The best time to go to Mackinac Island is hotly debated. The island may be surrounded by sea-blue waters and endless ocean-like waves.
But this Jewel of the Great Lakes sits in Lake Huron between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan–a spot that’s officially called the Straits of Mackinac.
And, like the rest of the Great Lakes region, there are four distinct seasons, with each one creating unique landscapes and opportunities for enjoyment.
The worst time to visit Mackinac Island maybe someone else’s favorite time. Visitors who love to stay engaged in activities throughout the day will be happy with all the options available to them for most months out of the year.
Those who prefer a slower pace along with the step-back-into-time vibe Mackinac Island is famous for providing will be delighted to know that, yes, the island is open and welcoming all year round–no matter the weather.
When to Visit Mackinac Island
The best time to visit Mackinac Island depends on your idea of pleasure. The warm temperatures and clear skies bring the most people to the island between May and October.
The earliest visitors, who would navigate there each year from 1000 BC to 1650 AD, saw this time as the best for fishing. The land was sacred to them and they called it Michilimackinac. Centuries later, after the occupation by Europeans, then settlement by Americans, the name was shortened to Mackinac.
Since then, particularly due to the beautiful Mackinac Island weather in July, it’s served as a family resort destination, as well as the home for many permanent residents who are drawn to its quaintness and natural beauty.
It’s one of the best road trips to take in the Midwest due to its excellent scenery no matter the season or time of year.
The most remarkable feature of Mackinac Island is the feeling of stepping into the 19th century. All motor vehicles have been banned since 1898.
Visitors and residents are most likely arriving at the island on one of the ferries that run as often as every 15-minutes during the summer months.
Alternatively, you can fly into the small airport, but your choice of arrival times will be significantly limited. The best way to enjoy the warm Mackinac Island weather during the summer is by exploring on a bicycle. Bring your bike with you across on the ferry or rent one when you arrive.
The island’s state highway, M-185, is an 8-mile loop along the shoreline, and without cars, it’s a cyclist’s dream all the way around.
Although the warmest months are considered the best time to go to Mackinac Island, the beaches are rocky and not made for swimming. But you can make stops along your ride, or walk, and cool your feet off in the refreshing clear waters of the lake.
Bike rental shops are everywhere and it’s probably the easiest and most convenient way to start your leisurely pedal about the island. If biking isn’t your thing, walking is just as fun. Either way, watch for manure on the streets from the horse-drawn carriages–another mode of transportation.
Hiring one of these horse-drawn carriages is a great way to get an overall view of Mackinac Island and your driver will provide you with a detailed tour filled with facts and suggestions on how to spend your time. Pack some lightweight travel clothing as it can get hot during the summer months.
If you do decide to bike or walk, find Arch Rock, a natural limestone 4000-year-old arch, and get a photograph. It’s an instant souvenir, especially if you find a frame from one of the many shops on Main Street before you leave.
For another perspective on the island, plan a couple of hours to rent a kayak, and explore the shoreline.
The best time to go to Mackinac Island–the breezy summer months–is also perfect for visiting Fort Mackinac, a museum that’s part of Mackinac State Island Park.
Established during the American Revolution, the fort was occupied by both British and American forces between 1780 and 1895.
It was also the scene of battle in the War of 1812 when the British, Canadian, and Native American forces seized the fort from the Americans that summer.
For an entrance fee, you can scout the fort and discover what life there was like for soldiers, officers, and their families. Watch demonstrations and hear stories from costumed guides too.
If you plan to visit during the best time to go to Mackinac Island, you can also make a reservation to be the one to help clean, prime, and then actually fire the cannon after a bugle calls reveille.
The minimum age is 13, so if you have younger teens with you, this is a huge memory-maker. Bring the camera!
The fort is also an active archaeological site. A team of researchers continues to sift for artifacts for further study into how the fort worked as protection and home for the thousands that lived and worked there throughout the 1800s.
When you’re ready to relax, find the expansive lawn in front of Mission Point Resort. Kick back in one of their iconic Adirondack chairs and watch the waves and boats out on the lake.
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Some of the best weather months on Mackinac Island are September and October. The temperatures are mild, the skies remain clear and the entire island is bathed in rich golden color.
With the days becoming shorter, catching a sunrise over Lake Huron doesn’t come as early as it does in summer. Take a cup of coffee and something fresh-baked out to the water’s edge and watch the night turn into day.
There are also plenty of other island activities to enjoy. Shopping on Main Street is taken to another level with massive sales happening in stores, plus extra street entertainment.
