at the crowded parking lot.

[Richard Weiss, 02/05/2005]

Nearby Offbeat Places

The BarrelThe Barrel, Douglas, MI - 1 mi.
Betty the Stuffed Sleigh DogBetty the Stuffed Sleigh Dog, Fennville, MI - 6 mi.
Jet On A StickJet On A Stick, Holland, MI - 10 mi.
In the region:
Snurfer Monument - Birthplace of Snowboarding, Muskegon, MI - 40 mi.

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