Spring Break, Blossoms & Birds in the Straits of Mackinac Area

Spring is a beautiful time of year in the Mackinaw City area, as the winter melts away and nature comes out of its deep slumber. Mackinaw City businesses and hotels are celebrating the start of spring with vacation specials and events during the 4th Annual Mackinac Meltdown, including:

April 1-16 — Spring Break Splash at Pirate Cove Waterpark

Things are heating up inside…with $5 fun, April 1-16 at the Pirate’s Adventure waterpark inside the Crown Choice Inn & Suites Lakeview (720 S. Huron Avenue). Mackinaw’s largest indoor waterpark features a pirate head tipping bucket, three waterslides, bubbler jets, crawl tunnels, water guns, climbing nets, an oversized indoor pool and a whirlpool sauna. Call 231-436-5929 for details.

Saturday, April 6 (11am-2pm) — Taste of Mackinaw

Enjoy delicious foods from local restaurants as well as craft beer and wine at the Mackinac Island Brewhouse & Mackinaw Island Winery inside the Mackinac Bay Trading Company downtown on Huron Avenue, across from Conkling Heritage Park. Tickets are $10 per person.

Saturday, April 6 (1-4pm) – Mackinac International Bridal Expo

Love is in the air and the Straits of Mackinac is an ideal (and popular) place for couples to celebrate their big day. Exhibitors will be set up inside Mackinaw Beach & Bay (929 S. Huron Avenue) throughout the afternoon showcasing dresses, cakes, accessories, wedding venues, music and more. Admission is $5 per person.

Plenty of seasonal activities are planned to celebrate the arrival of spring and all its beauty—from the flora to fauna to astronomy to aviary throughout March, April and May!

Discover Birds of Prey at Raptor Fest!

Birding is currently the second fastest growing hobby in the United States after gardening, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service who also reports that over 2 million Michigan residents are birdwatchers. Every year thousands of hawks, eagles, vultures, and owls follow the contours of Lakes Michigan and Huron, ending up at the Straits of Mackinac where they must cross a 5-mile expanse of water. To save energy, the birds use rising air drafts to lift them high in the air, and then they glide across the Straits. While no longer protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle remains protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch conducts scientific studies and takes inventory of hawks, owls and other raptors migrating through this region of northern Michigan, educating the public about the birds and their migration. Their largest annual event is Raptor Fest, April 3-5. This three-day event provides great views of migrating raptors, interesting sessions and educational workshops.

Savoring Michigan’s sweet treat…maple syrup!

Did you know that maple sugaring is Michigan’s oldest agricultural activity…dating back to the earliest Native Americans? Or, that Michigan ranks #5 in the nation for production of maple syrup…generating more than $2.5 million for the state’s economy?

The longer, warmer days means sap begins to flow in the maple trees that dot the landscape around the miles of woodland trails. In the furthest reaches of Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park visitors can find the Maple Sugar Shack, nestled along one of the hiking trails. While the sugaring season will have wrapped up by the time the interpretive season begins at here in May, guests can still find the shack and interpretive panels detailing the history of sugaring in this area and the process of doing it.

Beauty from the ground…wildflowers abound!

One of the surest signs that spring has arrived in the north woods is the appearance of an abundance of beautiful wildflowers covering the forest floor. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, there are at least 18 wildflowers native to Michigan including Arrowhead, Beach pea, Black-eyed Susan, Dwarf Lake Iris (Michigan’s official state flower, a threatened species only found in the Great Lakes region), Harebell, Purple coneflower and others. Other spring beauties include the Yellow Trout-lily, Spring-beauty, the Large-flowered Trillium and the smaller Nodding Trillium, Marsh Marigold or Cowslip and Jack-in -the-Pulpit.

Head out along the hiking trails at Wilderness State Park, The Headlands International Dark Sky Park, at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park and along sections of the North Country Trail. Please remember that trillium are protected in Michigan and that picking them is illegal (but photographing them is recommended).

Foraging from the forest floor…morels, ramps and fiddleheads!

