Mackinac Island State Park
Geographic Location: Mackinac Island, in Lake Huron
Length: 8.5 miles
Difficulty: 7/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2012
Overview: A grand walking tour of a famous resort island.
Park Information: http://www.mackinacparks.com/mackinac-island-state-park/
Google Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=125709
Directions to the trailhead:
Mackinac Island is only accessible by boat. Commercial ferries run regular schedules from on the Mackinac City Lower Peninsula and St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula. This hike starts at the commercial ferry dock on Mackinac Island.
The hike: Here’s a trivia question: what do
and Mackinac Island, Michigan have in common? Answer: they were the first two national parks in the Yellowstone, Wyoming United States. lasted only a few years before the island was transferred to the state of Mackinac National Park Michigan in 1895 to form the first state park in Michigan and one of the first state parks in the country. The story of Yellowstone National Park is the stuff of legends.
The first man of European descent to discover
Mackinac Island was Father Jacques Marquette when, in 1671, he established a mission to the Huron Indians on the island. During the Revolutionary War, the island was a British stronghold. The British built on the high bluff overlooking the island’s south harbor, and the position was so strong that the Americans never seriously threatened it. Fort Mackinac
After soldiers left the island, the fur trade, fishing, and tourism became the island’s main focus. The Island House, opened in 1852, is
Mackinac Island’s oldest continuously operating hotel. In 1887, the luxurious Grand Hotel opened. In 1898, automobiles were banned from the island, a ban that continues today.
As a result of the automobile ban, visitors today tour
Mackinac Island via one of three means: bicycle, horse-drawn carriage, or walking. At 3 miles long by 2 miles wide, the island is small enough so that all of the major sites can be seen by foot in a single day. The most popular route is SR 185 around the perimeter of the island, but only a small portion of the island can be seen that way. To visit all points of interest, you will need to use a route through the island’s interior such as the one described here. If you plan such a tour, I recommend taking an early morning ferry to the island so you can get out of the downtown area before the late morning crowds arrive.
Starting at the ferry docks in downtown Mackinac Island, turn right on Main Street and walk a couple of blocks to Fort Street, where you should turn left and begin the steep climb to historic Fort Mackinac. For an additional fee,
can be toured in just under an hour. Take the tour if you wish, or continue straight on Fort Mackinac Fort Street to bypass.
|Fort Mackinac, as seen from Main Street|
At 0.8 miles, you pass
St. Ann’s Cemetery. The cemetery itself dates to 1924, but some of the headstones in this area date to the 1800’s. This area had an eerie calm feel when I hiked here on a warm, cloudy, summer morning.
|Gate to St. Ann's Cemetery|
Continuing straight, the road passes
, the runway of which is visible across the field to the left. Just past the airport, turn left onto gravel Mackinac Island Airport State Road at an unsigned intersection. The next point of interest is Crack-in-the-Island, and the signed single-track dirt trail of the same name leading there exits to the left in 0.3 miles.
1.9 miles into the hike, you reach Crack-in-the-Island. True to its name, Crack-in-the-Island is a large crack in the island’s bedrock. Cracks such as these appear all over the island, but most of them are not as large or visible as this one. A few thousand years ago,
Lake Huron had a much higher water level than it does today, and these cracks result from ancient lake shorelines. Interpretive signs explain the process.
At 3.1 miles, you reach British Landing. British Landing marks the point where British troops arrived on
Mackinac Island in the War of 1812. From this point, they retraced much of the route you just hiked to take control of from the Americans. They would hold the fort for the rest of the war. A concession stand with yummy treats and restrooms is located here during the summer months. If you choose to have a snack, watch out for aggressive sea gulls that seek to steal your food. Fort Mackinac
Exit British Landing by picking up the single-track dirt British Landing Nature Trail (not to be confused with the paved British Landing Road), which starts to the right of the concession area. Interpretive signs point out some of the plants along the trail. The trail climbs very gradually and crosses two gravel roads to arrive at Friendship’s Altar. Located at the base of a steep bluff, Friendship’s Altar is a stack of limestone slabs cemented together by calcium carbonate. The stack stands about 10 feet high, so take a minute to admire the intricate formation.
For the next mile the Tranquil Bluff Trail curves right to follow the top of the island’s main bluff line and pass through nice white pine forest. No other trails enter or exit here. Of all the trails on the island, this is the one you are most likely to have to yourself. At 4.6 miles, the Swamp Trail exits to the right. The Swamp Trail is designated as a horse jumping trail, meaning that wooden barriers have been constructed on the trail that horses must jump over. Continue straight to remain on the Tranquil Bluff Trail.
|Tranquil Bluff Trail|
4.7 miles into the hike, you cross paved Scott’s
Cave Road, where you must angle slightly left to remain on the Tranquil Bluff Trail. The trail now becomes more rugged with some brief but steep ups and downs. The bluff drops steeply to the left here, and vertical cliffs lie between you and Lake Huron, so take care not to fall down the bluff. On the bright side, some nice blufftop views of Lake Huron open up to the left.
The next point of interest is Sugarloaf Rock. To get there, leave the Tranquil Bluff Trail on any of the connecting trails that exit right to reach paved
Leslie Avenue. Continue south on Leslie Avenue to its intersection with the North Bicycle Trail. Turn sharply right to begin the North Bicycle Trail. The trail climbs gradually as a couple more horse jumping trails exit right and left.
At 6.6 miles, you reach Sugarloaf Rock. Sugarloaf Rock is another stack of breccia limestone like Friendship’s Altar, but this one stands 75 feet tall and is the tallest such formation on the island. A clearing around the rock allows good views from every angle.
Arch Rock may be the most scenic site on the island. Located 146 feet above
Lake Huron, wind and water carved the 50-foot wide limestone arch out of the bluff. Even better, from this vantage point high atop the bluff you can look down through the arch and see the Lake Huron shore as if it were framed in a picture. Every bicycle or horse-drawn carriage tour seems to stop here, so you will not be alone at this overlook.
|Lake Huron, as seen through Arch Rock|
|View of downtown Mackinac Island from southeast blufftop|
At the base of the bluff, you reenter the developed area of the island and quickly arrive at a junction with
Main Street. To head for the ferry docks, turn right on Main Street. On the way back to the downtown area, you will pass the Butterfly Conservatory, the Island House Hotel mentioned earlier, and the . Enjoy a well-earned meal or dessert ( Mackinac Art Museum Mackinac Island is famous for fudge) before catching the ferry back to the mainland to complete your day on the island.