5 things you have to see in Michigan’s original national park

You may know that Mackinac Island is home to historic Fort Mackinac. But did you know that as Mackinac Island evolved into a popular vacation destination named the No. 1 Best Island in the Continental U.S., it became home to the country’s second national park?

Shortly after Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872, Mackinac National Park was created. Fort Mackinac continued to house federal troops until just before the 20th century, when the fort was decommissioned. At that time, Mackinac National Park was turned over to Michigan and became the first state park.

Still today, Mackinac Island State Park makes up more than 80% of the island. Though you might think first of horse-drawn carriages and world-famous fudge when Mackinac Island comes to mind, most of the island is characterized by forested hiking and biking trails and extraordinary natural landmarks.

A map of five fascinating landmarks within Mackinac Island State Park, originally known as Mackinac National Park

If you’ve never been to Michigan’s original national park, here are five things to check out when you get here:

Mackinac Island’s Crack-in-the-Island

Don’t worry. Mackinac Island isn’t about to split in two. But there is a literal crack in the island’s limestone foundation. It’s big enough for a child – and some adults! – to wiggle into and take a memorable selfie. The crack is located right off State Road between the Mackinac Island Airport and Wawashkamo Golf Club. The crack is also right by the Cave of the Woods, a hollow in the limestone that was carved out by waves crashing on the shoreline eons ago when water covered most of Mackinac Island.

The sun shines over the top of Crack in the Island rock formation in the woods of Mackinac Island State Park

Mackinac Island’s Eagle Point Cave

Speaking of caves, Eagle Point Cave is tucked away near the northern tip of Mackinac Island off the stunning Tranquil Bluff Trail that runs above Lake Huron. You can reach the cave from above or below, and either path you take makes for a beautiful journey through Mackinac Island’s rugged, breathtaking interior full of untouched forest.

Eagle Point Cave in the woods of Mackinac Island State Park is accessible from above and below

Mackinac Island’s British Landing

More than 200 years ago, British troops sneaked onto Mackinac Island and approached Fort Mackinac from behind, surprising the Americans during the War of 1812 and forcing them to surrender. The place the redcoats landed is known today, of course, as British Landing. It’s a popular spot for Mackinac Island beach weddings with a view of the Mackinac Bridge, and a rest stop on a bike ride all the way around the outer rim of the Mackinac Island. It’s also a starting point for several great hiking trails that run through Mackinac Island State Park to landmarks such as Friendship’s Altar and Croghan Water.

A limestone stack called Friendship's Altar rises out of the earth in Mackinac Island State Park near British Landing

Mackinac Island’s Fort Holmes

After the British landed in 1812, they marched up to the highest point on Mackinac Island and from there were able to capture Fort Mackinac without a fight. The stronghold that they established was built into the smaller Fort Holmes. You can go inside the block house and learn about the fort’s history or enjoy a picnic outside Fort Holmes and soak in the breathtaking sights more than 300 feet above the water. A trek to Fort Holmes passes by several other Mackinac Island sites on the way including Anne’s Tablet, Skull Cave and the Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery.

Two visitors ride horseback below Fort Holmes on the highest point on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island’s Point Lookout

From Fort Holmes, it’s a short walk to Point Lookout which offers a beautiful vantage point to see the green forest of Mackinac Island set against the blue waters beyond. It’s also the best place to get a look at Sugar Loaf, a limestone stack that rises 75 feet out of the middle of Mackinac Island.

Sugar Loaf rises 75 feet out of the middle of the Mackinac Island State Park forest with water in the background

Of course, any list of attractions in Mackinac Island State Park would be incomplete without Fort Mackinac itself. The fort blasts a cannon to begin its season of tours and reenactments each year in early May.

Mackinac Island State Park is open year-round for hiking, biking and, in the winter, cross-country skiing.




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