Chill Season

Consider Mackinac Island if you’re looking for a relatively quiet Up North wintry retreat
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Mackinac Island Christmas Tree
Credit: Sara Wright + Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

One of my favorite Michigan islands is donning its snowy white coat and is aswirl in wintry beauty right now. And, yes, it’s open to visitors throughout the winter. Looking to enjoy the quiet side of Mackinac Island? Come on over!

Last year, we were invited by Mission Point Resort, located on the car-free island’s eastern end, for an off-season special event. We were able to enjoy a few days of colorful lights, caroling, hiking, and more the first weekend in December.

My husband and I arrived via a Star Line ferry (now the Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Co.) from St. Ignace (a 45-minute ride). We braved the whipping winds and freezing cold as we sat outside near the bow of the boat (I have photos to prove it!) because it was packed inside.

Over the weekend, we learned how to make a good cup of hot (and healthy) Ramen from Mission Point’s Executive Chef John Clement, and savored his many other creations. We loved climbing the stairs to the top of the glass tower in the Theater and Sound Stage building, where we enjoyed a multi-floor tour of the resort’s collection of Straits of Mackinac-area shipping and island lore. We stopped for photos on every floor as we looked out through frosty windows for a spectacular view of Round Island and the icy waterway. This area isn’t open for viewing right now, as there’s no public elevator to serve the four floors in the narrow tower. Mission Point’s owners say they’re thinking about how they can utilize this history-packed place in the future.

Winter on Mackinac Island
Credit: Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

We also threw on boots, hats, mittens, and gloves and cheerfully headed to the downtown tree-lighting ceremony, where the large Christmas tree on Main Street came to life with the glow of colorful lights and shiny bulbs. Carolers circled it in awe, singing holiday favorites, spectators clapped, and everyone sipped on hot beverages. Santa sled in, as well!

“People are very curious about what goes on here in the winter months,” says Tim Hygh, director of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau. The tree-lighting ceremony is just one of the select merry happenings that visitors can experience.

Hygh’s colleague, Stephanie Castelein, adds: “It’s pretty quiet in the winter, but hiking or biking the trails is popular in November and December. If it snows, people like to snowshoe or cross-country ski, but generally there isn’t a good base layer for those activities until January. Mostly, it’s about relaxing — reading, looking for beach glass, and seeing the island in a different way.”

Winter on Mackinac Island
Credit: Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Where to Stay? Above Mackinac condos, Pontiac Lodge, and Village Inn Suites are open year-round and all offer nice accommodations. Other inns and hotels, including Bicycle Street Inn, are open on certain weekends. As for businesses, the Mustang Lounge (fun times), Doud’s Market (America’s oldest grocery store), the Mackinac Island Public Library (really neat), and Island Hardware open their doors year-round, while other businesses are open for special weekends.

Best Bets: In addition to the Tree Lighting Ceremony on Dec. 2 at 5:30 p.m., check out the Christmas Bazaar, which features a bake sale, ice cream, and handmade items for sale Dec. 3-4 at the Community Hall. This year, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” presented by the Mackinac Arts Council & Mackinac Island Community Theater, plays Dec. 3 at 5:30 p.m. at the Mission Point Theater.

If you plan to visit during the special Dec. 2-4 weekend, you’ll find that in addition to the lodging that’s open year-round, Lilac Tree Suites, the Cottage Inn, Small Point B&B (which is open various weekends in the winter), and Mackinac House also are open for lodgers. Kingston Kitchen at the Village Inn will be open for visitors starting that weekend and then throughout the winter.

Winter on Mackinac Island
Credit: Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

A Mackinac Tradition: Want to ring in the New Year on the island? Watch the “New Year’s Eve Great Turtle Drop” on Dec. 31. The brave gather downtown at 11:50 p.m. to start the countdown at the Lilac Tree Hotel, where the Great Turtle is lowered, bringing luck and good cheer to the new year. There’s time to party before and after the drop!

Keep that turtle theme going and join in on the Mackinac Island Turtle Trek, Jan. 7 at 5:30 p.m. The lantern-lit, free cross-country ski and snowshoe event takes outdoors enthusiasts through some of Mackinac Island State Park’s prettiest trails — truly a winter wonderland. Guests need to bring their own skis and snowshoes.

The trail begins at Greeney Grove (at the corner of Arch Rock Road and Huron Road, just east of Fort Mackinac on the East Bluff) with a bonfire and hot chocolate. The usually tranquil two-mile route is groomed and lit by lanterns. The event is sponsored by the Mackinac Island Community Foundation, Mackinac State Historic Parks, and the Mackinac Island Ski Club.

Feel like walking sans all the equipment? Chad’s Wonderful Winter Walking Tours is open and awaits your reservation (visit mackinacisland.org for more information or call 248-425-1183).

Beyond these festivities and winter recreation, Castelein says, “The island is also a great (and quiet!) option for working remotely in the off-season. You could even catch up on work at the Mackinac Island Public Library. Guests can’t check out books since they don’t have library cards but they can peek in, get warm by the fire, or read a book/newspaper while there.”

For more information, visit mackinacisland.org, mackinacferry.com, and mackinacparks.com. Be sure to call ahead to make your reservation. In addition to arriving on the ferry, you can fly in via an air taxi with Fresh Air Aviation, freshairaviation.net. Check out the current weather on a live cam at wmta.org/live-west-michigan-camera-gallery.

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