Crossing Lake Michigan by ferry boat

Car ferry across Lake Michigan: Milwaukee to Muskegon in 2.5 hours

(Updated July 14, 2020) Decision time: Drive from Milwaukee, through or around Chicago, and up the eastern coast of Lake Michigan, or cut across Lake Michigan aboard a car ferry?

We normally choose the driving option. But I’m tired of being predictable. I need some “crazy” in my life and what better way to break loose than crossing Lake Michigan by ferry. (I also climbed stairs to the ferry’s top deck without holding onto a handrail, so that’s kind of reckless and wild, right?)

First, the benefits of crossing Lake Michigan by ferry

It’s faster. The Lake Express high-speed ferry across Lake Michigan travels about 45 mph and covers the trip in approximately 2.5 hours. The drive around the lake via Chicago would have taken us at least five hours, more if during rush hour or through road construction, which seems to be constant.

Needless to say, taking the Lake Michigan ferry is more relaxing than white-knuckle driving. I reclined my indoor lounge seat and enjoyed some reading, writing and daydreaming. And you can add walking to your travel experience because the top deck is large. We took the 6 a.m. ferry and also absorbed the Lake Michigan sunrise.

Unfortunately, there was no skeet shooting, shuffleboarding, gambling or hot tubbing on the ferry, which would have been nice. I’m guessing Princess and Carnival are better suited to provide those experiences.

Lake Express car ferry sunset

For our ferry across Lake Michigan, we paid a little more for the “premier cabin” experience because, after all, we were on vacation. That included movie headphones, non-alcoholic beverages, steward service, Wi-Fi and large work-friendly table seating with electrical plugins.

The Lake Express offers a good menu that included brats, Michigan and Wisconsin (yes, Spotted Cow) microbrews, wine, healthy salads, burgers, breakfast options, pizza, sandwiches, snacks and more. Editor’s note: Since we last took the Lake Express ferry, food and drink options are limited because of COVID-19, now consisting of only sealed and packaged selections since cafe preparation of food is temporarily suspended.” The Lake Express website contains detailed information on its COVID-19 response and precautions

Complimentary pet kennels for cats and dogs are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. But the ferry literature stated that there were no accommodations for “other animals or livestock,” so we left our monkey and three dairy cows with grandpa for the week.

Car ferry across Lake Michigan. Illinois to Wisconsin

Now, the drawbacks of crossing Lake Michigan by boat

Crossing Lake Michigan by boat is more expensive than driving, unless you calculate the value of your leisure time spent on the boat and the extra vacation hours on the other side. There are too many rate options to provide a thorough schedule in this article: prices for seniors, kids, military, students, groups, people with and without a car, one-way and round-trip, motorcycles, bicycles, trailers and more.

Our total bill was $351 one-way, for both my wife and me, with a car and the premier cabin service, which included the port and security fees. (2020 cost for two adults premier cabin and one vehicle, $379. For two seniors and one vehicle, $351).

My wife is sensitive to motion; I’m not. As far as Ferry across Lake Michigan, we couldn’t even tell that we were on a boat, until we went on deck. Weather could influence this experience.

We took this trip in early August, choosing from Milwaukee departure times of 6 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. The options leaving from Muskegon include 10:15 a.m., 4:45 p.m. and 11 p.m. These vary by season.

Overall, we enjoyed crossing Lake Michigan by boat. Fast. Relaxing. Good customer service. And its website was easy to navigate for reservations.

Note: Reviewed and updated July 14, 2020. Check with Lake Express for the latest information.

Arriving Muskegon via Lake Express car ferry
  • Al. Baumgart
    Posted at 18:39h, 16 June Reply

    How much for a pet cat in carrier.
    One way. Milwaukee to Muskegon.

    • admin
      Posted at 07:44h, 17 June Reply

      We did not travel with a pet, but found information on the ferry company’s website that should answer your question. Here is a link to what we found

  • Rita Luthi
    Posted at 21:11h, 28 July Reply

    Do I need tickets in advanced to cross from Muskegon to Milwaukee? How much notice in advance ? Assuming the ferry travels on Sundays.
    Going to be in your area the weekend of August 14-15- will be traveling from Muskegon to Milwaukee.

    • admin
      Posted at 13:17h, 29 July Reply

      The ferry does run on Sundays in the summer and we’d recommend booking in advance to make sure you can board on the day you want to travel. Its website,, includes online booking and you can also call its reservation number at 866-914-1010.

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