Mackinac Island's Winter Beauty
Updated: Apr 3
Named as the #1 Summer Travel Destination in America by TripAdvisor in 2018, Mackinac Island is one of those places that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. Spring and summer are the most frequently traveled times to this unique destination in Northern Michigan, but fall and winter also offer a completely different perspective of this breathtakingly beautiful island.
I've spent many summer days on the island, but there's something about visiting in the fall and winter that brings me such peace and relaxation. During the fall the ferries are still running from Mackinac City and St. Ignace, there are still tourists during the day although not nearly as many as the summer, the shops are starting to close down for the season so you'll find great end-of-the-season sales, the hotels and bed and breakfasts are typically open until the end of October/early November, but the real highlight of visiting during the fall are the colors, the weather and fewer tourists. Temps range from the mid-30s to mid-60s in the fall, which is perfect for afternoon walks and activities. And if you are really want to spoil yourself, rent a car and plan a fall color tour of Northern Michigan (photos below). My mom and I did this when we checked off one of her bucket list items -- spending the night on Mackinac Island. We spent one night at Mission Point Resort and the other at Island House Hotel. Thumbs up for both and I'll share more about lodging recommendations in a separate post.
Winter is a different story. With the wind-chill, temps can feel like it's below zero. Winter in Northern Michigan isn't for the faint of heart, but if you don't mind bundling up like the Michelin Man, I highly recommend a snow-covered Mackinac Island.
We had the opportunity to spend the weekend on the island in late February and it was the experience of a lifetime. Due to the ice in the Mackinac Straits, the ferries were no longer running so we had to fly from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island. There are two options -- Great Lakes Air or Fresh Air. We flew Fresh and highly recommend them, and not just because of the name! Unless you have flown on island hoppers or small private planes, you'll be in for a completely new experience. Only a few people are allowed on each plane, and everything is allocated by weight, so it's not the time to be lying about the number on the scale. I was even ready to disclose the cheeseburger and fries I had for lunch!
Our trip over was quite rough because of high winds, but the turquoise waters combined with the large ice blocks below made for an incredibly beautiful view. The trip across only takes a few minutes, so even if you're afraid of small planes you can close your eyes and it will be over before you know it.
We were picked up at the airport by snowmobiles instead of the horse and buggy taxi that you will find during the warmer season, and we were off to Mission Point Resort for the weekend. Notice all of the snowmobiles parked at the airport? Since that is the transportation on the island, that is their parking lot. Mission Point isn't typically open during the winter months, but they invited a few people to check out the progress of their new convention space. More on Mission Point in a separate post.
And if you're wondering, the flight back was perfect. It's a bit more expensive than the ferry and the airport is on the far side of the island, but in the winter this is your only option. Unless of course you choose to use the Ice Bridge. Not to be confused with the Mackinac Bridge, the Ice Bridge is created when the weather is cold enough to create thick enough ice for snowmobiles to trek from St. Ignace to the Island. There's a short window for this to happen and at the right time each year, volunteers test the ice and place old Christmas trees in a line so riders can follow the path. I wonder if locals consider drawing the short straw a good or bad thing when it comes to being this volunteer! There's an awesome video available that shares more about the Ice Bridge -- Ice Bridge: Mackinac Island's Hidden Season.
One of the coolest things about the weekend was feeling like we were locals. We joined the locals for trivia night at Mustang Lounge, we went trail riding on snowmobiles, we hiked the snowpacked trails and even hiked up to Arch Rock, one of the most popular photo opps on the island. And if you've ever heard about Blue Ice on Mackinac Island or in Mackinac City, we had the rare opportunity of seeing it while we were there. Pretty amazing!
We also walked along the shore and found beautiful sea glass. One of the locals told us that people have been finding artifacts such as arrowheads as well, partially due to the high water level of Lake Huron and the high winds/waves that accompany the fall and winter months.
And I can't ignore the horses, somewhat of a mascot of the Island. Although their numbers are much lower in the winter months, a few draft horses remain on the island year-round and we had a chance to visit with one team. I'll let you be the judge, but I think these horses have some personality. According to the Island's Convention and Visitor's Bureau, most of the 400 horses are transported to the upper peninsula, fondly referred to as the U.P. by Michiganders, in late fall. And a sure sign of spring arriving is when the the horses begin to arrive back on the island in mid April. Bringing the horses back to island takes about a week to complete and it's quite a photo opportunity if you happen to be on the island.
From trivia night to snowmobile trail rides to cross country skiing, Mackinac Island is the premiere destination for someone who wants to get away from the craziness and enter a much simpler lifestyle.
I look forward to my next visit during the summer, but I'm even more looking forward to my first visit for the annual Christmas Tree lighting and festivities the first weekend of December. It's truly something out of a Hallmark movie. This was another item on my mom's bucket list, so we'll be checking that off later this year!
For more information about Mackinac Island, visit www.mackinacisland.org.