12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Mackinaw City, MI
Mackinaw City, Michigan is the last stop on the Lower Peninsula before crossing north into the wild and rugged Upper Peninsula. For hundreds of years, the area that is now Mackinaw City has been a vitally important crossing point, guarding the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. It is a stunningly beautiful part of northern Michigan, with loads of history, nature, culture, and things to do.
The first European settlement came in 1715 when the French built Fort Michilimackinac, which has been preserved and recreated and is one of the top historic sites in Mackinaw City.
Today the small town is a thriving tourist hot spot for those wanting to cross the Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula, ride the ferry over to Mackinac Island, or simply explore the historic sites and natural beauty of Mackinaw City itself.
If you're planning a trip to northern Michigan, here are the best things to do in Mackinaw City.
1. Explore Colonial Michilimackinac
Mackinaw City is rich with U.S. history. The settlement of the region dates back to the late 18th century, though the area has been inhabited for far longer. But some of the earliest traces of European settlement can be found here at Colonial Michilimackinac.
The 18th-century fort and fur trading village has been reconstructed, so visiting is truly like taking a time machine back to the early days of Michigan. Colonial Michilimackinac is frozen in 1779 during the American Revolution. Along the way, you can chat with British soldiers, French-Canadian merchant families, and other historic figures.
You will be able to enjoy 13 reconstructed buildings, as well as exhibits, shops, and a visitor center. The views from Colonial Michilimackinac are also spectacular, with some of the best spots to look at the Mackinac Bridge and the Upper Peninsula across the straits.
Address: 106 W Straits Ave, Mackinaw City, Michigan
2. Take a Ferry to Mackinac Island
One of the top selling points of Mackinaw City is that it is the gateway to the nearby Mackinac Island. Mackinac Island is a historic legend in Michigan, home to the famous Fort Mackinac and other tourist attractions.
The car-free island is like taking a step back in time and seeing this part of the country as it has been for hundreds of years. Get around the island on horse-drawn taxis.
Throw in some beautiful landmarks, natural beauty, and restaurants, and it's easy to see why Mackinac Island is one of the best islands in the country.
To get over to the island, residents and visitors take Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry. The seasonal ferry takes travelers back and forth to Mackinac Island.
But the ferry service is also used for other trips for those who are planning to stay based in Mackinaw City. Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry also offers scenic cruises, lighthouse cruises, and Night Sky cruises for a chance to see the stars like you never have before.
3. Gaze Out at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park
One of the most magical places on Earth, The Headlands is 550 acres of untouched woodlands right on the edge of Lake Michigan. In fact, the park has more than two miles of pristine shoreline on the lake.
One of the many reasons people visit the Headlands is to experience its Dark Sky Preserve. Dark Sky Preserves are unique locations around the world that are protected because of their lack of light pollution, meaning they are the top places in the world to see the stars.
The Headlands is one of the first 10 International Dark Sky Parks in the world, though now there are many more than 10 around the world.
Stargazing is the top attraction here, no matter the season. Every season has a new swath of constellations to show off as the Earth rotates around the sun. If you're lucky, you may be able to catch a meteor shower or the spectacular dances of the northern lights.
Address: 15675 Headlands Road, Mackinaw City, Michigan
4. View the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
Another touchstone in the history of Mackinaw City is the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, established in 1889. The purpose of the lighthouse was to help ships sail through the Straits of Mackinac. Today it operates as both a monument and a library dedicated to the history of the region.
The museum is open seasonally, but the grounds are open year-round. If you're visiting in the warmer months, you can explore exhibits like the Keepers' Quarters, which have been restored to their original 1910 look. Other exhibits are dedicated to the fog signals, audiovisual displays, and original artifacts.
If you're interested in exploring the tower, you can also take a tower tour, which takes place at various times throughout the day and is free of charge. You will have one of the best views of Mackinac Bridge from the small beachfront in front of the lighthouse, as well.
Address: 526 N Huron Ave, Mackinaw City, Michigan
5. Drive the Mackinac Bridge
One of the most beautiful bridges in the world can be found right here in Mackinaw City. The Mackinac Bridge connects Mackinaw City across the Straits of Mackinac over to the Upper Peninsula.
It is the longest suspension bridge in the Americas, with a length of 8,614 feet suspended. This also makes it one of the longest suspension bridges in the world.
Driving over the bridge is an opportunity to see some gorgeous views over Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Known as the Mighty Mac, the bridge was designed to sustain high winds and changes of weight, and its deck can shift right or left as much as 35 feet at the center.
It truly is a feat of engineering and one of the top landmarks in the state of Michigan. For many, it's the gateway to a world of adventure that awaits in the UP.
6. Mackinaw Bridge Museum
Speaking of the bridge, the Mackinaw Bridge Museum is a great spot to take your education of the landmark to the next level. The museum was founded by J.C. Stilwell, who just happened to be one of the ironworkers who helped build the bridge. The museum is free of charge and houses many different things that were used to help construct the bridge, from construction equipment to uniforms of the ironworkers.
