Explorer’s guide to Mackinac Island: Cave of bones and more

More than 250 years ago, Fort Michilimackinac came under attack during Pontiac’s War. Under the guise of a lacrosse game, a coalition of Native Americans invaded the fort and routed the British who controlled it. Twenty people were killed, some of them scalped alive.

The fur trader Alexander Henry fled.

Henry was friends with the Ojibwe warrior Wawatam, who protected the Englishman during the assault by bringing him off the mainland to Mackinac Island. He spent the night there hiding in the island’s interior, finding refuge in a shallow cave.

When he woke up in the morning light, Henry discovered with horror that he was lying on a heap of human bones that covered the cave’s floor.

Skull Cave no longer is used as a sacred burial site, but it remains intact – awaiting Mackinac Island explorers looking for adventure off the beaten path. The landmark is just one of many fascinating sites to find on Mackinac Island:


  • Eagle Point Cave – This natural hollow is larger than Skull Cave and you can get right into it – if you can find it. It’s just off Mackinac’s longest trail, on the north side of the island a few miles out of downtown.


  • Devil’s Kitchen – Evil spirits who inhabit this small cave along the shore of the island will capture and eat people who get too close, according to legend. It’s easily accessible while walking or biking the 8-mile loop around the island and great for a photo op against the blackened limestone – burned perhaps by the cooking fires of cannibalistic spirits.


  • Sugar Loaf – This massive rock rises 75 feet above the ground near the center of the island. The rock was a tiny island itself, once upon a time, and got shaped by erosion into a tall stack as glacial waters receded. Get a great view of Sugar Loaf from nearby Point Lookout, one of the highest points on Mackinac.


  • Arch Rock – One of the most iconic features of the island, this 50-foot wide natural limestone arch stands 145 feet above Lake Huron. It’s easily accessible by foot, bike or horse-drawn carriage and also can be viewed from below on a perimeter tour of the island or from the water on a kayak.


  • Crack-in-the-Island – Literally, Mackinac Island has a big crack in the middle of it where the limestone base has split. You can wiggle yourself into the crack up to your head, and on the way there you can tuck yourself into the ancient Cave of the Woods.


  • Fort Holmes – During the Revolutionary War the British moved Fort Michilimackinac to Mackinac Island, where it remains today as a popular destination for visitors. Fort Mackinac, as it became known, transferred to the United States following the revolution and remained an active post until 1895. But during the War of 1812 the fort was captured and held by the British, who sought to better protect the vulnerable north side by building a bastion on the hill above. That second fort is now known as Fort Holmes, and a reconstruction based on original plans stands today where you can enjoy an unparalleled 360-degree view.

Even though you can’t drive to any of these sites since motor vehicles are prohibited on Mackinac, all of them are accessible by foot, bicycle or horseback – either along the 8-mile road around the island or on one of more than 70 miles of trails through the interior.

Here’s a map of sites on the island, and here’s information on bicycle and carriage rentals.

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