In addition to an abundance of wildflowers, spring means the arrival of wild edibles – such as morels, ramps and fiddleheads – the most hunted spring treasures. May is morel month in Michigan but depending on the weather these illusive fungi can be found as early as April and as late as mid-June, especially the further north you go. Morels begin to pop up along the woodland floor when the daytime temps reach around 60–65 degrees while the evening temps stay above 50 degrees. As you search, look along southwest facing hills where the sun’s rays warm the ground around tree groves mixed with living, dead and dying ash, elm, oak and aspen trees. Given there are a lot of “false morels” and other poisonous mushrooms, it is advised to take a guide (either a person or a printed book) to help you identify a true morel. If you can’t find them in the woods, look for them on the menu of area restaurants during the spring season – topping fish, chicken or steak, fried to a crispy goodness or cooked into a creamy bisque.

Cast a hook, line and sinker!

Fishing really is a four-season activity here in the Great Lakes State, but as the ice melts and the temperatures rise, the rivers, streams and lakes become a hotbed for a variety of species. The Straits area offers opportunities for migratory steelhead and salmon, as well as other freshwater fish. Spring fishing begins in April when the smelt begin to run, followed by trout season in late April and walleye season which opens mid-May. As we move into summer, look for lake perch and bass off the coast of Wilderness State Park or head to Paradise Lake, just five miles south of Mackinaw City, where bass, pike, walleye and panfish are plentiful. Be sure to check the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for specific season dates and licensing information.

Hunting Michigan’s beloved Petoskey Stone!

Many people think that Petoskey Stones can only be found in Petoskey. Yet this hexagon fossilized coral (Hexagonaria pericarnata) from a coral reef that existed during the Devonian era 350 million years ago, can be found along the Lake Michigan shoreline from the Sleeping Bear Dunes area as far north as the Straits of Mackinac. Spring is the ideal time to scour the beaches for rocks that have been churned up over the winter, before the thousands of tourists have had the time begin their search. Established as Michigan’s state stone in 1965, the Petoskey Stones were formed as a result of glaciation, in which sheets of ice plucked stones from the bedrock, grinding off their rough edges and depositing them in the northwestern portion of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

Please note, Michigan State prohibits individuals from removing more than 25 pounds of rocks or minerals per year from state parks, recreation lands and Great Lakes bottomlands.

Look to the skies…and beyond!

Although there is no way to predict when Northern Lights (aurora borealis) will light up the sky, the Straits area provides the perfect night sky conditions for viewing this unique phenomenon. Northern Lights are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere, creating dancing color of lights such as green, pink and purple. Located along the Lake Michigan shoreline just south of Mackinaw City, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park is a popular place for settling in for the sky show.

Dig into Local History!

The Mackinaw Area Historical Society Heritage Village invites you to learn a little about the area during their lecture series, with programs taking place at the Mackinaw Area Public Library (528 W. Central Avenue). Upcoming presentations include Native American Teaching and Learning the Traditional Way (April 13) with Adel Easterday and Gardening the Colonial Michilimackinac Way (May 11) with Lee Ann Ewer. Of particular note is that the Mackinac State Historic Parks is celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2020…with parks opening for visitors in early May.

For spring travel ideas and lodging options, visit MackinawCity.com.

Snowy Owls Spend their Winters Around the Straits of Mackinac

Snowy Owls have recently been observed in Cheboygan, St. Ignace and on the Mackinac Bridge. It is still early December, but these beautiful arctic visitors are starting to appear throughout the Midwest in good numbers. During the past several winters snowy owls have been frequent visitors to Mackinaw City, and there should be prime opportunities to see them here this winter.

Local places to watch for Snowy Owls include open areas along the Mackinaw City shoreline, light poles, tops of buildings and out on the ice once it forms in the Straits. If you are lucky enough to see a Snowy Owl, don’t get too close and it may just stay put for others to enjoy. If you want to see a map of where some Snowy Owls have been seen locally, visit https://ebird.org/map/snoowl1. If you want to learn more about the migration of owls and other raptors in the area, the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch is a great resource.

In early December 2017, a Snowy Owl was observed sitting at the base of the cannon located near the entrance of the Colonial Michilimackinac parking lot. It had been there for most of the day and cars entering the lot were passing within a few feet of it. Concern grew that it may have been injured, perhaps by a passing vehicle on the Mackinac Bridge which crosses over the parking lot.

Mackinac State Historic Parks Curator of Natural History Jeff Dykehouse, who has a state and federal bird banding permit, captured the owl to see if it was injured. It had no obvious injuries, so an aluminum numbered band was put on its leg. According to the Bird Banding Lab with the U.S. Geological Survey, bird banding is a universal and indispensable technique for studying the movement, survival and behavior of birds. Over 1.2 million birds are banded, and more than 87,000 encounters with banded birds are reported annually.

