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Mackinaw City is considered the “Crossroads of the Great Lakes” for good reason. Officially named “The Village of Mackinaw City,” this charming community is central to dozens of unique locations and activities along the Lake Michigan and Lake Huron shorelines, as well as the vast woods and waters of both Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. This autumn, take a trip to the “Tip of the Mitt” and explore Michigan’s most colorful season.
Here are the top 8 things to do in Mackinaw City this fall:
One of the state’s most spectacular drives, Michigan Highway 119, is a scenic tour of quaint villages with unforgettable vistas of Lake Michigan and vibrant fall foliage. Also known as the Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route, M-119 becomes engulfed in broadleaf and pine trees, creating a colorful canopy of leaves over passing cars on some parts of the drive. Narrow, winding, and just plain fun to drive, M-119 from Cross Village south to Harbor Springs is a must-do autumn adventure. Distance: 24 miles to the north end, 36 miles to the south end.
You can find prime elk viewing about 80 miles south of Mackinaw City in the Gaylord Area. Pigeon River Country State Forest, with its sprawling 105,000 acres, is home to one of the largest free-ranging elk herds east of the Mississippi. The most popular time of year to view elk is during the breeding season in September and October when elk are feeding in open grassy areas and bulls are bugling. Note that elk should be appreciated at a distance and individuals should not try to approach the animal. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources published an Elk Viewing Guide with more information about this unique experience.
With 3,200 miles of shoreline, Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state. The Straits of Mackinac hosts more than a dozen of these historic navigational aids. Standing majestically against the backdrop of the Great Lakes, these lights remain a testament to the state’s early maritime history. Among those open to the public this fall are Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and McGulpin Point Lighthouse.
There are several other lighthouses in the area that are viewable from the water. To see off-shore lighthouses, make a reservation for a delightful lighthouse cruise on Shepler’s Ferry. Onboard, you'll learn about Michigan’s maritime history from expert guides while taking in picturesque views of the water-based structures and stunning coastline.
With more than 300 waterfalls, there are plenty of opportunities to catch picture-perfect cascades on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Tahquamenon Falls State Park is located just 80 miles north of Mackinaw City and enchants visitors with its main feature; the Tahquamenon River and its photogenic waterfalls. As the second-largest falls east of the Mississippi, Upper Falls has a drop of nearly 50 feet and is more than 200 feet wide. The falls have earned the nickname “Root Beer Falls,” thanks to the brown hue imparted by tannins from the cedar and hemlock swamps along the river. Located four miles downstream is Lower Falls, a series of five smaller cascades that can be viewed from the riverbank or by rowboat for a closer look.
While there are plenty of open-air places around Mackinaw City to look at stars, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park is the premier location for unobstructed views of the night sky. Designated an IDA International Dark Sky Park in 2011, Headlands is the perfect spot for impressive views of the autumn constellations and a harvest moon September through October. Whether you’re an amateur stargazer or a professional astronomer, you’ll appreciate the park’s unique grounds, trails, and shoreline viewing areas. Headlands is located just two miles west of downtown Mackinaw City.
With more freshwater coastline than any other state, thousands of inland lakes, and more than 36,000 miles of rivers and streams, it’s easy to see why Michigan is top-class territory for fishing. Not to mention the state has nearly 150 different species of fish. There are many Blue-Ribbon trout streams within a short drive of Mackinaw City, including the Au Sable, Maple, and Sturgeon Rivers in the Lower Peninsula, and the Tahquamenon, Fox, and Two Hearted Rivers in the Upper Peninsula.
Nearby Wilderness State Park, French Farm Lake, and Paradise Lake are favorite fishing spots for Bass, Pike, and Bluegill. If you’re willing to venture further for some deep-water fishing, Bois Blanc Island on Lake Huron is known to have some of the best Salmon, Steelhead, Muskie, and Whitefish fishing in the state.
During the fall season, sweeping colors, crisp autumn air, and calm waters elevate Mackinac Island’s charm. Catch a short ferry ride from Mackinaw City to the island, where horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are a part of everyday life (no motorized vehicles allowed). Immerse yourself in Mackinac’s beautiful architecture and immaculately preserved history by visiting iconic landmarks such as the Grand Hotel, Fort Mackinac, The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, and the newly reconstructed Fort Holmes.
While there are many excellent options for grub from casual fare to fine dining on the island, you can’t miss sampling Mackinac’s signature fudge. Sweet-toothed visitors can treat themselves to endless flavors of fudge and irresistible confections from about a dozen candy shops in the area. Among them is Ryba’s Fudge Shops, who have been handcrafting traditional fudge from family-owned recipes for decades.
It is Halloween season, after all. Historic Fort Michilimackinac turns into Fort Fright, a haunted experience typically held in early October at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City. Tour an 18th-century fort and village ravaged by werewolves, witches, and other ghostly creatures and participate in other spooky activities suitable for the entire family.
The Mackinaw Area Historical Society & Heritage Village hosts two fall events in October. The annual Ghost Supper celebrates Native American culture and tradition by honoring the deceased with a community meal and ceremony. Family-friendly Fright Night takes place in the evening. Trick-or-treaters can collect goodies from costumed docents at buildings throughout the historic park, enjoy refreshments at a bonfire, and listen to scary stories. If you’re looking for a good scare, check out the Mackinaw Manor Haunted House or the Mackinac Island Haunted Theater on Mackinac Island for a frighteningly fun time.
Learn more about everything Mackinaw City has to offer and request your free Visitor's Guide.
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