When the crowds start to diminish and the shops start closing their doors, that doesn’t mean the island as we know it comes to an end. Winter on Mackinac Island is something magical that many haven’t had the opportunity to experience. In fact, while hundreds of thousands of tourists take the ferry across Lake Huron in the summer, less than 1% of those tourists seek out adventure in the colder months. This blog will take a deeper look into life on Mackinac Island in the off season when it transforms into a true winter wonderland.
While transportation is available, it’s not always certain. Star Line Ferry offers a limited schedule November through April and their ferries will continue to run until the ice builds up too great, leaving them stranded at the dock. In some instances, the build-up of ice is so significant that an “ice bridge” is created. While the “ice bridge” is not always guaranteed, in recent winters it has provided a route of transportation over the lake from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island. The “ice bridge” allows a crossing for snowmobiles and cross-country skiers however presents risks. The “ice bridge” is not a sanctioned form of transportation, with no oversight by the Coast Guard or other law enforcement agencies.
If the ferries are not running and crossing the “ice bridge” isn’t for you, no worries – there’s still one more option! Mackinac Island is home to the Mackinac Island airport, nestled in the middle of the island. Tourists are able to board a small aircraft passenger plane through Great Lakes Air with a short travel time from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island. While this service is offered year-round, it is weather permitting. In some instances, the windchill and ice is unsafe for air travel, in which flights will be cancelled or postponed. It is also recommended to arrange for a taxi service through Mackinac Island Carriage Tours before your landing as the Mackinac Island airport is located a mile and a half from downtown and the roadways are often snow covered with ice.
Bicycles are not the obvious form of transportation in the winter however Mackinac Wheels does provide Fat Tire Bikes with reservation. While the taxi service continues to run, the amount of taxi’s is drastically smaller. Often times only one or two are running at a given time. What you are guaranteed to see in large numbers is snowmobiles. For year-round island residents, snowmobiles provide a quick and effective way of transportation. Many residents reside miles from downtown and the youngest of the nearly 500 year-round residents attend Mackinac Island Public School. In the winter, snowmobiles are a way of life and greatly relied upon. While they cannot be rented on the island, visitors may transport theirs via the “ice bridge” or the ferry.
The Cottage Inn of Mackinac is open December 6th through December 20th as well as December 27th through January 1st. This stunning bed and breakfast is voted number one on Trip Advisor and they provide a hot home-made breakfast that many guests rave about.
The Mackinac House is open December 6th through the 8th and 29th through the 31st. This stunning location is Mackinac Island’s newest luxury hotel. This brand-new build is centrally located one block from Main Street, and you are guaranteed to have a luxurious stay.
Lilac Tree Suites and Spa is open select days in December and January. This fabulous hotel is nestled right in the center of downtown and is the only all-suite hotel on Mackinac Island.
Bogan Lane Inn is one of the select lodging options available year-round.
Pontiac Lodge is another year-round option however closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Day and Easter weekend. Located in the heart of downtown, it offers eleven rooms.
Lastly, Village Inn Suites are open through New Year’s Day and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day. Their two suites are available above Cawthorne’s Village Inn Restaurant.
While options are limited, you’re sure to have a good time. Huron Street Pub serves lunch and dinner year-round. You’ll be sure to enjoy their pub fare menu in a casual setting. Another popular spot is the Mustang Lounge. Michigan’s most historic tavern has been family owned since 1964 and was fully remodeled in 2008. The Mustang Lounge is open year-round and serves mouthwatering hamburgers and homemade pizza.
While the majority of shops are closed, one is open year-round – Doud’s Market! America’s oldest family owned grocery store since 1884, they provide the every-day items that many residents rely on. Island Hardware is also open year-round and is Mackinac Island’s only fuel facility. While these two locations are available year-round, select island businesses are also open during the Christmas season. It’s recommended to call ahead to your favorite locations to verify.
Year after year, the annual Mackinac Island Tree Lighting Ceremony on December 6th brings many tourists over to experience the small-town cheer and Christmas carols. Many surround the large Christmas tree on Main Street and countdown to the start of the Christmas season.
December 6th to the 9th brings the annual Mackinac Island Christmas Bazaar. This fundraiser offers a snowmobile raffle, variety of activities, lunches and the arrival of Santa on Mackinac Island.
Nothing quite like ringing in the New Year on Mackinac Island. Join visitors and residents as they countdown to the new year on December 31st and gather outside the Lilac Tree Suites and Spa to watch the lowering of a fake turtle as they countdown to midnight.
While these are some of the most popular events, Mackinac Island does offer many more. Take a look at the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau website for more information.
Plan Your Trip:
With all that being said, it’s easy to see why HGTV voted Mackinac Island one of the top ten Christmas towns in America! Mackinac Island in the winter provides visitors with a slower pace of life and allows them to take a closer look into the year-round community that makes Mackinac Island one of the most magical places on Earth. Do you want to visit Mackinac Island this winter? Don’t wait, plan your trip today!