According to Dykehouse, the owl was most likely an immature bird, as is the case with most snowy owls in this area at this time of year. After the owl was shown to some of the other park staff members, it was released inside Colonial Michilimackinac and eventually flew up to the roof of one of the fort’s buildings.

19 Ways to Soak Up the Fall Colors in the Straits of Mackinac

Mackinaw City is considered the “Crossroads of the Great Lakes” for good reason – it is central to dozens of unique locations and activities along both the Lake Michigan and Lake Huron shorelines, as well as the vast woods and waters of both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. This autumn, bring the family, friends or consider a solo trip to the “Tip of the Mitt” to explore Michigan’s most colorful season.

Generally, the annual seasonal show peaks in stages, beginning at the top of the state in the Upper Peninsula, where it gets cooler first. Peak color is usually found in the U.P. between mid-September and early October; in the northern Lower Peninsula between late September and mid-October and so on.

Color patterns, however, depend greatly on the weather as well as other factors including lake-effect warming, which delays color changes near Great Lakes and inland water shorelines. In addition, cooler valleys or exposed hills may see color changing faster. Weather conditions in summer and early September largely determine how brilliant each season’s colors will be. Pure Michigan is keeping an eye on the colors for us all, so bookmark this page and check back weekly for updated conditions!

There are nearly 150 different species of trees in Michigan’s 18.6 million acres of forest. Our state boasts a colorful mix of yellows, reds, golds and oranges. Some of the most beautiful colors are displayed by such hardwoods as aspen, maple, birch, sumac and oak. When combined with a background of evergreen forest, the result is one of the best shows in the nation.

As you make plans to visit the Straits of Mackinac area during the fall season, consider these unique ways to enjoy the color show!

Go with the GLOW! This exciting 5K will offer prizes for the glow-iest man, woman and team…as well as the largest team in the competition. This evening run begins at 9pm on October 5 at The Trailhead in Mackinaw City. Contact the Mackinaw City Chamber of Commerce to register!

Scare Yourself! It is Halloween season, after all. Fort Fright is a “haunted” experience held October 4-6 (6:30-9:30pm) at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City. Explore the wooden palisade of the Fort at twilight and experience the legends and lore of the Native Americans, French Canadians and British who called this site their home.

If you’re headed to Mackinac Island, check out the Haunted Theater or Mackinaw Manor Haunted House, both located right downtown on Huron Street.

Celebrate the History of the Season! The Mackinaw Area Historical Society & Heritage Village is hosting two ghostly events on Saturday, October 26. The annual “Ghost Supper – Spirit Feast” is planned from 12-4pm. This event is steeped in Native American culture as a traditional time of remembering and honoring deceased loved ones and relatives through the offering of food and tobacco (semaa) at a community meal. The tobacco is offered to the spirit fire, in honoring our ancestors at this gathering! While a food plate is prepared to feed the ancestor’s at the spirit fire. The ghost supper shares elements of All Souls Day (November 2) and Mexico’s Day of the Dead (November 1 – November 2) and Halloween. Guests are invited to bring a favorite dish of an ancestor to share (along with one’s own table setting). The celebration also includes a sacred fire, drumming and singings throughout the afternoon.

That evening, “Fright Night” runs from 5-7pm. Here, costumed docents greet trick-or-treaters who will walk the ‘frightfully’ decorated grounds from building to building in this historic park.   There are bewitching graveyards and candle lit paths leading trick or treaters to decorated buildings.  Trick or treaters will enjoy give aways, refreshments at the bon fire and a scary story or two.

Check out the Monarch Migration. Keep your eyes open for the fluttering of monarch butterflies as they begin their 2,000-mile migration through northern Michigan to Mexico, where they’ll spend the winter season. It’s quite a site to see. Read more here.

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 most popular time to view elk is during the breeding season in September and October when they are feeding in open grassy areas and bulls are bugling. 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. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has published a Viewing Guide online, to provide more information about this unique experience.

