There is no better place to be during the fall season than Mackinac Island, in fact, Travel + Leisure recently ranked Mackinac Island as the “world’s best” island. The island is beautiful in all seasons, but there is something particularly special about the resort island in the fall. Because of the temperate influence of the Straits of Mackinac, color change comes a little later to Mackinaw Island than it does to most of northern Michigan. It can be hard to predict when the peak colors will be on Mackinac Island, but in the typical fall the peak will be somewhere around the middle to late October. Autumn is one of the most underrated months to visit with a daily average temperature of 60 degrees!
Because cars are prohibited, a fall color tour on the island becomes a truly unique experience. Have you ever seen fall colors by horse and buggy? You can also take a kayak around the island to see the vibrant leaves from a different angle. Speaking of different angles, have you ever viewed the autumn color palette from the air? Most people that visit the island enjoy the fall colors by bike, pedaling all the way around Mackinac Island with breathtaking blue water on one side and leaves ablaze on the other. If you like something a bit slower-paced, you can explore the 70-plus miles of hiking trails that go right through the middle of the island (dogs love this).
We’ve put together some ideas to help you plan your trip to make it the most enjoyable and memorable trip possible.
Getting to Mackinac Island
Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Company operates all year long, until the Straits of Mackinac freeze over. Check their website for the latest schedule information.
Getting Around the Island
- Take a hike because everything feels as fresh and bright as the Grand Hotel’s perennial beds, bursting with dahlias big as softballs and vast drifts of black-eyed Susans. The weather makes you want to take a brisk morning walk along the East Bluff—with Victorian-Era summer mansions on one side, grand views of Lake Huron on the other. There are more than 70 miles of trails on Mackinac, including the Tranquil Bluff Trail that courses through the forest along the eastern shore, on the edge of cliffs high above Lake Huron.
- Take a Carriage Tour with no wait required. Hire a horse-drawn carriage driver or rent your own horse and buggy and experience the Mackinac Island version of a fall color tour on four wheels and four hooves.
- Rent a Bike to cover even more territory and start your journey on the easy 8-mile paved trail encircling the island. Here, you’ll ride past cobblestone streets, beaches and Lake Huron’s teal-green waters. Inland, 140 miles of carriage roads, bike trails and footpaths knit through a hilly and wooded landscape, past jagged limestone outcrops and historic cemeteries. More than 80% of the island is preserved as a state park. You’ll find hills and solitude as you explore places like Tranquil Bluff Trail, which traces the high eastern shore.
- Go horseback trail riding during the cooler temperatures, which makes for more lively horses. By horse, foot, or bike, be sure you aim at some point toward Fort Holmes. The island’s highest point, some 350 feet before lake level, is a perfect vantage point for fall color viewing.
- Kayak over the water in the early morning to take a tour of Mackinac Island and get a unique look at fall colors, not to mention a cool perspective on the island’s limestone formations – like Arch Rock above and a maze of underwater rock below. Not an early bird? That’s ok because in the evening you can head out on the water toward a buoy that clangs like church bells to watch the sunset transform the horizon line to a vibrant pink.
- Take a fall color tour by air. From 1,000 feet you can see 30 miles in any direction and take in all of Mackinac’s beautiful hardwood forest – as well as the island’s buildings and landmarks that look so tiny from up above.
Things to do on the Island
- Enjoy a quiet picnic at Marquette Park at the end of downtown and in front of the fort. Kids can run around and play on the playground while adults rest on the benches or on the grass.
- Sample some fudge at any of the 13 fudge shops on the island that together make 10,000 pounds of fudge per day! Before there was world-famous Mackinac Island fudge, there was maple sugar candy harvested from the syrup of the island’s maple trees. Victorian-era vacationers got hooked on that treat and tasty sweets rapidly became part of the Mackinac Island tourist experience.
- Dine in or go on a pub crawl. One good thing about drinking on Mackinac Island is that cars are prohibited, so you may very well end up, literally, crawling. Another good thing is that there’s a density of restaurants and bars not found in many other places – and they’re all within walking distance of each other. Fun fact: there are more liquor sales per capita on Mackinac Island than in any other county in Michigan!
- Watch an amazing Mackinac Island sunset, with its pinks, reds, oranges, yellows, purples, and blues. You can take in the view from the majestic Sunset Rock – or anywhere on the island with a view to the west presents a striking photo op. Another popular place to watch sunsets is in the bar atop the Grand Hotel, sipping on a favorite beverage while admiring the brilliance in the sky.
- Halloween comes earlier on Mackinac Island – the weekend of October 21-23, 2022! This weekend typically marks the last big weekend before most island businesses close for the season. Celebrate Halloween with the Great Turtle Trail Run, trick-or-treating for kids through downtown shops, and Halloween costume parties for adults throughout island establishments in the evening.
Staying on the Island
Hotel pricing varies and is subject to certain dates. For example, you’ll find that prices drop during midweek. The Grand Hotel runs some of its most popular packages in autumn. The annual “Somewhere in Time” weekend offers a chance for fans of the Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour film to mingle with some of the original actors, listen to experts on the social mores of the Victorian era, and even reenact scenes from the island-filmed cult romance. Other packages are themed around ballroom dancing, murder mysteries, girlfriend getaways and even its seasonal closing. The “Close the Grand” special offers a reduced price, more casual “rules” and surprises like the buffet at which chefs whip up a feast from what’s remaining in the pantry stock
Come enjoy a magical place where the air is crisp, the lakes are calm, and shorelines begin to explode in colors of ruby and gold – where you can disengage from the hustle and bustle and escape somewhere in time.