MACKINAC ISLAND, MI – If Mackinac Island is your happy place and you’ve always wanted to visit without the summer bustle, this could be the year to plan a winter trip. You’ll just need to be prepared for the off-season quiet. You’ll also need to pack your sense of adventure and your winter gear – this means your big coat.
“Mackinac Island State Park is absolutely stunning in the winter, and is perfect for those who wish to find solitude,” said Dominick Miller, chief of marketing for Mackinac State Historic Parks. “People who do come will be able to explore Mackinac Island in an entirely new way and will certainly leave with a deep appreciation of the beauty of this little island.”
For years, Michigan’s most popular island destination has run on a familiar pattern: Tourist season typically starts in late April, transitioning to a crowded summer season made busy by vacationers, summer residents, day trippers and, more recently, cruise ship visits. Most tourist businesses and hotels close down by the end of October, with some reopening briefly around island landmark events like the annual Christmas Tree Lighting on Main Street, and the Turtle Drop on New Year’s Eve.
Winter on the island has been largely left to its 500 permanent residents, some of whom who get around on snowmobiles, even riding them to school. A handful of horse teams and their drivers work during the winter, taking passengers, packages and other deliveries. Street hockey games are organized in the middle of downtown, and the winter ferry boat brings over a steady stream of workers doing off-season projects on homes and businesses.
But this year, a downtown hotel and another restaurant have announced they’ll stay open for the winter. This has expanded the tiny number of year-round places for visitors to stay over, grab a meal or supplies.
The Bicycle Street Inn & Suites will keep taking reservations at its Main Street location all winter, opening 43 hotel rooms and its larger suites to guests, said General Manager Melanie Libby.
The Kingston Kitchen at the Village Inn will also be open for lunch and dinner, starting in December. Executive Chef Shawn Fearon has put together a winter menu, which boasts his signature Jamaican flavors as well as some more Americanized dishes.
“Having Bicycle Street Inn and Kingston Kitchen open all winter long gives our visitors even more opportunity to see the island like they’ve never seen it before. We’re all looking forward to a delightful winter,” said Tim Hygh, executive director of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau.
In addition to the newcomers, island staple The Mustang Lounge will stay open all winter, just as it has for at least five decades, said co-owner Tony Brodeur, whose grandfather used to own the Astor Street landmark. “We’ve got enough variety where there is a little something for everyone,” Brodeur said of the historic spot that offers a full-menu restaurant, a bar and occasional entertainment. Since Brodeur and his business partner, Jason Klonowski, purchased the building and the land underneath it in 2007, subsequent remodels have seen the The Mustang Lounge double in size and emphasize food as well as the bar. Exposed beams – dating back to the early 1800s when the space was likely a furtrading warehouse – were left open to view as part of the design. And patrons can read up on a little of the spot’s history while they’re enjoying their meal or a drink. “We updated the building, but we brought it back in time as well,” Brodeur said. “It’s got a relaxed, hometown atmosphere.”
If you’re ready to “Hang at the Stang” with locals this winter, you won’t want to miss Fridays, especially once the calendar flips to January. Fish fry nights also mean Trivia Nights, all accompanied by a DJ or a local acoustic musician. “People come out and have dinner, play trivia and have a good time.”
One thing does not change in the winter: Mackinac remains a beautiful spot for outdoor enthusiasts. Much of the island is state park land, and winter’s hush only adds to the charm. More than 70 miles of marked trails curve through the island. Its most famous is likely the 8-mile waterfront perimeter road, M-185. If you want to make use of these trails with something other than your winter boots, make sure to bring your own snowshoes or cross-country skis. Some trails are marked for skiing only. Snowmobiles are also restricted to certain roads on park property.
Also coming again this year: The Mackinac Island State Park ice rink will be set up, as weather permits, next to the Huron Road Pavilion adjacent to Fort Mackinac. Participants need to provide their own skates.
Ready for a lantern-lit hike or ski? Mackinac Island State Park will host three “Twilight Turtle Treks” this winter: Jan. 6, Feb. 4 and March 4. Starting at Greaney Grove, this lantern-lit path will take visitors past Arch Rock and Sugar Loaf rock before ending back at Greaney Grove for a fire and s’mores. This is open for skis and snowshoes.
For more than 65 years, the ferry known as “The Mighty Huron” has been a staple of Mackinac Island life, motoring residents and visitors between the island and the mainland. More recently, it’s been Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Company’s winter workhorse. The company holds the winter ferry contract for the island, and the steel-hulled Huron is the ferry that runs during the winter and early spring seasons.
In the winter, daily ferry runs are scaled back and the Huron takes passengers between the island and its mainland Dock #2 in St. Ignace. Star Line can continue running until the ice between the mainland and the island gets too thick. To see the winter ferry schedule, check here.
Mackinac Island’s airport also remains open for the winter. Contact Fresh Air Aviation for flight information.
For transportation once you’re on the island, contact the Taxi Service for a reservation: 906-847-3323