Photograph Waterfalls. The Upper Peninsula is home to more than 300 waterfalls, ranging in size from under five feet to more than 48-foot vertical drops. Michigan’s largest falls is Tahquamenon – located just 80 miles from Mackinaw City. The centerpiece of Tahquamenon Falls State Park’s 50,000 acres, the Upper Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi with a drop of nearly 50 feet and more than 200 feet across with a water flow of more than 50,000 gallons per second. For more, check out this feature on Michigan’s Majestic Waterfalls.

Star Gazing & Moon Viewing. While there are plenty of open air places around Mackinaw City to look at the stars, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park is the premier location for unobstructed views.

Take a Scenic Drive. Michigan is home to many Pure Michigan Byways which celebrate the state’s outstanding natural beauty and many sites of historical, scenic, recreational and cultural significance. Several of these routes are easily accessible from Mackinaw City…read more here. The Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau has even established a specific Fall Color Tour Route, which will take you along some of the most scenic sites in northern Michigan!

Celebrate Michigan’s State Parks Centennial! In May, 1919, the Michigan State Park system was officially established and today features more than 100 unique venues across the state’s two peninsulas. Locally, Wilderness State Park is a wonderful four-season destination and a highlight to the Straits of Mackinac. Here are “19 Things You May Not Know About Wilderness State Park” for those of you interested in more history!

Hike the North Country Trail. The North Country National Scenic Trail passes through seven northern states, from New York to North Dakota—traveling extensively through Michigan’s two peninsulas. When completed, the 4600-mile trail will be the longest continuous hiking trail in the United States. Coming out of Petoskey, the trail travels through Mackinac State Forest and Wilderness State Park where it follows the Lake Michigan Shoreline to Mackinaw City. The trail enters town on the southern border and its entire one-mile stretch inside the village is also a paved DNR Rails-to-Trails project named the North Western State Trail. From the trailhead, there is also access to the DNR’s North Central State Trail, which will take you from Mackinaw City south to Gaylord. For those wanting to continue north via the Mackinac Bridge, The Bridge Authority provides a shuttle to the trail’s Upper Peninsula connector. FYI – September 22-29 is Michigan Trails Week!

Explore Michigan’s National Forests & Lakeshores. In the 1920s and 1930s, the US Government started a “resettlement program” which provided for direct purchase of marginal ag land and resettled those people onto more productive lands. Most of the purchased land was set aside for National or State forests. Michigan has four National Forests, two of which are within close proximity to Mackinaw City.

Go on a Cemetery Tour. Take a ferry ride over to Mackinac Island and explore one of the three cemeteries found there—two civilian and one military. Ste. Anne’s Catholic Cemetery is the largest of the three; the Protestant Cemetery is referred to by locals as “The Mackinac Island Cemetery”; and The Post Cemetery is the military site with grave dating back to the War of 1812 with both British and American soldiers buried there. The Post Cemetery is designated as a National Historic Landmark and the flag here continually flies at half-mast—one of only four National Cemeteries with this honor. All three are adjacent to each other on Garrison Road, in the middle of the island, and are open to the public during daylight hours.

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. Read more about Prior’s unique works of art by reading “History Carved in Wood.”

Climb a Lighthouse. Michigan has more lighthouse than any other state (at nearly 120) and the Straits area is home to more than a dozen of these historic navigational aids. Among those open for tours during the fall season are Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse (1892-1957) and McGulpin Point Light (1869-1906). Read more about the history of our area lights here. And, for more about HAUNTED lights in the area, check this out!

Try Geocaching. 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 geocaching.com and download waypoints to your smart phones or visit the Mackinaw Public Library computer lab for coordinates.

Collect leaves. Remember in high school biology when you had to collect leaves as part of a class project. This is a great multi-generational project to get you out on the local trails and in the parks to hand select the prettiest of leaves. Consider pressing them between pieces of wax paper, just like when you were a kid. Head out into the trails at Wilderness State Park, The Headlands or Historic Mill Creek to begin your search!

Cast a Line. Michigan boasts more freshwater coastline than any other state (3,177 miles of Great Lakes shoreline) as well as more than 11,000 inland lakes (more than Minnesota, FYI) and 36,000-plus miles of rivers and streams…with nearly 150 different species of fish. There are also many “Blue Ribbon Trout Streams” within a short drive of Mackinaw City such as the AuSable, Maple and Sturgeon Rivers in the Lower Peninsula (among 35 total) and Tahquamenon, Fox and Two Hearted in the Upper Peninsula (among 13 total). For more about fishing in the area, click here.

