11 Fabulous Things to Do on Mackinac Island in the Fall

Makcinac Bridge
Photo Courtesy of imthomasbutcher

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Fall is Mackinac Island's sweetest secret. The air is clear, waters are calm and shorelines begin to glow in a rich patina of copper and gold. Autumn is when the island glides gracefully from the intensity of summer to the peak of fall when forests are transformed to ruby apple red, pear yellow and pumpkin orange. Long after fall foliage has faded elsewhere, the island still offers an applause-worthy color show that often stretches into late October.

1. Plan Your Trip Carefully

The Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Service operates until the Straits of Mackinac freeze over, though since the frequency of ferry runs change, you'll want to plan carefully for your trips over and back.

2. Shop Bargains on Main Street

Shopping’s become a true October “sport” too, with the Great Turtle Shopping Week, a festival of steep bargains, music, treats and giveaways. Original art is popular too, carried at shops like Mackinac’s Little Gallery, also known for equestrian-themed works, and Little Luxuries, featuring organic gifts and regional art. Hit Somewear on Mackinac for fashion finds.

3. Enjoy a Quiet Picnic at Marquette Park

Picnickers can spread out on the broad, half-empty lawn of Marquette Park at the end of downtown.

4. Dine Easily at Popular Restaurants

Visitors can even get a table at otherwise-crowded eateries, such as the Seabiscuit Cafe or Mary's Bistro.

5. Take a Carriage Tour 

 Another popular activity, step aboard the popular carriage tours with no wait required.

6. Stay at the Grand Hotel  

Hotel pricing runs like clockwork here; come a certain date on the calendar, prices drop and they're even better midweek. The Grand Hotel runs some of its most popular packages in autumn. The annual “Somewhere in Time” weekend offers a chance for fans of the Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour film to mingle with some of the original actors, listen to experts on the social mores of the Victorian era, even reenact scenes from the island-filmed cult romance. And that’s just one of several October events that showcase the island at its romantic—and sometimes quirky—best. Other packages are themed around ballroom dancing, murder mysteries, girlfriend getaways and even its seasonal closing. The “Close the Grand” special offers a reduced price, more casual “rules” and surprises like the buffet at which chefs whip up a feast from what's remaining in the pantry stock.

7. Explore by Foot 

Although things are calmer, autumn also brings a renewed vigor to the island. Everything feels as fresh and bright as the Grand Hotel’s perennial beds, bursting with dahlias big as softballs and vast drifts of black-eyed Susans. The weather makes you want to take a brisk morning walk along the East Bluff—with Victorian-Era summer mansions on one side, grand views of Lake Huron on the other.

8. Rent a Bike from the Mackinac Island Bike Shop

To cover even more territory, rent a bike from the Mackinac Island Bike Shop and start your journey on the easy 8-mile paved trail encircling the island. Here, you'll spin past cobblestone streets, beaches and clusters of wild daisies, bright against Lake Huron’s teal-green waters. Inland, 140 miles of carriage roads, bike trails and footpaths knit through a hilly and wooded landscape, past jagged limestone outcrops and historic cemeteries. More than 80 percent of the island is preserved as state park in Mackinac Island State Park, a stark contrast to the busy downtown fudge shops and ferry docks. Prepare for hills and solitude both as you head up options like Tranquil Bluff Trail, which traces the high eastern shore or even trickier inland trails.

9. Catch the Sunrise Paddle with Great Turtle Kayak Tours 

Come fall, you can sleep in a bit and still catch the sunrise paddle with Great Turtle Kayak Tours, where you head toward a buoy with clangs like church bells to watch the sun transform the horizon line to a vibrant pink. At Arch Rock, it's a tossup as to which formations are more impressive—those above the water line, or under. Martha's Sweet Shop makes a great stop for coffee and a snack before you head out to explore.

10. Take a Fall Color Tour Flight with Great Lakes Air 

What passes beneath as you soar some 1,000 feet above the island is a set of familiar landmarks, though in miniature, when you take a fall color tour by air. Great Lakes Air offers 20-minute fall color tour flights from which you can see 30 miles in any direction, even to Beaver Island on a clear day. But it's what's below that's most fascinating—the Grand Hotel resembling a Lego vacation palace; Fort Mackinac like the perfect perch for toy soldier play.

11. Go Horseback Trail Riding 

Cooler temperatures make for more lively horses at Cindy's Riding Stable which offers several options for trail riding on horseback. By horse, foot or bike, be sure you aim at some point toward Fort Holmes. The island's highest point, some 350 feet before lake level, is as perfect a vantage point for fall color viewing as it was for watching potential invaders.