Mackinac Island Field Trip: 5 places for interactive history lessons

Imagine putting your ship ashore on Mackinac Island and then making your way uphill, through the woods, in the dark, with cannons and other artillery, in order to surprise the occupants of Fort Mackinac the next morning from the high ground above. That really happened on Mackinac Island, and it’s commemorated at a place called British Landing.

Or picture yourself standing inside the general store when a shot rings out, leaving a man with a permanent hole in his stomach and a doctor with an incredible opportunity to study human digestion. That really happened on Mackinac Island, too, and it’s chronicled at the American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum.

Or put yourselves in the shoes of Alexander Henry, a British fur trader who fled from battle and hid in a cave that he later discovered was full of human bones! That also happened on Mackinac Island and the site is celebrated as Skull Cave.

Mackinac Island feels historic given the prevalence of horses, the lack of automobiles and the beautiful Victorian architecture. But it also oozes history because it is full of historic sites and landmarks! And that makes it a great place for first-hand learning about the past.

In other words, Mackinac Island is perfect for you and the kids to enjoy a history field trip!

A view of downtown Mackinac Island and the harbor from Fort Mackinac on the bluffs above.

Historical Sites on Mackinac Island

You may have heard of historic Fort Mackinac, which has stood high atop the Mackinac Island bluffs for more than 240 years. You should definitely buy a ticket to check out the historic fort buildings and watch reenactments of military life in the 1800s. The kids will have so much fun they won’t even realize they’re learning!

Yet there are many other historical sites on Mackinac Island that are worth a visit, too. We asked Mackinac State Historic Parks to suggest some of best sites on Mackinac Island that don’t require a ticket. Here’s a handful of places to include on your family’s field trip to Mackinac Island:

A drone aerial image of Fort Holmes, which sits at the highest point on Mackinac Island.

Mackinac Island’s Fort Holmes

Built atop the highest point on Mackinac Island, the view from Fort Holmes is worthy of a visit even if you’re not a history buff. If you do enjoy history, then you’ll appreciate the panels inside the restored blockhouse that detail the 200-year-old stronghold’s past. Did you know it was originally named Fort George, after the British king, then renamed for an American major who was killed in the Battle of Mackinac Island? It’s fascinating to think about what happened at Fort Holmes, and fun for the kids to run around the place, too!

A cannon stands guard inside Fort Mackinac's Post Cemetery on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island’s Post Cemetery

One of three Mackinac Island burial grounds that you can visit for free, the Post Cemetery holds the remains of soldiers as well as several Mackinac Island pioneers. You can pay your respects and uncover fascinating Mackinac Island stories such as the tale of “The Chaplain’s Lady.” Ste. Anne’s Catholic Cemetery and Mackinac Island Cemetery are the other graveyards on Mackinac Island, both located near the Post Cemetery on Garrison Road in the middle of the island.

A woman sits on a fallen tree limb next to Cave of the Woods in Mackinac Island State Park

Mackinac Island State Park

Many visitors don’t realize that 80% of Mackinac Island is state parkland. And the park is full of landmarks that illustrate Mackinac Island’s amazing natural history. Mackinac State Historic Parks historical markers can be found throughout the park at sites including the breathtaking Arch Rock, Cave of the Woods, Friendship’s Altar, Sugar Loaf and more. In addition to learning about how these sites were formed thousands of years ago, they’re a blast to explore. Do you and the kids dare wiggle your way through Mackinac Island’s Crack-in-the-Island? The Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center in town also has information on the natural history of Mackinac Island.

A hummingbird flutters by a flowering plant on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island’s British Landing Nature Center

Open during the summer months, the free nature center at British Landing features all kinds of information on the fauna and flora of Mackinac Island. Some of the same plants and wildlife you can find on Mackinac Island today were seen by Native Americans thousands of years ago. On the other side of the island along the Arch Rock Bicycle Trail, the Mackinac Island Botanical Trail features seven turnouts with plantings and interpretive signs about the floral life that has thrived on Mackinac Island for centuries. Both the nature center and the botanical trail are great spots to stop on a bike ride around Mackinac Island.

A family rides bikes on Mackinac Island along a waterfront trail lined with colorful flowers.

Mackinac Island’s Native American Cultural History Trail

Another interesting stopping point while riding a bike all the way around the outer rim of Mackinac Island is the Native American Cultural History Trail. There are six stops along the way that highlight the history and impact of Native Americans on Mackinac Island and the Great Lakes region.

Of course, the family can also peek inside Mackinac Island’s historic church buildings or stroll down Mackinac Island streets full of historic homes and cottages on the East and West bluffs. And if you do visit Fort Mackinac, don’t forget that your ticket also gets you admission into several other Mackinac State Historic Parks attractions including all the sites of Historic Downtown Mackinac:

Go ahead and tell the kids that your trip to Mackinac Island is a vacation just for fun. But take pride in the fact that you’re giving them a great learning opportunity, too!

Map showing five historical sites on Mackinac Island that are free to visit


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