Running on Mackinac Island

Running on Mackinac Island is, quite simply, one of my favorite things to do. Sharing ideas, suggestions and thoughts about running on Mackinac Island is a close second. Happily, I’ve been doing both for 30 years.

I knew Mackinac Island well having spent many a summer day, as a kid and young adult, roaming its roads and trails. Then one day, I ran some of those roads, and I was hooked. About the same time, I opened the first of two businesses in downtown Mackinac Island, and lived on the island during the season. Being there every day made a run an easier choice, even if it was stuffed into a busy workday.

Since I worked in a retail store specializing in footwear, I chatted with runners all the time. I seldom hesitated to offer suggestions, especially for those people who’d never ventured into the middle of Mackinac Island to run. I’d haul out a map, a red marker, and point out favorite routes. Or I’d tell people to get a map of Mackinac Island at the Tourism Bureau, bring it in, and we’d plot routes together. My marker was always ready.

I have shared my thoughts and suggestions with hundreds of runners over the years. I really had fun when someone would stop back and let me know how it went. Happily, they did that quite often.

Mackinac Island is a unique destination for runners. It offers plenty of choices for novice and veteran alike. Mackinac Island routes are always interesting, never boring, and frequently entertaining.

Aerial view of M-185 as it circles Mackinac Island along the lakeshore

Routes to Run on Mackinac Island

Packed into one small, appealing plot of land in the middle of the Straits of Mackinac, Mackinac Island offers flat, paved roads, packed dirt roads, and more than 70 miles of trails woven through Mackinac Island State Park. It’s the interior of Mackinac Island, especially, that offers runners something more than just another daily run.

The obvious first choice is Lake Shore Boulevard (called Main Street downtown), an 8.2-mile route that circumnavigates Mackinac Island along the water. For those who thrive at that distance, the decision is an easy one.

Lake Shore is also a good way to begin running any distance short of 8.2 miles because you set the limit. That first run can simply be running out a comfortable distance, then returning to the starting point. Or it can be out to a designated spot…either a place or by elapsed time, then back by a different route through the middle of Mackinac Island. That’s where Mackinac Island gets really interesting.

Moving from Lake Shore Boulevard to the interior of Mackinac Island requires an important decision…hills or stairs. Some hills are long, gradual inclines, while others are sharp vertical rises. Two stairways are conveniently placed at each end of downtown, below the West Bluff and just past Mission Point Resort below Arch Rock. A third stairway, at the back of Marquette Park, leads to the top of the East Bluff overlooking the harbor.

For those who seldom run hills or stairs, the idea can be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be. But think about the challenge differently. Hills and stairs add variety to the tedium of daily runs, and the extra effort improves conditioning. It will likely be necessary to slow down on hills and use a shortened stride. Maintaining a steady pace on stairs, something between walking and running, is a good way to get a feel for the challenge. Even runners who aren’t fond of hills or stairs have to use them because it’s the only way to get to the interior to start a training run.

The middle of Mackinac Island is filled with easy hills, short ups and downs that get the heart rate up without necessitating serious changes in stride or pace.

Paved roads crisscross the interior, intersecting dirt trails – some that are as flat as the paved sections and others that are narrow, tight, tangled paths that redefine the notion of “trail running.” Endless combinations of roads, trails, and paths can be blended for long or short runs like you’ve never experienced before in one place. It’s difficult to get bored when a training route can be changed merely by heading in a different direction at the next trail or road.

A young man runs along the lakeshore on Mackinac Island with the Mackinac Bridge in the background

More Tips for Running on Mackinac Island

Some runners are deterred from venturing into the middle of Mackinac Island for fear of getting lost. It could happen, but it’s much less likely with a good map of Mackinac Island. The Tourism Bureau has them, as do many hotels and shops. Spend time with a good map of Mackinac Island and patterns will emerge where a few major roads meet nearby trails. Road signs, indicating direction and distance, are conveniently placed all over the interior of Mackinac Island. A little planning can reduce the anxiety of getting lost.

Running, like visiting Mackinac Island, requires extra attention to gear. The weather…wind, rain, unseasonably hot or cold temperatures…can (and likely will) throw a monkey wrench into the most anticipated run. Worried about packing too much gear? Don’t be. If you need it, you’ll be thrilled to get a run in, warm (or cool) enough and dry enough. If the gear stays packed because you don’t need all of it, it won’t matter.

Now is the time. Your visit has been scheduled, your room on Mackinac Island reserved, activities planned on the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau website. What are you waiting for? Get ready to run Mackinac Island!Peter Marabell with a bike on Mackinac Island

Peter Marabell grew up in Metro Detroit, spending as much time as he could street racing on Woodward Avenue in the late 1950s and visiting the Straits of Mackinac. With a Ph.D. in History and Politics, Peter spent most of his professional career at Michigan State University. He is the author of the historical monograph, Frederick Libby and the American Peace Movement, soon to be published by Kendall Sheepman Company. His first novel, More Than a Body, was published in 2013. The first of the Michael Russo mystery series, Murder at Cherokee Point (2014) was followed by Murder on Lake Street (2015), Devils Are Here (2016), Death Lease (2018), and The Final Act of Conrad North (2019). As a freelance writer, he worked in several professional fields including health care, politics, and the arts. In 2002, Peter moved permanently to northern Michigan with his spouse and business partner, Frances Barger, to live, write, and work at their Mackinac Island business. All things considered (Peter still says), he would rather indulge in American politics, or Spartan basketball, after a satisfying five-mile run on the hills of Mackinac Island. (Originally published April 20, 2022)


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