Mackinac Island has many rock formations, but the most famous and unique of them all is Arch Rock. It stands 146 feet above Lake Huron, which is nearly 15 stories tall and is more than 50 feet wide. Every year, over 500,000 people visit this geological landmark accounting for many of the tourists who visit Mackinac Island. What makes Arch Rock Mackinac Island so special, though? We’ve put together a guide with everything that you would want to know, including how to get there, nearby attractions, and lodging options.
The History and Legend of Arch Rock
Arch Rock is a natural limestone geological formation that developed during the Nipissing post-glacial period, which occurred about 7,500 years ago. At that time, Lake Huron sat at a much higher level. Arch Rock is a unique formation because the type of limestone — breccia — is rare in the Great Lakes region. Also, the arch took thousands of years for it to form. Erosion of the rock continues because it’s porous, which allows moisture to enter through cracks, freeze, and expand. In fact, this process is how most cave systems are created.
The Native Americans believed Arch Rock Mackinac Island to be a place of spiritual power. Some of them viewed it as a bridge to another realm where departed spirits could find a resting place in the island’s caves after death. However, there are many legends and stories about it. One is about a young woman who waited for her lover to come home after battle, but when his tribe returned without him, she leapt off the cliff to join him. Another legend is about a Master of Life who was greatly offended by an Ottawa chief’s shameful act, so he turned the sun red and sent it toward the island, creating the hollowed-out appearance of the rock.
When Euro-Americans arrived on Mackinac Island, they didn’t believe the legends and stories. Instead, they were simply curious and in awe of Arch Rock. In August 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that it has an “extraordinary shape.”
A New Visitor Center Proposed
Currently, there’s a restroom facility near the Arch Rock site, but it’s 50 years old and could use some upgrades. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has proposed replacing it with fully accessible restrooms and adding a visitor center with geology exhibits and other information about the park. Although there’s no time frame for the project, the new governor wants to name the new facilities after former Governor William G. Milliken, who spent quite a bit of time on Mackinac Island in the governor’s summer residence and at his own cottage after his service in office.
The Location of Arch Rock on Mackinac Island
Arch Rock Mackinac Island rests on the southeast part of the island. Its uniqueness is one of the reasons why locals pushed for the island to become Mackinac National Park, which occurred in 1875 and made it the second national park after Yellowstone. Although it became Mackinac Island State Park in 1895, making it the first Michigan state park, the rock formation has always been a protected part of it.
Currently, the state park encompasses 1,800 acres, which is about 80% of the island, including permanent residences, Mackinac Island Airport, and many important geological and historical features. The park welcomed its 20-millionth visitor on July 15, 2009.
How to Get to Arch Rock
There are several paved roads and trails that lead to Arch Rock. You can use these routes to walk, bike, or ride a horse-drawn carriage to the formation. Renting horses without a carriage is an option as well. There are several Mackinac Island biking rental companies and a few carriage and stables to choose from:
- Mission Point Mackinac Island
- Island House Bikes
- Mackinac Wheels
- Mackinac Bike Barn
- Ryba’s Bicycle Rentals
- Mackinac Island Carriage Tours
- Gough Carriages Private Livery
- Jack’s Livery Stables
In general, Arch Rock Road and Arch Rock Bicycle Trail are the most-used routes from downtown. How much time it takes to hike to Arch Rock Mackinac Island depends on your pace, but the full trail is 2.2 miles and easy to walk. Additionally, here are a few examples of how far it is from downtown Mackinac Island to Arch Rock:
- Grand Hotel — about 1.5 to 2 miles
- Butterfly House — about 1 mile
- Mission Point Resort — about 1 mile
In addition to the above routes, you could bike or ride a carriage to Arch Rock via the M-185 (Lake Shore Drive), which circles the entire island along the Lake Huron shoreline and doesn’t allow automobiles. From below, there are 207 stairs that lead up to the formation.
