In a sense, Mackinac Island closes for the year when the ferry boats stop their regular daily schedule of passenger trips at the end of October. From November into the following April, the 500 or so year-round residents of Mackinac Island are left to themselves to enjoy the offseason.
But since more than 80 percent of Mackinac Island consists of a state park, it does remain officially open to the public in the winter. There even are some Mackinac Island hotels and restaurants that cater to winter visitors who make their way across the frozen Straits to the snow-covered bluffs that rise out of Lake Huron.
If you do come to Mackinac Island in the winter, you’ll feel as if you’re venturing to another planet, and it will be an unforgettable experience. But be prepared to find much of downtown in hibernation until the spring and be aware that relatively few services are available to visitors. For example, there are no public restrooms open in the winter outside of restaurants and hotels.
Also, when visiting Mackinac Island in the winter, you should dress warmly.
Here’s a look at the typical winter weather on Mackinac Island:
- November on Mackinac Island brings average daily high temperatures of 42 degrees, with nighttime lows of 31 degrees.
- December on Mackinac Island brings average daily high temperatures of 31 degrees, with nighttime lows of 20 degrees.
- January on Mackinac Island brings average daily high temperatures of 26 degrees, with nighttime lows of 12 degrees.
- February on Mackinac Island brings average daily high temperatures of 27 degrees, with nighttime lows of 11 degrees.
- March on Mackinac Island brings average daily high temperatures of 35 degrees, with nighttime lows of 19 degrees.
- April on Mackinac Island brings average daily high temperatures of 47 degrees, with nighttime lows of 31 degrees.
In addition to cooler temperatures from Halloween through Easter, Mackinac Island also gets a lot of snow. While it is possible for a few flakes to fall in October or May, almost all of the 94 inches of average annual snowfall comes from November through April. No wonder Mackinac Island residents tend to get around on snowmobiles in the winter!
January is the snowiest month of the year. So, if there isn’t already a nice base of snow on the ground by the time of Mackinac Island’s Great Turtle Drop on New Year’s Eve, then there will be soon. That’s why Mackinac Island State Park is a great place for cross-country skiing and fat-tire biking. Mackinac Island’s Great Turtle Twilight Trek, which is a lighted ski path through the woods, is definitely a winter activity that’s worth the trip for visitors.
Winter also tends to be a little windier than summer on Mackinac Island, which is all the more reason to spend time exploring the protected woods of Mackinac Island State Park. And because Mackinac Island is rather far north, the winter days can be pretty short. December and January only get about 9 hours of daylight each day.
Although regular tourist season ferry schedules cease at the end of October, you can still catch a ride to Mackinac Island on a ferry boat through the winter – at least until the water freezes. Flying to Mackinac Island is another option.
A few places to stay on Mackinac Island are open all winter, while a few others have availability on weekends and holidays. Most restaurants are closed, though you can usually get a table at Mustang Lounge. And Doud’s Market is open year-round for groceries and packaged meals.
But note that restaurants and places to stay can and will change their schedules without giving any notice, so please check and re-check what will be open when you plan to visit Mackinac Island in the winter.