Most visitors who hop a ferry to Michigan’s Mackinac Island think of the spot in the Straits of Mackinac as a summer place. That’s natural, since the boats that shuttle passengers from Mackinaw City and St. Ignace can’t fight the icy waters during winter, and lodging is hard to find from November through April.
Even the horses that provide genuine horsepower on the automobile-free island head to the mainland for boarding over the long, cold months.
But Autumn can be the best time of year to explore the 3.8 square miles of this scenic bump of land situated between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, where the Great Lakes Huron and Michigan mingle.
This was a sacred place and a gathering place for Ojibway Indians who named the island Michilimackinac, Land of the Great Turtle, for the turtle’s back they thought it resembled. Missionaries, fur traders and the military landed on the strategic island and in the late 1800s the steamship and railroad companies established the tourism industry that thrives today.
The fresh, clean air, scenic natural formations, historic sites and Victorian architecture still enchant visitors, and the weather can be surprisingly warm and pleasant.
Restaurants, bars and accommodations aren’t as crowded and the already slow pace of the island is even more leisurely in fall. Fewer bicyclists pedal the shop-lined streets and 8-mile perimeter road, and hikers enjoy even more solitude on the 70 miles of state park trails.
Plus, there are lodging deals and end-of-season sales on sweatshirts and other souvenirs. You’ll even find a sale or several on fudge, the freshly made confection that’s been an island favorite since Henry Murdick started making it there in 1887—the same year Grand Hotel opened.
In fall, weeknight room rates are often lower than weekends, when special events are an added incentive for an island escape, including:
Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Weekend October 9-11: Nautical and nice, this Mission Point Resort package includes two boat cruises, maritime music, movies and talks, plus lodging, breakfasts and a special dinner featuring “Great Lakes Steamship” cuisine.
Women’s Wellness and a Wee Bit ‘O Wine Weekend October 16-18: This getaway for gals features sessions on health and wellness, yoga and pampering, spa specials, hotel discounts and wine.
Somewhere in Time Weekend October 15-18: This annual event at the 1887 Grand Hotel event is SOLD OUT! Fans of the 1979 movie starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour dress in period costume to watch the film, socialize and visit locations used in the time travel romance, shot on the island. Jane Seymour is attending this year’s event, and on October 15-16 the resort will be open only to “Somewhere in Time” guests. Others will be admitted to visit on Saturday, where you may see costumed guests at lunch or afternoon tea, or strolling the 600-foot long porch.
Mackinac Island Halloween Weekend October 23-25: The island’s festive close to “the season” is celebrated with sales, Saturday morning’s Great Turtle 5.7 mile Run/Walk & Half Marathon, Main Street trick-or treating and adult masquerade parties at downtown saloons.
Halloween at Grand Hotel October 30-November 1: A spook-tacular new celebration designed for adults, with a Haunted Trail, Haunted Afternoon Tea and Grand Halloween Ball and Costume Party. The Saturday morning Bloody Mary bar followed by pumpkin carving will either inspire creativity for the Jack ‘o Lantern contest or fall into the category, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Close the Grand November 1-2: It’s the time of year when the Grand Hotel staff moves the white rocking chairs from the porch into storage, empties the pantry and assesses the season. Meals are casual and there’s a presentation by the always-entertaining hotel historian Bob Tagatz on what it takes to close “America’s Summer Place” for the winter.
Fort Mackinac, the 1780 military outpost on the hill overlooking the harbor, is open through October 28 with seasonal hours; the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum is open through October 11.
And when better than the ghostly season to explore spooky spots and prowl for the paranormal on guided Haunts of Mackinac tours? The nighttime excursions often sell out—even the two-hour Dead of Night Tour that ends at 11:59 p.m.
Shutterbugs love the natural beauty, of course, but also the detail of the architecture and contrast of fall colors and clear blue sky against historic structures painted white and in pastel shades.
Mother Nature is taking her time painting the foliage this year, so now’s an especially fine time to fall for Mackinac Island.
Click on the photos below to enlarge.
Visitor Info Clicks:
Mackinac Island is located between B and D on the map
All stories and photos copyright Kath Usitalo unless otherwise noted