Fort Holmes on Mackinac Island

While Mackinac Island’s historic Fort Mackinac gets many more visitors, Fort Holmes also makes for a memorable adventure – if you can meet the challenge of getting there.

There’s fascinating history to discover at Fort Holmes. And as the highest point on Mackinac Island, there are spectacular sights, too.

Whether you’re a history buff or not, it’s worth making your way up to the historic high ground that doubles as a scenic overlook and picnic spot, some 325 feet above lake level. Here’s a look at both aspects of this unique Mackinac Island attraction:

The History of Mackinac Island’s Fort Holmes

When the British captured Fort Mackinac in the War of 1812, they were able to do so because they claimed the high ground after sneaking onto the island in the middle of the night. It didn’t take long for the redcoats to build Fort George, in honor of their king, to prevent the Americans from trying the same tactic.

More than 200 years later, Fort George still stands – only it has been known as Fort Holmes ever since the Americans regained control at the end of the war. They named it after Major Andrew Holmes, who perished in a failed attempt to retake the island during the 1814 Battle of Mackinac.

While Fort Mackinac remained an active military post for decades, soldiers were stationed at Fort Holmes only for a few years. Eventually, the wood and earthen fort deteriorated, prompting restorations in the 1930s and again in the 2010s.

The fort’s walls and blockhouse currently reflect the original plans housed in the National Archives, with port holes for musket and cannon fire. There also are interpretive panels inside the fort that detail some of the site’s history.

Fort Holmes is open to the public from May through October and admission is free.

A young couple sits arm in arm on a picnic table looking out at the woods and water near Mackinac Island’s Fort Holmes

The Scenic Beauty of Mackinac Island’s Fort Holmes

At about 170 feet above Fort Mackinac and 325 feet above the waters below, Fort Holmes offers the most elevated overlook on Mackinac Island. Even if you’re not interested in the history of the fort, you’ll love the unparalleled beauty and panoramic views to be had from up there.

In fact, at times in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were observation towers at the fort that tourists could climb for an even higher view of the surrounding landscape.

With picnic tables on site, Fort Holmes is a lovely place for a Mackinac Island picnic if you seek a quiet, picturesque setting with little foot, bike or horse traffic. Fort Holmes also is a popular spot for watching gorgeous Mackinac Island sunsets. And given its location up and away from the lights of downtown, Fort Holmes is wonderful for stargazing on Mackinac Island, too.

Two bicycles including one with a burley attached stand parked in a bike rack in front of Mackinac Island’s Fort Holmes

Getting to Mackinac Island’s Fort Holmes

As the highest point on Mackinac Island, it can be a challenge making your way to Fort Holmes. While there are many routes to get there, the most common is to walk up the hill on Fort Street from Marquette Park, then turn right on Huron Road, which runs behind Fort Mackinac and connects with Garrison Road. Turn left on Garrison and continue to Rifle Range Road, then turn right and find the Watch-Your-Step Trail, which has a stairway of 140-plus steps leading up to Fort Holmes.

To visit Fort Holmes on bike, continue on Garrison Road until you reach Fort Holmes Road past the three Mackinac Island cemeteries. Turn right on Fort Holmes Road, which winds around and up to Fort Holmes.

While public horse-drawn carriage tours of Mackinac Island do not stop at Fort Holmes, you can rent a private carriage to take you there or go there on a drive-it-yourself carriage ride. Some visitors also travel to Fort Holmes on horseback.

An infographic showing a historical timeline for Mackinac Island's Fort Holmes from 1812 through present day

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