The tourist season on Mackinac Island may come to a close Oct. 31 when the regular schedule of ferry service from St. Ignace and Mackinaw City ends. But the island never closes.
Not only do about 500 people live on Mackinac year-round, but the island also remains open to visitors through the winter. While you won’t want to lounge on an island porch wearing shorts and a T-shirt like you can in the summer, there are island experiences you can enjoy November through March that are unique from the rest of the year.
Here are a few things to know about the off-season on Mackinac (if you’re adventurous enough to visit after the island “closes”):
- Ferry service to Mackinac scales back come November, but you can still catch a ride to the island from St. Ignace (on the U.P. side of the Mackinac Bridge) almost every day, at least until the water freezes over. Check with ferry operators for schedules.
- Because the island is much less crowded, there’s less going on and only a handful of lodging facilities and restaurants remain open through the winter. If you’re looking for a summer-style Mackinac party, it might be hard to find. If you’re looking for a quiet, peaceful visit to one of America’s natural treasures, winter is a great time to come over. The island’s historic churches still hold services and some shops stay open all winter, while many other stores keep hours on select days during the holiday shopping season.
- The island isn’t quiet all winter. In fact, there’s a big to-do on Mackinac every month. Festivities include the Mackinac Island Tree Lighting on Friday, Nov. 30, and the Mackinac Island Christmas Bazaar that follows Dec. 1-3. HGTV even named Mackinac Island “One of the Top Ten Christmas Towns in America.” Come New Year’s Eve there’ll be parties downtown to ring in 2019. In February, the Mackinac Island Winter Festival includes activities such as snow golf, broom hockey, sledding and a bonfire cook out, then the St. Patrick’s Day Weekend in March involves snow volleyball, street hockey and, of course, plenty of food and Irish cheer.
- The great outdoors that you can enjoy on Mackinac in the summer is still great in the offseason. It’s just colder and snowier. Some of the hiking and biking paths on the island become fantastic cross-country ski trails, and you can also rent fat-tire bikes for a two-wheeled tour of wintry Mackinac. On tap this winter is the Mackinac Island Twilight Turtle Trek, a unique lantern-lit cross-country ski and snowshoeing event on 2 miles of the island’s groomed trails. Dates to be determined.
Plan a special Michigan experience this year and visit Mackinac after the island “closes.” Rooms are available from $100.