5 things to do on Mackinac Island in December

After Mackinac Island’s iconic Halloween Weekend at the end of October, the ferry boats reduce their schedules and tourist traffic slows significantly. But just because Mackinac Island is the USA’s Best Summer Travel Destination doesn’t mean it’s not a great place to visit in the winter, too.

In fact, there are unique experiences on Mackinac Island that you can only have in the offseason. For starters, here are five things you can do when visiting Mackinac Island in December:

A storefront window in downtown Mackinac Island showcases a pillow with the words "Merry Mackinac Christmas"

Holiday Shopping on Mackinac Island

Yes, some downtown stores open at times through the month of December. Some shops may be open year round or as long into the winter as the ferry keeps running – until the lake ices over. Others open for a few days at the beginning of December, when Mackinac Island hosts its annual Christmas tree lighting, or between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. (Many Mackinac Island shops also offer online specials throughout the winter.)

Another great shopping opportunity in December is the annual Mackinac Island Christmas Bazaar. You can find quilts and knitted wear, soaps, hand-painted ornaments and other unique, homemade gifts. Plus, the bazaar includes live and silent auctions of donated items and services. The fundraising sale attracts an increasing number of tourists who come to experience an old-fashioned slice of classic Americana.

Mackinac Island's Christmas tree glows with lights as people gather for the annual tree lighting ceremony in December

Celebrating Christmas on Mackinac Island

Speaking of old-fashioned, the Mackinac Island Christmas Bazaar is held the same weekend as the annual Mackinac Island Tree Lighting and singalong. The tree stands right in the middle of Main Street throughout the holidays, with storefront window displays all showing the spirit of the season. A visit to Mackinac Island in December makes it easy to see why HGTV named Mackinac Island one of America’s Top Christmas Towns.

A cross-country skier traverses the snowy landscape along the shore of Mackinac Island with the Mackinac Bridge in the background

Cross-Country Skiing on Mackinac Island

Because Mackinac Island is car free, snowmobiles are a primary way of getting around in the winter. But even snowmobiles aren’t allowed to travel in some areas. That makes the east half of Mackinac Island a paradise for cross-country skiers, with many miles of groomed tracks in Mackinac Island State Park. Bring your own cross-country skis along on the ferry boat and come explore. A few times each winter you can even ski at night during Mackinac Island’s Twilight Turtle Trek with lanterns lighting the way through the state park.

If you prefer to be on wheels, fat tire biking is another winter activity to enjoy on Mackinac Island. You can bring your own fat bike or rent from a Mackinac Island bike vendor such as Mackinac Wheels.

Snow covers Mackinac Island's iconic Arch Rock on a clear winter day

Winter Hiking on Mackinac Island

In addition to groomed cross-country ski trails, Mackinac Island State Park has more than 70 miles of trails perfect for winter hiking. Sights such as Arch Rock look more incredible than ever in the winter. Whether you make your way to all of the fascinating rock formations on Mackinac Island or just enjoy a peaceful trek through the woods, the quiet beauty that you can experience on the trails during the winter is glorious.

New Year's revelers admire a lighted turtle during Mackinac Island's New Year's Eve Great Turtle Drop

Ringing in the New Year on Mackinac Island

How about a festive alternative to a crowded ball drop at midnight on New Year’s Eve? Mackinac Island celebrates the New Year with a Great Turtle Drop! Watching a lighted turtle get lowered onto Main Street is a fun and memorable way to ring in the New Year with friends, family and loved ones. A handful of Mackinac Island hotels, restaurants and bars are open during the week between Christmas and New Year’s to accommodate revelers.

Even though Mackinac Island residents like to say the place belongs to tourists in the summer and “in the winter it’s all ours,” they’re still happy to have a few guests during the offseason. Things are very casual on Mackinac Island in the winter and, if you can believe it, the pace of life is even more peaceful and relaxing. Come see for yourself this December!




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