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20 Roaring Ways to Celebrate Winter in the Straits of Mackinac

Things have certainly changed in the Straits of Mackinac over the past 100 years. In the winter of 1920, things would have been pretty quiet as the frozen Great Lakes waterways would have restricted some visitors from making their way to this historic area. Yet, some hearty souls would have made their way here aboard trains traveling from Detroit, Chicago and other southern cities. Today, the Mackinaw City area is one of the coolest winter destinations with a variety of outdoor adventures and relaxing indoor settings to warm the mind, body and soul!

  1. Hit the trails on Saturday, January 11 as the entire Great Lakes State celebrates Winter Trails Day!
  2. Join us for the 27th Annual Mackinaw City Winter Festival, January 17-18 – with snow sculptures, a chili cook-off, ice fishing tournament and more!
  3. Build an Outhouse? Why not elevate your Winter Fest experience by competing in the 2020 Mackinaw Pepsi International Outhouse Race on Saturday, January 18. Put your creative and engineering skills to the challenge for this unique winter contest.
  4. Take to the ice. As the Great Lakes and area inlands lakes freeze over, it’s time to do a little fishing. Chas Thompson, a member of and USA Ice Team, offers up some thoughts about this Pure Michigan winter sport: February 15-16 is the Michigan DNR Free Fishing Weekend).
  5. Hit the trails! Mackinaw City is centrally located to provide snowmobile access to the Straits area. Utilize the north central State Trailhead located off of Crossing’s Drive to experience the DNR’s groomed routes, connecting Mackinaw to Cheboygan, Petoskey, Gaylord, Rogers City, Alpena and places south. The Mackinac Bridge Authority offers a ride for you and your sled north across the Bridge for $10 plus $2 additional for an extra passenger to access the trails north of the Bridge. For trail conditions in the area, click here.
    Did you know? 
    Most years, the ice in the Straits of Mackinac is so thick that area residents place old Christmas trees along a “safe route” between St. Ignace (Upper Peninsula) and Mackinac island for those who want to snowmobile between the two communities. NOTE: The Coast Guard cautions people that the ice bridge is extremely dangerous. It usually is open for a short period due to the fluctuating winter temperatures and having strong winds blowing the ice out of the area in a matter of hours. If you have not seen the exquisite movie, Ice Bridge – Mackinac Island’s Hidden Season you must get a copy! Click here to read about it and to order it.
  6. Take a snowshoeing trek! Thousands of years ago, snowshoes were essential to travel during the winter months in the Great Lakes region. Today, it offers a fun excursion option for families.
  7. Be open to adventure. Big Bear Adventuresin Indian River (just 30 miles south of Mackinaw City off I-75) offers 90-minute guided winter rafting trips along the Sturgeon River—note as the fastest in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Offered for group up to 12, with three trips a day, seven days a week, this is a great way to experience the winter season in a unique way. Big Bear also offers cross country ski and snowshoe rentals and will help coordinate packages for all their seasonal activities.
  8. Try your luck! Kewadin Casino in St. Ignace features Vegas-style gaming and entertainment with over 1100 slots, poker, blackjack, roulette, keno, craps and more! Other Kewadin locations can be found throughout the Upper Peninsula in Sault Ste. Marie, Hessel, Christmas and Manistique).
  9. Look Up! The Headlands Dark Sky Park, stretching out along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, is the id-eal location to catch a glimpse of the illusive Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), meteor showers and other celestial events – like the January 10, February 9 and March 9 full moons.
  10. Learn more about our famed Mighty Mac! Opened in 1957, this Modern Marvel is a true Pure Michigan monument. If you’re interested in more of the history, facts and figures – as well as current conditions via the “Bridge Cam” – check out the website for the Mackinac Bridge Authority.
  11. Grab your binoculars! Be on the lookout for the beautiful Snowy Owls, which are known to spend their winters in the Straits of Mackinac area.
  12. Warm up! The Crown Choice Inn & Suites Lakeview & Waterpark is home of Mackinaw’s largest indoor waterpark with a 72,000-gallon, 84° indoor pool, an oversized whirlpool, sauna, waterslides, 500-gallon tipping bucket, water cannons and many other features.
  13. Take a trip back in time! Even though it is winter, the grounds of the Mackinaw City Historical Society Heritage Village are open for you to walk past historic structures including the Detweiler Log house, Freedom School, General Store, Stimpson Homestead, Heritage Chapel and more.
  14. Grab a bite. Pasties, whitefish and chili, oh my! When hunger strikes, stop in to one of Mackinaw City’s restaurants to satisfy your cravings and warm up with your hearty seasonal favorites.
  15. Bundle up and take in a game! The LaBatt Blue UP Pond Hockey Championships return to Lake Huron’s Moran Bay in St. Ignace, February 13-16. First held in 2007, this annual sporting event now features over 200 teams playing on 30 75-foot x 150-foot rinks with over 250 games throughout the full weekend.
  16. Try Geocaching…yes, even in the winter! This high-tech treasure hunt involves using a GPS to find a container (or cache) using specific coordinates. Northern Michigan’s many geocache spots combine hiking, birding, wildflower and leave viewing, wildlife and other outdoor recreation and natural attractions. There are hundreds in the Straits Area and some unique and amazing locations in Mackinaw City. To get started sign up at and download waypoints to your smart phones or visit the Mackinaw Public Library computer lab for coordinates.
  17. Go on a Self-Guided Sculpture Tour. Scattered around Mackinaw City are several wooden sculptures carved by Jerry Prior, each depicting a personal of historical importance in town. He started wood sculpting in 1989, shortly after he retired from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), where he worked as a road designer. The first was completed was Chief Wawatam, which stands in Wawatam Park. Next, it was a statue of Alexander Henry—a fur trader at Fort Michilimackinac; followed by British Major Arent Schuyler DePeyster—who once commanded Fort Michilimackinac; Perry Darrow—a civic-minded village resident; Edgar Conkling—Mackinaw City’s founder (standing proudly in the park that bears his name); and Hattie Stimpson—one of the city’s first residents.
  18. Go on an Elk Viewing Excursion. Just about 80 miles south/southeast of Mackinaw City is one of the state’s prime elk viewing sites—the Pigeon River Country State Forest and Elk Range in Gaylord, one of the largest free-roaming elk herd east of the Mississippi (with 105,000 acres). The best times to view elk are at dawn and dusk. NOTE: Elk should be appreciated at a distance and individuals should not try to approach the animal.
  19. Explore the Arts! The Mackinaw City Area Arts Council offers a series of classes and events throughout the year – including an exhibit during the annual Winter Festival, January 17-18 at Mackinaw Clothing and Sportswear Store on Central Avenue.
  20. Grab a camera (or your phone)! Winter in Mackinaw City is magical…a great time to snap pictures of everything from our lighthouse exteriors to Mackinaw Crossings to the shoreline and the ice formations under and around the Mackinac Bridge. Be sure to share these with us on social media! #MakeItMackinaw

For lodging reservations throughout the winter season, visit