What do Mackinac Island and Yellowstone have in common? They were the first two national parks in the United States.
That’s right! Before Mackinac Island became home to a bustling downtown with unique boutiques, art galleries and fudge shops, it was a natural paradise full of incredible sights.
And guess what? Those incredible sights are still here!
No, Mackinac Island is no longer a national park. The state of Michigan took it over more than 125 years ago, after the last soldiers (who doubled as park rangers) left Fort Mackinac. But the amazing rock formations and legendary landmarks that prompted Congress to safeguard Mackinac Island as a national park remain, ready for you to discover yourself.
In fact, here are 10 must-see sights in Mackinac Island State Park:
This natural limestone arch is maybe the most photographed spot on Mackinac Island. It’s a picture-perfect frame of Lake Huron from some 140 feet above water level. You can get there on a Mackinac Island horse-drawn carriage tour or a hike up the stairs from M-185. And you can get a fascinating perspective of Arch Rock from below in the water on a Mackinac Island kayak tour.
Tip: For a perspective of Arch Rock from above, book a breathtaking trip with Mackinaw Parasailing!
This legendary limestone stack rises 75 feet out of the ground in the middle of the Mackinac Island State Park forest. It’s a sight to behold both from above – at Point Lookout – and from ground level. You can get there by bike, on a hike or on horseback.
Tip: In addition to taking a horse-drawn carriage tour, you can saddle up horseback for a guided tour at one of the liveries of Mackinac Island or even drive your own horse-drawn carriage!
The road that circles the outer rim of Mackinac Island is known officially as M-185, the only state highway in the country where motor vehicles are not allowed. It also goes by Lake Shore Boulevard or Main Street on different parts of Mackinac Island. Whatever you call it, it’s beautiful! You can bike or run all the way around. Be sure to check out Mackinac Island’s Native American Cultural History Trail along the way and pop into Devil’s Kitchen for a photo.
Tip: Rent a bike from one of the many bicycle vendors on Mackinac Island or bring your own bike to Mackinac Island on the ferry boat.
Yes, there is a crack in the limestone right in the middle of Mackinac Island. Can you wriggle your way through it? Head there on horseback or bike and see Cave of the Woods along the way.
Tip: A little farther down the trail past Crack-in-the-Island is the Mackinac Island Airport. Maybe you’ll see a propeller plane land or take off!
About halfway around M-185 at the north end of Mackinac Island is the point where British troops landed when they overtook Fort Mackinac during the War of 1812. There’s a cannon on the beach to commemorate the history. You’ll also find a nature center and trail, Friendship’s Altar, picnic tables and food and drink at Cannonball Oasis.
Tip: Speaking of battles with the British, the 1814 Battle of Mackinac battlefield is now Wawashkamo Golf Club, the oldest golf course in Michigan.
There are more than 600 species of plants and flowers on Mackinac Island. You can learn all about them on the botanical trail, which is made up of seven turn-offs and informational signs along the Arch Rock Bicycle Trail.
If you wake up early enough to see the sunrise, a point known as Robinson’s Folly high on Mackinac Island’s East Bluff above Mission Point Resort is a spectacular place to see it.
Tip: To see the sunrise from the water, book an early-morning trip with Mackinac Island’s Great Turtle Kayak Tours. Both single and tandem kayaks are available.
Imagine escaping from battle and hiding overnight inside a cave in the interior of Mackinac Island – only to find out in the morning that the cave is full of bones! That really happened at Skull Cave.
Tip: Get the full story on a horse-drawn carriage tour of Mackinac Island.
There are more than 70 miles of trails crisscrossing through the forest of Mackinac Island State Park. It’s great for hiking, biking and horseback riding. And if you’re into geocaching on Mackinac Island or birding on Mackinac Island, the state park forest is a great place for those activities, too.
Tip: To get up close and personal with the watery wildlife of Mackinac Island, book a charter fishing trip in the Straits of Mackinac.
Fort Mackinac sits high on the bluff overlooking Mackinac Island’s harbor and is hard to miss. But did you know there’s another historic fort on the island, too? Far above Fort Mackinac, on the highest point of Mackinac Island, is Fort Holmes. It’s an interesting spot for history buffs, and an incredible place to enjoy a picnic with panoramic views of the island below and the surrounding Straits of Mackinac.