Swing the Sticks. Fall is a perfect time for a round of golf—the crowds, bugs and prices are reduced versus the peak summer season. In the Mackinaw City area, check out Cheboygan Golf & Country Club or The Mackinaw Club.

Take a Trolley Tour. The Mackinac Old Time Trolley offers narrated historical tours of Mackinaw City’s timeless historic sites including the Mackinac Bridge, Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw. In the morning, the one-hour tour stays in town while the two-hour evening historical trip heads up over the five-mile Mighty Mac for a tour of Upper Peninsula sites.

As you’re out and about experiencing the Straits of Mackinac area this fall season, be sure to share your photos (including selfies) online using the hashtag #MakeItMackinaw, #MackinawCity and #FallIntoMackinaw whenever possible.

For lodging reservations for the fall season in Mackinaw City, visit MackinawCity.com/stay/.


PHOTO: Mackinaw City Chamber of Commerce.

Hemingway’s 1919 Trip Through the Straits to Seney

By Dianna Stampfler, Board Member – Michigan Hemingway Society

One hundred years ago, on a hot August day in 1919, a 20-year-old Ernest Hemingway and his two friends, Jack Pentecost and Al Walker, boarded the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad in Petoskey set out for the Seney in the central Upper Peninsula for the last great fishing trip of the summer.

They arrived in Mackinaw City at the tip of the Lower Peninsula and waited as their rail car was loaded aboard the SS Chief Wawatam (for which Wawatam Park on East Etherington Street is named). It was then an hour-long ferry ride across the Straits, where they hooked up to the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic (DSS & A) engine for the remainder of the trip to Seney. At just over 90 miles from Mackinaw City, Seney is located at the junction of M-28 and M-77 in Schoolcraft County.

Historic Seney began as a railroad stop in 1881 and quickly became a logging hub as the white pine forests were harvested and shipped off throughout the Great Lakes and beyond. The town’s population grew to over 3,000 but within a couple decades the forests were depleted and the residents left to find new jobs elsewhere. Today, fewer than 200 people live in the unincorporated community. Early on, tourism and recreation were popular activities here with the abundance of natural resources including the Fox River.

Among the town’s most noted “claim to fame” was its inclusion in Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Big Two Hearted River” which was first published in 1925 in the collection “In Our Time” and is also included in “The Nick Adams Stories” (published posthumously in 1972), based on his visit that summer of 1919.

In 2013, the Michigan Outdoor Writers Association dedicated a Michigan Heritage Memorial at adjacent to the State Forest Campground on the east Branch of the Fox River, seven miles north of Seney on M-77, which commemorates that significant trip. Bearing a photo of a young Hemingway in his Red Cross ambulance driver’s uniform from World War I, affixed to a 24-inch by 32-inch limestone slab which reads:

“Author Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), then 20 years old, and two friends camped and fished for trout near here on the East Branch of the Fox River in August 1919. They arrived at Seney by rail and then walked north to their campsite. Hemingway still favored his right leg as a result of being one of the first Americans wounded in Italy in World War I. The fishing trip allowed him to take his mind off the horrors of war and formed the basis for his famous short story, “Big Two-Hearted River.” He said he borrowed the name of another Upper Peninsula river for the title because it had more poetry.”

In addition to his time spent on the Fox River, Hemingway made numerous references to both the Black River (eastern Pigeon River Country, just 65 miles south of Mackinaw City) and Horton Creek near Walloon Lake, 45 miles southwest of the Straits of Mackinac. The city of Petoskey also features several historic Hemingway sites, including a statue in downtown Pennsylvania Park which was erected in the summer of 2017. For more information, check out the Michigan Hemingway Society.

For more about Hemingway in Seney, check out the article “Hemingway in Seney” by Jack Jobst which appeared in the November/December 1990 issue of Michigan History Magazine.

Six Straits Area Lighthouses Welcome Summer Visitors

Michigan has more lighthouse than any other state (at nearly 120) and the Straits of Mackinac is home to more than a dozen of these historic navigational aids. Standing majestically against the backdrop of the Great Lakes, these lights remain a testament to the state’s early maritime history.

Throughout the Mackinaw City region, six of these lighthouses are open for public tours—including White Shoal and Spectacle Reef for the first time ever.