The best time to go to Mackinac Island for some is when the summer crowds are gone. Enjoy the quiet of Marquette Park adjacent to downtown and the wonderful restaurants without the wait for a table.
Another island treat is a stay at the famous Grand Hotel. Summer is peak season and you can expect to pay a premium for a few nights in their Victorian rooms and suites. Fall is when the best room and event packages are available.
Any time of the year, the Grand Hotel is a must-see for fans of the movie Somewhere in Time. In October, though, the property remembers and celebrates the role the Grand had in the film with special fan events.
But, perhaps the best time to go to Mackinac Island and visit the Grand Hotel may be at “Close the Grand” time when the hotel prepares to close the season by offering discounted rates and fun meal events.
Throughout the Grand Hotel’s grounds, autumn colors seem to drip from the tree branches painting the fall flowers in shades of gold, red, and copper. The Grand Hotel Flower Gardens are stunning this time of year.
Even if you’re not a guest, you’re welcome to stroll through. Walk through the gardens and along the cliffs, and you’ll be filled with a sense of romance, making you feel as if you did travel back in time.
Breathtaking views can be found whether you’re hiking, biking, or even horseback riding. Visit one of the stables and choose a horse to get a real historical perspective of the island.
With fewer crowds, all the trails, roads, and paths of Mackinac Island become much easier to navigate and accessible for everyone. In the fall, outdoor activities like these are comfortable at lower temperatures.
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Many believe the best time to visit Mackinac Island is in the spring when the island “opens for business” in late April. Again, Mackinac Island is not nearly as crowded at this time.
But you can still get caught up in the excitement of pre-season as attractions and stores prepare for the summer bustle. Hotels and inns offer some of their best rates at this time and accommodations are easier to find.
The weather is still cool but warming with each day. Spend a quiet morning watching the trees and flowers bud as you shake off winter and enjoy the sunshine.
There’s something romantic about watching the horse-drawn carriages making their early morning deliveries of supplies and food to the downtown hotels and restaurants too.
Later, find a high spot, like the island’s highest at Fort Holmes, for stargazing and watching meteor showers in the clear, dark-blue night skies. You’ll also get to see Mackinac Bridge as it lights up for the evening.
Mackinac Island is also a great place to celebrate the spring holidays of Easter and Mother’s Day. You’ll be able to make a reservation easily at one of the island’s restaurants without worrying about crowds.
You also won’t have to elbow your way through crowds as you visit the museums, natural limestone features, and historical landmarks around the island. Your pictures will look as if you had the entire island to yourself.
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For the Brave and Adventurous
You may think the worst time to visit Mackinac Island is in the winter. Winters in the Great Lakes region are indeed cold, snowy, and longer.
But, hey, it’s winter! It’s supposed to be, well, wintery. And, Mackinac Island wears her winters well.
Why You Should Still Visit Mackinac Island in the Winter
Due to the frigid winter Mackinac Island weather, even a large group of people out on the streets is hard to find. So, if church-level quiet and solitude are what you’re seeking, winter is your best season.
Spending time with family and close friends is made even more special when you’re enjoying time together inside or out. Getting to the island is still part of the fun if you can be flexible as weather conditions change quickly.
Ferries are running as long as they can clear the ice, especially for special winter events, and you can also catch a flight (weather permitting).
Many of the island’s lodges and inns are available for a cozy stay and they’ll be glad to see you. On Main Street, you’ll find stores welcoming shoppers including the famous, made-while-you-watch fudge shops.
You can smell the sweetness in the air as you pass by. There are also Christmas markets and bazaars kicked off by the annual Christmas tree lighting.
Rent a bike outfitted with wide winter tires.
Winter is the best time to go to Mackinac Island to see the sights blanketed with snow.
Watch the freighters break through the ice as they pass under Mackinac Bridge. Or blend in with the residents and go to one of the high school basketball games which are open to the public.
For New Year’s Eve, the entire island celebrates the end of the year with hayrides, special dinners and the downtown Annual Turtle Drop at midnight.
Finally, several times throughout the season, there is lantern-lit cross country skiing along a 2-mile groomed trail.
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Mackinac Island weather in July is some of the most pleasant around. With the number of things to do and see, the summertime is the hands-down favorite time to visit for most.
Fall and spring, however, offer as many activities with less crowded conditions. Restaurants and hotels are easier to find too. The weather is near perfect for spending time outside in the crisp air.
But, don’t discount winter. That’s when most things are discounted on the island. And with few other visitors, the quiet solitude of winter may make it the best time to visit Mackinac Island after all.