This Michigan bucket list item is brought to you by Mackinac State Historic Parks.
Established in 1909, Michilimackinac State Park rests at the northernmost tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula just a couple blocks north of downtown Mackinaw City. About half of it is in Emmet County, while the other half is in Cheboygan County.
Local residents and tourists have enjoyed the scenic allure and rich history of Michilimackinac State Park for more than a century. Every visit is a wonderful outdoor experience with plenty of open grass and paved sidewalks. With the beautiful Straits of Mackinac in the background, the park is home to a couple of popular attractions and other features.
Parking & the Visitor’s Center
The main parking lot is located in front of the Visitor’s Center, which is just off Straits Avenue underneath Mackinac Bridge. It’s free to park here. The Visitor’s Center serves both Michilimackinac State Park and Colonial Michilimackinac. When you start your visit here, you have the chance to look at pamphlets and books about Mackinac and get suggestions from the friendly staff about what to see.
If you choose to visit Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, or other historic sites, you can purchase tickets in the Visitor’s Center. Don’t forget to ask about combination tickets to save money while getting the most out of your visit. Additionally, the Visitor’s Center offers drinks and light snacks, is near two sets of restrooms, and has a Museum store that sells branded merchandise and gifts. Picnic tables are nearby, too.
Consisting of the 18th-century Fort Michilimackinac and fur trade center, Colonial Michilimackinac is a reconstructed attraction that’s based on historic maps and archaeological excavations. French soldiers built the fort in 1715, and the fortified space became a fur trade center until it was relocated to Mackinac Island in 1781.
This reconstruction takes you back to a time when fur traders and Native Americans bargained, British and French soldiers organized war plans, and explorers embarked on journeys into the West. Live demonstrations and guided tours give you a look into how people of the area maintained their livelihood and responded to real and imagined threats.
At key locations around the fort, you’ll encounter cooking, crafting, and trading demonstrations. You’ll also see historical interpreters dressed as soldiers, merchants, and voyagers. Several exciting programs have been planned for summer 2021.
Fort Michilimackinac has 16 buildings, and each features period furnishings or themed exhibits. France at Mackinac, Redcoats on the Frontier, Powder Magazine and Firearms on the Frontier, and Treasures from the Sand are must-see displays. However, there are even more.
Also at Colonial Michilimackinac are a couple of short films that cover different times in the fort’s history. If you want to learn more about the excavations at the fort, you can watch archaeologists at work on one of the longest ongoing excavations of its kind in the United States.
In the South Southwest Rowhouse of the fort, you’ll find accessible restrooms and a refreshment area. Additionally, it’s the location of the Heartside Museum Store which sells souvenirs and gifts.
Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
Since 1889, ship navigators have depended on Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse to light their way through the Straits of Mackinac. The keeper’s quarters have been renovated according to its appearance in 1910, and there’s a gallery exhibit featuring original artifacts and interactive displays about the tower’s history.
Throughout the day, a costumed interpreter shows how the Fog Signal Whistle works. You can watch the presentation in front of the Fog Signal Building.
In the reconstructed warehouse on the lighthouse grounds is the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum. Here, you can explore audiovisual displays and original artifacts regarding the many shipwrecks in the Straits of Mackinac. A 15-minute video about the shipwreck plays on repeat in the Barn as well.
Other Michilimackinac State Park Features
Located next to Colonial Michilimackinac and surrounding Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse is Alexander Henry Park. It has more than 1,700 feet of accessible pathway along the waterfront. Near the center of Michilimackinac State Park and close to the water is the Bridgeview Gazebo, which is available to rent for events. The picnic tables and charcoal grills around the park are free for anyone to use.
More Interesting Stops Near Michilimackinac State Park
After a stop at Michilimackinac State Park, be sure to explore other nearby attractions. Start with the Mackinac Bridge, aka The Mighty Mac. Towering over the park, it connects Mackinaw City to St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As you drive across, you get stunning views of the Straits and can see historic Mackinac Island to the east.
To learn more about the bridge, return to Mackinaw City to visit the Mackinaw Bridge Museum. It’s located above Mama Mia’s Pizza and features documents, photographs, and other items from the bridge’s construction.
Next, venture west to McGulpin Point to tour the lighthouse grounds and Discovery Trail, which tells the history of the property. At the shore, you can see the McGulpin Rock that Native Americans and French explorers used to navigate between the two peninsulas.
Close by, Headlands International Dark Sky Park consists of about 550 acres of woodlands. As you walk or bicycle the marked nature trails, you could see a range of native wildlife. As an International Dark Sky Park, it’s an amazing place for stargazing and viewing the Northern Lights in Michigan.
Exploring Other Parts of Emmet County
Following the Lake Michigan shoreline west, you’ll come across Wilderness State Park, which has 26 miles of sandy shoreline and 20-plus miles of hiking and biking trails. You can go swimming, paddle boating, and fishing in the water. Near the park headquarters is a picnic area with charcoal grills and tables.
Continuing south along the shoreline takes you to the M-119 or Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route. It’s one of the most iconic scenic drives in the state and country. Along the road are historical sites, activities, and spectacular views. It stretches for 20 miles and is a wonderful access point to the Petoskey area.
The Best Restaurants to Sustain Your Northwest Michigan Adventure
At the beginning of the Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route, get breakfast or lunch at the Old World Cafe in Cross Village. The menus feature European-inspired dishes. When you get to downtown Harbor Springs, grab an award-winning snack at Tom’s Mom’s Cookies. Farther down the M-119, you can have a unique dining experience at the Polish Kitchen, which cooks authentic Polish cuisine.
As you enter Petoskey, some other restaurants also serve international cuisines — Mim’s Mediterranean Grill and Aamchi Mumbai Indian Cuisine are highly rated. In downtown Petoskey, you can order local, healthy sandwiches and salads at Julienne Tomatoes. If you need a dose of caffeine to keep going, North Perk Coffee roasts and serves the finest coffee in the area.
Lodging Options Near Michilimackinac State Park
If you’re planning on staying in or near Mackinaw City, you won’t go wrong with our lists of the best hotels in Mackinaw City or Mackinaw City vacation rentals. There are also several campgrounds nearby that offer tent, RV, and cabin camping options near Michilimackinac State Park: