Mackinac Island is such a popular Michigan destination that most people fly right past an equally as great vacation spot: Mackinaw City. Despite its name, this 'city' is actually home to just as many seaside activities as the island across from it in the Straits waterway. The only thing that's missing is the fact that it's not an island but it is a peninsula, and with beaches that look like these, you won't miss a thing.
Mackinaw City is also a great balance of all the attractions and necessities you might need from a city, while also being close enough to the water (and the wilderness) to also feel as though it's a secluded lakeside getaway. There's truly something for everyone there and, for travelers who are still keen on seeing Mackinac Island, the ferry to it runs right out of the city - so there's no love lost! So, when the ferry is crowded with travelers going away for the weekend and you're considering other options, look no further than the port city out of which everyone else is sailing.
Headlands International Dark Sky Park
Avid stargazers will be familiar with the term 'dark sky park' and probably didn't know that there's one right in Mackinaw City. While it might seem a bit unusual to start off with a park that you can't even see after the sun goes down, it's not what's at the ground level that visitors will be observing. Rather, it's what will be right above their heads! This park spans just beyond 550 acres of land and was a designated park back in the 1950s. During the day, visitors are treated to various wildlife sightings such as osprey, whitetail deer, coyote, wild turkeys, and bald eagles.
It's also home to a vast expanse of woods as well as a coastal shoreline that makes for a perfect lakeside vista on a sunny afternoon. At night, though, this park is transformative. Replacing the wildlife sightings and flora is an ink-black sky, against which thousands of stars are set. It became an official dark sky park in 2011 and, thanks to virtually zero light pollution, stargazers can witness anything from meteor showers to rare constellations and planets.
Outdoor And Recreational Thrills
Mackinaw City isn't just home to one park, it's home to several, all of which offer various degrees of difficulty in hiking trails. However, it's not only hiking that gets visitors' adrenaline pumping. This city is also home to Mackinaw Falls Zip Line, which takes visitors souring four stories in the air offering views of waterfalls and tree canopies below. It's perfect for thrill-seekers and offers the option for sitting, hanging, or Superman-style zip line launches. If that's not enough to get your adrenaline pumping, then head on down to Big Bear Adventures.
This company has been procuring water excursions for more than 30 years and offers thrilling rides along the Sturgeon River, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and tubing trips. The park is also home to an 18-hole golf course, bumper boats, and ropes challenge course. Everything visitors need to get their thrill on is right in this park, and it's also across from Burt Lake State Park - so if a hiking trip is also on the list, you can kill two birds with one stone.
Something For The History Buffs
History buffs, get ready because Mackinaw City is home to not one but two impressive lighthouses. The first is Old Mackinaw Point Light which was founded in 1889. This lighthouse was responsible for guiding ships past the point where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet. It's an impressive sight from the outside and in wonderful condition, but visitors can also pay a small fee to explore the inside of the lighthouse and visit the gift shop afterward. The second lighthouse is the McGulpin Point Lighthouse & Historic Site, which was once responsible for the safe guidance of ships from passing storms, fog, and rocky shores back in 1869. Exploring this lighthouse and its grounds is a great experience and its history still feels very much alive.
For those looking to get a little bit more personal with Mackinaw's history, then Colonial Michilimackinac (try saying that five times fast!) is the place to be. Fort Michilimackinac was first constructed in 1715 by the French and today, it's an open-air park that takes up 37 acres. Among the views of the Great Lakes, visitors will learn about the fort's early purpose and how it was eventually used as a meeting point to discuss war tactics.