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When does Mackinac Island open? After a winter of preparation

For nearly half the year, Mackinac Island goes into hibernation – or so it may seem to people who visit the beautiful and historic northern Michigan travel destination in the spring, summer or fall.

For sure, winter is a quieter time on Mackinac Island, a time when the 500-some people who live there refuel after a busy season of welcoming tourists. Yet, winter on Mackinac Island is also a time of preparation for the new season of hospitality that’s on the way. As soon as the last ferry boat departs at the end of October, work begins to make sure everything is ready for the arrival of the first ferry boat the following April.Mackinac Island at the tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula makes for a nice road trip from much of the eastern United States.

As the home of Mackinac Island State Park, Mackinac Island never really closes. You can go there and explore year-round. But late April and early May is when Mackinac Island really “opens” by rolling out the welcome mat to visitors. And here are just some of the ways residents, shop owners, innkeepers and others get Mackinac Island ready for your arrival:


    A primary feature of Mackinac Island is the historic character of the homes, cottages, hotels and resorts. The Victorian architecture transports you back in time to another era, a simpler time of life. Of course, buildings that date to the 1800s need regular maintenance, so each winter brings a variety of improvement projects to Mackinac Island places to stay. The work list often includes updates to guest rooms, remodeling of common spaces and lots of painting. Beyond any special projects that may be planned in a given winter, virtually every place to stay on Mackinac Island has an ongoing list of repairs in the works to preserve and protect the beautiful personality of the historic buildings.


    Mackinac Island’s shops, restaurants, places to stay and attractions all spend winter preparing to open in the spring.
    Many of the unique shops on Mackinac Island take time during the winter to move out old inventory and make room for new items for the upcoming travel season. Some of them also stay busy shipping gifts all over the world during the offseason.

    While a couple restaurants on Mackinac Island typically stay open all year, most close their doors for the winter. It’s during this time that restaurants install new equipment or redo the layouts of their dining rooms. It’s also not uncommon for a new restaurant or two to debut each spring, and winter provides a window of time for those new ventures to get ready for a seamless opening. For existing restaurants, winter is when chefs experiment with new recipes and devise new menus for the enjoyment and delight of visitors come spring.  


    When your fudge is world-famous, there’s no time for a break – not even in winter. Although foot traffic slows, Mackinac Island’s many fudge shops keep busy making the delicious treat and shipping it around the world. Everyone wants a slice of Mackinac Island during the offseason!


    Many of the visitor attractions on Mackinac Island are historic – literally hundreds of years old. It’s part of what makes Mackinac Island so special. An interesting thing about history is that there’s always more to explore. Winter provides Mackinac State Historic Parks staff time to do just that. They research and write new programs for Mackinac Island’s historic sites, update or remodel exhibits and publish new books that offer fresh glimpses into the past. And, as with Mackinac Island’s places to stay, general maintenance of Mackinac Island’s historic visitor attractions and grounds is a never-ending process.

Winter on Mackinac Island is a time for residents to recharge and prepare for a new tourist season to open in the spring.
Snowmobiles line the streets of Mackinac Island in the winter. It’s a time when residents refuel from the previous tourist season and prepare for the spring when Mackinac Island opens again.

Want to be among the first visitors when Mackinac Island opens for the season? Check out the Mackinac Island ferry schedule to find the first boat from the mainland, then customize your itinerary using the Mackinac Island Trip Planner.


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