Photos of Arch Rock Mackinac Island
Since the first European-Americans to be on Mackinac Island viewed Arch Rock as a geological curiosity, there are photos of the soldiers and residents sitting and standing on it. Today, though, climbing onto the natural limestone arch is strictly prohibited for everyone’s safety and its structural integrity. Instead, there’s a platform that you can stand on. It gets pretty close and offers sweeping views from Arch Rock of Lake Huron and Canada.
Things to Do Near Arch Rock
There are quite a lot of things to do on Mackinac Island that are near Arch Rock. Here are a few of the closest and (in our opinion) most interesting attractions to visit.
Below the formation on M-185 is Dwightwood Springs. Of the other springs across the island, this one is the most popular, probably because the clear, cold water flows at the bottom of the stair trail to Arch Rock. There are benches and a pergola at the site, and everything there is dedicated in memory of Dwight Hulbert Wood, who sacrificed his life in a 1905 accident, saving his brother in the process.
Fort Mackinac served as a military outpost and residence between the late 18th and late 19th centuries. The British built it during the American Revolutionary War to control the straits and fur trade. Later, it was the scene of two battles between the British and U.S. Army during the War of 1812 for control over the Great Lakes. Now, it’s a museum with very interesting exhibits.
Situated on Mackinac Island’s highest point, Fort Holmes is a supplementary fortification originally built in 1814 by the British during the war. The foreign soldiers used it to defend Fort Mackinac against the U.S. Army.
A small and shallow cave, Skull Cave is the hiding place that Alexander Henry, an English fur trader, used while surviving the Pontiac’s War of 1763. Now part of Mackinac Island State Park and a intriguing photo stop, the cave used to be a graveyard.
Butterfly House Mackinac Island
With the third-oldest live butterfly exhibit in the country, The Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House and Insect World is a world-renowned, 1,800-square-foot facility. It has a tropical garden and hundreds of butterflies from four continents. The facility includes Insect World too, which features the heaviest bug in the world, 16-inch walking sticks, various beetle species, and other live insects.
Great Turtle Kayak Tours
For an adventurous view of Arch Rock Mackinac Island from Lake Huron, make a reservation with Great Turtle Kayak Tours. It offers Arch Rock excursions and sunrise/sunset tours that include a paddle by the rock formation. All of the tours are about two hours and suitable for all skill levels. You can choose between a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard.
Best Places to Stay Near Arch Rock Mackinac Island
If you want to know where to stay on Mackinac Island for easy access to Arch Rock, the two closest options are Small Point Bed & Breakfast and Mission Point Resort. However, the Grand Hotel is a delightful resort as well. Here’s some information about these accommodations, but you can even find Airbnb Mackinac Island rentals near the natural limestone arch.
Small Point Bed & Breakfast Mackinac Island
Arch Rock is only a four-minute bicycle ride from Small Point Bed & Breakfast via M-185. The Gothic Victorian architecture is stunning, and it has eight uniquely designed guest rooms. You can book a stay from Memorial Day through the end of October.
Mission Point Resort Mackinac Island
Just a six-minute bicycle ride to Arch Rock on M-185, Mission Point Resort is a waterfront property with 18 acres. The guest rooms and suites are spread among the Main Lodge and Straits Lodge, the latter of which has dog-friendly lodging. Moreover, the property features four restaurants, a movie theater, putting course, pool and hot tubs, spa and salon, and more.
Grand Hotel Mackinac Island
Via M-185, it takes about 10 minutes to ride a bike to Arch Rock from the Grand Hotel. The resort offers a truly one-of-a-kind experience that transports you into a bygone era of afternoon tea, evening dancing, and old-world charm. Along with unique rooms and suites, it has its own restaurants, golf course, lawn games, swimming pool, spa and salon, shopping, and more.
Share Your Visit to Arch Rock
After your Arch Rock Mackinac Island adventure, we’d love to see the images that you’ve captured. Share your photos and a little bit about your trip with us!