The museum sits above MaMa Mia's Restaurant, which is also owned by J.C. Stilwell. After a tour of the museum, the restaurant is a nice, cozy spot to stop for a hot, comforting Italian meal to refuel.
Address: 231 E Central Ave, Mackinaw City, Michigan
7. Visit the Icebreaker Maritime Museum
Meet "The Queen of the Great Lakes." USCG Icebreaker Mackinaw WAGB-83 was built as part of the war effort in World War II to transport materials throughout the winter months – hence the name, Icebreaker.
Today the historic vessel lives in her home of Mackinaw City and is used as the Icebreaker Maritime Museum. Visitors can explore the 290-foot ship.
Unlike other ships that were stripped during decommission, the Icebreaker Mackinaw is perfectly intact. While aboard, visitors will have the opportunity to visit the Mess Deck, Captains Quarters, Bridge, Engine Room, Sick Bay, and other preserved spaces.
As part of a museum visit, guests can see the engines, equipment, furniture, charts, and tools perfectly preserved in time. Don't forget to catch the view of the Straits of Mackinac from the fantail – it's spectacular.
Address: 131 S Huron Ave, Mackinaw City, Michigan
8. Get Lost at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park
What was once a vital part of the lumber industry in Mackinaw City has been transformed into an exciting, adrenaline-pumping adventure park. The Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park is one of the oldest industrial sites on the Upper Great Lakes peninsula, providing a series of adventure courses for the strong of heart.
Mill Creek was once used to cut timber into lumber. Today the banks of the creek are home to the Forest Adventure Experience – a guided trek that takes you into the treetops, scaling the five-story Treetop Discovery Tower, crossing a Forest Canopy Bridge, and flying down a 425-foot Eagle's Flight Zip Line.
You can still learn about the history of the creek, as well, thanks to costumed interpreters who show how the water was used to turn timber into lumber. You can even take part in the experience thanks to the "Farming at Mill Creek" programs.
Of course, you don't have to head up into the trees to have fun here. The park also has three miles of trails that wind through 625 acres, featuring wildflowers, wildlife, and more than 130 species of birds.
Address: 9001 W, US-23, Mackinaw City, Michigan
9. Stop by McGulpin Point Lighthouse & Historic Site
Not far from the Headlands Dark Sky Preserve is McGulpin Point and its historic lighthouse. The purpose of the McGulpin Point Lighthouse was to protect ships as they navigated the Straits of Mackinac through fog, storms, and rocks. It was in use between 1869 and 1906.
Today the 10-acre property is available for tours between May and October. Guests can even book the McGulpin Point Cottage for overnight accommodations on the grounds. It's a unique way to experience one of the oldest lighthouses on the Strait.
While visiting the lighthouse, you may also want to explore Big Rock. While the French were exploring the Straits of Mackinac, they used "The Big Rock" to gauge water levels as they navigated in canoes between the Upper and Lower peninsula. The written history of the rock goes back to at least 1615.
Address: 500 Headlands Road, Mackinaw City, Michigan
10. Relax at Wawatam Park
Mackinaw City is not short on green space – particularly green space that offers beautiful lake views. Not far from the marina, Wawatam Park is a lovely lakefront park that is known for its gorgeous vistas over the Straits.
During the warmer months, it's not uncommon to see kayakers paddling offshore. This is one of the best ways to see the city in its entirety. Wawatam Park is also on the Mackinaw City Historic Trail, if you're interested in seeing historic sites of Mackinaw City. The park has some of the best views of the bridge, as well.
Make a day of it and bring a picnic, or set up near one of the grills that are available for public use. The park is one of the top places to visit for locals and visitors to enjoy the outdoors in Mackinaw City.
Address: 300 N Huron Ave, Mackinaw City, Michigan
11. Get Spooked at the Haunted House
You don't have to wait until Spooky Season to get a good scare in Mackinaw City. The city is home to its very own haunted mansion that provides daily frights, no matter the time of year.
Mackinaw City Haunted Mansion is an automated haunted house that uses animatronics, special effects, and sound technology to give visitors thrills and chills as they wind their way through the creepy manor. Expect three-dimensional monsters; bone-chilling music; and many, many morbid surprises along the way.
Address: 114 S Huron Ave, Mackinaw City, Michigan
12. Cycle the North Central Trailhead
The North Central State Trail is one of the most explored trails in the state of Michigan, running for 75 miles from Gaylord to Mackinaw City. It has become one of the top cycling trails in the Midwest.
The trail is made from crushed limestone, and is a relatively flat trail with only subtle elevation changes. Along the way, cyclists will have stellar views of Michigan's natural beauty. Cross through the Sturgeon River Valley; cruise along Mullet Lake; and pass through the towns of Gaylord, Vanderbilt, Wolverine, Indian River, Topinabee, Cheboygan, and, of course, Mackinaw City.
The trailhead in Mackinaw City has plenty of parking, restrooms, interpretive signs, and a pavilion.