There’s a lot of reasons people come to Mackinac Island in the winter. Some come for the annual Christmas Bazaar and tree lighting. Some come for a week of relaxation between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Some come to join the island community’s winter festival.
But a lot of the people who come to Mackinac Island in the offseason come to cross-country ski. Thanks to the volunteer-run Mackinac Island Ski Club and the support of Mackinac Island State Park, the island features several miles of groomed trails for classic cross-country skiing and skate skiing.
Are you interested in skiing on Mackinac Island? We asked Matt Myers, one of the main trail groomers on the island, what you should know about a ski trip to Mackinac Island:
Q: Where can you ski on Mackinac Island?
You’ll see snowmobiles all over Mackinac Island in the winter because cars are prohibited. But even snowmobiles aren’t allowed on the trails on the east side of the island. That’s where the Mackinac Island Ski Club grooms trails for skiing, with parallel tracks for classic skiing and flat, open paths of hardpacked snow for skate skiing.
Depending on snowfall, a good five to 10 miles of trails are groomed any given day, sometimes as many as 15 miles if there’s enough snow on the ground. All the trails are free. Here’s a map.
“We need probably a foot of snow to start with, and we’ll just go out and pack it down and establish a base that freezes down,” Myers said. “We’ve got a lot of rocks here on the smaller trails, so you’ve got to establish a hard base, and then you start setting your track on top of that.”
Q: When can you ski on Mackinac Island?
Of course, this is weather dependent, so it’s best to call ahead and ask if the trails are groomed and if people are skiing. Generally, the Mackinac Island Ski Club hopes to start packing snow by mid-December, so there are some good trails in place for the holidays. January through March is a pretty good bet for snow-covered trails, but you never know what the weather may bring.
The streets on Mackinac Island all are plowed and have a hardpack of snow through the winter, so that’s a good option, too, especially for skate skiers.
Q: How challenging are the ski trails on Mackinac Island?
There’s a nice variety of difficulty levels. Most of the trails follow rolling hills and are manageable for novice skiers, though there also are more challenging trails for more experienced skiers. Once each month from January through March, the state park hosts the Fort Mackinac Turtle Trek. It’s a lantern-lit cross country and snowshoeing event on 2 miles of relatively easy trails with a bonfire and hot chocolate.
Q: What’s special about skiing on Mackinac Island?
Everything is special on Mackinac Island! Where else can you ski to the iconic Arch Rock, or ski up to a breathtaking view at Fort Holmes on the island’s highest point?
Q: Can I rent skis on Mackinac Island?
Some places to stay on Mackinac Island may have skis available, but there aren’t ski rental shops in the winter like there are bike rental shops in the summer. You should bring your own skis on the ferry or plane ride to the island.
Q: What else can I do in the winter on Mackinac Island besides skiing?
Even if you’re not coming to the island for one of the holiday events or the winter festival, there’s still a lot to do. The state park makes up more than 80 percent of Mackinac Island, and it’s free for you to explore.
You can hike the island by foot or in snowshoes. (Just don’t snowshoe on the groomed ski tracks!) And you can rent fat-tire bikes. They’re a blast to pedal around snow-covered streets and up into the trails of Mackinac Island State Park.