Every year, there are many sure signs of spring — the chirping of birds, sunny days, warmer temperatures, and flowers in full bloom. Since 1949, one of the surest signs of spring in Michigan is the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival.
Every June with the smell of lilacs in the air, Mackinac Island, one of the jewels of the Mitten State, hosts this 10-day Michigan spring festival, which hosts a wide variety of events for visitors of all ages.
The 2023 Mackinac Island Lilac Festival is June 9-18, 2023.
The History of the Lilac Festival on Mackinac Island
Lilacs have thrived for years on Mackinac Island because of good soil, adequate rainfall, and winter hardening, which has given Mackinac Island lilacs incredible strength. While the origins of the first lilac plant on the island vary, the island is home to some of the biggest and oldest lilac plants in the world.
Among the more than 250 kinds of lilacs that bloom during spring on this Upper Peninsula island, the lilacs that visitors see each June are from the same lilac plants that were on the island more than 200 years ago.
The origins of the festival sprang from the minds of Evangeline Horn and Stella King, who came up with the idea for a Mackinac Island Lilac Day on June 20, 1948. In 1949, the day turned into a full-fledged festival with a queen and court.
Now, it’s a 10-day festival that has added events and activities over the years and is attended by hundreds of people. The dates are timed to be as close as possible to when the lilacs bloom. The purple and white bunches of lilacs are symbols of the festival, generally taking place in early-to-mid June.
Where to See Lilacs During the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival
On Mackinac Island in June, you don’t have to go very far to see, or smell, lilacs. Hundreds of lilacs can be found all over the island, but the Harbour View Inn reportedly has the oldest known lilac blooms on the island.
If you really want the inside scoop on lilacs, master gardener Jeff Young, who serves as the horticulturalist for the festival, offers guided walking tours. Tours with the Mackinac Island lilac expert give visitors a chance to see lilac trees up close and take lots of great pictures.
Mackinac Island Lilac Festival Activities
Events at the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival have varied from year to year. But, festival mainstays include the coronation of a Lilac Queen, a lilac poster contest, the lilac parade through downtown Mackinac Island, and a 10K run and walk.
The grand parade serves as the culmination of all the festival fun and moves east to west down Main Street. Parade-goers are advised to get there early to secure a spot. Since no cars are allowed on Mackinac Island, the horse-drawn lilac parade really is a sight to see because all of the floats are drawn by draft horses, such as Clydesdales.
In addition to these mainstay activities, the festival may feature:
- Sip N’ Sail Cruises
- Watercolor lilacs
- A collection of Mackinac Island Lilac Festival posters
- Walking tours
- Tours of Fort Mackinac
- Lilac Planting seminars
- Movies at Fort Mackinac
- Free concerts at Marquette Park
Where to Stay on Mackinac Island
Once you take a ferry trip to the island, you’ll find lots of lodging opportunities at places that are family owned. If you plan to stay for a few days during the festival, book your room early because they fill up fast.
One of the most unique things about staying on Mackinac Island is that there are no chain hotels. Instead, you’ll find cozy and accommodating cottages, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and even condos that only add to the enjoyment of your island stay.
Some of the best places to stay on Mackinac Island include the many bed-and-breakfasts and vacation rentals on Mackinac Island (Airbnb & VRBO), as well as these Mackinac Island hotels:
- The Grand Hotel is well known even outside the Mitten State. With traditions of afternoon tea, croquet, bocce, and nightly dancing, it screams fancy and offers great views of the Straits of Mackinac. It also features the World’s Largest Porch.
- Downtown Harbor Suites and Penthouse are located on the waterfront above the ferry docks, offering perfect views of the harbor and Round Island. The penthouse has panoramic views inside and outside via large waterfront windows.
- Haan’s 1830 Inn is one of several B&Bs on the island and features unique, finely furnished guest rooms.
Even if you don’t stay at the Grand Hotel, it’s still worth a stop to see the huge front porch.
Where to Eat on Mackinac Island
Everything on Mackinac Island is unique, and the food is no exception. Like the hotels on the island, you won’t find chain restaurants, but you will find eateries packed with personality.
In downtown Mackinac Island, you can find just about anything, whether you need a cup of coffee in the morning or a burger and beer for dinner. Here are just a few of our favorite Mackinac Island restaurants to try during the Lilac Festival:
- The Murray Hotel offers mouthwatering Mexican favorites like tacos and burritos.
- Carriage House Dining serves American cuisine with some international influences, as well as features nightly piano music.
- The Chuckwagon is a go-to spot for hearty breakfasts, sandwiches, and unique burgers.
- If you’re on the go, Doghouse at the Windermere Hotel has several different hot dog varieties alongside pop, water, and ice cream.
- Cannonball Oasis is right on the beach and serves a little bit of everything from hot dogs to barbecue beef to sandwiches to fried pickles and snacks.
- The Feedbag at Surrey Hills is the perfect spot to go for a snack, such as daily fresh-made doughnuts, hot dogs, popcorn, drinks, and pretzels.
There’s plenty to nosh on during a Mackinac Island visit, but if you’re there, you absolutely have to get some of the island’s famous fudge. There’s nothing quite like the sweet smell and rich taste of fudge, and you’re likely to leave Murdick’s, Ryba’s, or another fudge shop with caramel corn or saltwater taffy too.
More Fun on Mackinac Island
The Mackinac Island Lilac Festival is an attraction with fun for all ages. But if it has been a while since you’ve visited or you’ve never visited before, there’s a lot to see and do on Mackinac Island in addition to the festival events.
The island famously doesn’t allow cars, so you can walk, take a carriage ride, or rent a bike to tour the island. You can’t go wrong whichever way you choose. While you’re touring the island, here are some highlights that we recommend.
If you love history, pay a visit to Fort Mackinac. This fully restored, former military post is made up of more than a dozen different buildings that allow visitors to take a trip back in time.
Butterfly House and Insect World
There are plenty of shops to stop into and poke around, but if you like being outside and doing outdoor activities, Mackinac Island has you covered.
A visit to the Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House and Insect World lets you see hundreds of butterflies, many of which are native to four different continents. You get an ID chart with your admission, which is helpful if you know next to nothing about butterflies.
Mackinac Island State Park
If you’re looking for good spots for nature photos, aside from lilacs, visit the island’s parks. Mackinac Island State Park covers more than 80 percent of the island and features several well-known rock formations.
For instance, there’s the 146-foot tall natural limestone formation known as Arch Rock and a 75-foot limestone stack called Sugar Loaf. You can also see a natural cave known as Skull Cave and several freshwater springs, including Dwightwood Springs.
More Historic Sites
In addition to the fort, the island has several historic sites that are worth a visit:
- At the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, you can watch a blacksmith in action and even buy some of the blacksmith’s wares.
- The Biddle House is a piece of living history and offers special programs, including cooking lessons. Also, it’s home to the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, which features artifacts from the early 1800s.
- The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum focuses on all things Mackinac Island and features Native American beadwork, photography, and art among its displays.
Plan Your Mackinac Island Lilac Festival Adventure
A visit to Mackinac Island for the annual Lilac Festival could become one of the most memorable trips you’ll ever have. Not only will you see the beauty of nature in thousands of beautiful lilacs around the island, but you can also take in all kinds of fun activities from the Grand Parade to a tour.
Once you’ve soaked in all that the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival has to offer, explore the rest of the island on your own. No matter where you go, it’s hard not to have a fun adventure on Mackinac Island.