The Only Chain Ferry in the U.S. is Open for the Season in Saugatuck, MI
When I think of the beach-side town of Saugatuck I think of: unique shops, rainbows, getting ice cream at Kilwins, strolling along the waterfront, and the famous chain ferry. An unofficial sign of summer's arrival, the ferry is now in operation for the summer season!
History of the Ferry
The first chain ferry in Saugatuck began operating in 1857 but due to the rising popularity of cars and the number of bridges that were built to accommodate those cars, the ferry became somewhat obsolete and closed for business in the 1940s.
However, in 1965 a man by the name of R.J. Peterson decided to restart the ferry service and purchased a new chain ferry boat, naming it "Diane" after his wife. Today, Diane is the only remaining hand-cranked chain ferry of its kind in operation in the United States. I always knew the chain ferry was special, but I didn't realize it was that special!
How it Works
The ferry in Saugatuck is guided by a chain that runs beneath the Kalamazoo River, which runs adjacent to downtown Saugatuck. The chain is connected to docks on both sides of the river and as the ferry operators hand-crank the gear, the ferry is guided from one side of the river to the other. The ride lasts about 3 minutes and is a unique way to get from downtown Saugatuck to the (303!) steps of Mt. Baldhead and to the shores of Lake Michigan at Oval Beach.
When to Catch a Ride
Starting each Memorial Day weekend, the chain ferry departs daily every 10-15 minutes based on demand. The City of Saugatuck website lists limited ferry hours for June, but beginning in July the chain ferry will operate from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
The cost of a one-way ride on the chain ferry is $2 with dogs, bikes, and strollers riding for free! No motorized vehicles or smoking is allowed on the 26-seat vessel and hours may change due to weather- be sure to check their Facebook page for updates!
If you've never taken a ride along the Saugatuck chain ferry, it's worth doing at least once as it's a unique piece of history that's right here in Pure Michigan!