Public tours are also available throughout the summer inside these lights:

Other lighthouses in the area, viewable from the water, include:

Those who want to get out to see the off-shore lighthouses can make reservations for excursions offered through Shepler’s Ferry, including an “Eastbound Lighthouse Cruise,” “Westbound Lighthouse Cruise,” “Extended Eastbound Lighthouse Cruise,” “Extended Westbound Lighthouse Cruise,” “Evening Lighthouse Cruise” and “Les Cheneaux Lighthouse Experience.” Or, head further up the St. Mary’s River toward Sault Ste. Marie for even more lighthouse viewing aboard the Soo Locks Upper Lighthouse Cruise.

When visiting the marina in St. Ignace, also be on the lookout for this active light:

With so many lighthouses, you’ll certainly need several days to see them all. Makes plans for an overnight stay in Mackinaw City at MackinawCity.com/stay/, then begin mapping out your historic tour of the Straits Area historic beacons.

SAVE THE DATE: August 7 is National Lighthouse Day!

Celebrate National Lighthouse Day in the Straits of Mackinac

By Dianna Stampfler

Michigan has more lighthouse than any other state (at nearly 120) and the Straits area is home to more than a dozen of these historic navigational aids. You’re invited to celebrate National Lighthouse Day (August 7) in the heart of the Great Lakes.

I first started researching Michigan’s lighthouses in 1997 when I worked at the West Michigan Tourist Association and was working on the Lake Michigan Circle Tour & Lighthouse Guide. While I had a casual knowledge of lights, I wasn’t aware of how significant these historic beacons are to Michigan’s history—not only the maritime industry, but agricultural, recreational and industrial industries which relied on the Great Lakes for shipping products throughout American and beyond!

The Straits of Mackinac is known as the “Crossroads of the Great Lakes” where the bulk of this water traffic traveled going from Chicago to Detroit or up to Lake Superior, and points beyond. With shoals, rocky shoreline and shallow waters, this area was often treacherous for boats making the lighthouse vital to their safety (although that wasn’t always the case as many ships sank in this area…for more on that subject, read this blog post from the Straits Area Shipwreck Dive Preserve).

When visiting the Straits of Mackinac, you have the opportunity to tour several of the lighthouses for yourself—including Old Mackinac Point McGulpin Point, St. Helena Island and DeTour Reef Light (which also has a popular overnight keeper program at its northern Lake Huron light). And, starting in 2019, you’ll be able to actually spend the night at the White Shoal Light out in the waters of northern Lake Michigan.

Those who want to get out to see the water-based lighthouses can make reservations for boat tours offered in the Straits area. Shepler’s Ferry offers several ferry cruises out to the offshore lights, including an “Eastbound Lighthouse Cruise,” “Westbound Lighthouse Cruise,” “Extended Eastbound Lighthouse Cruise,” “Extended Westbound Lighthouse Cruise,” “Evening Lighthouse Cruise” and “Les Cheneaux Lighthouse Experience.” Or, head further up the St. Mary’s River toward Sault Ste. Marie for even more lighthouse viewing aboard the Soo Locks Upper Lighthouse Cruise.

If you’d like to hear more stories about Michigan’s lighthouses, their keepers and even their ghosts, please join me at the Mackinaw Area Public Library (528 W. Central Avenue) on Wednesday, October 24 from 6-7:30pm for a free presentation of “Michigan’s Ghostly Beacons”—which includes some interesting tales from nearby Waugoshance Shoal Lighthouse and St. Helena Island Lighthouse.

For more information about all the lighthouses within the Midwest region, visit the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association or TerryPepper.com.


Dianna Stampfler is the president of Promote Michigan and the author of the upcoming book “Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses” from History Press, coming out in the spring of 2019.



Photo Source (White Shoal and Gray’s Reef): http://lighthouse.boatnerd.com/gallery/michigan/whiteshoal.htm

Setting Sail for the Straits of Mackinac

Each summer, hundreds of magnificent sailboats (aka yachts) race their way north through the Great Lakes to the Straits of Mackinac, converging on Mackinac Island in two of the most esteemed freshwater sailing competitions in the world. One race starts in Chicago, the other in Port Huron, held in consecutive weeks (alternating order each year).

On August 6, 1898, five yachts raced from Chicago to Mackinac Island, starting that 333-mile race—which is regarded as the oldest annual freshwater distance race in the world. The second race wasn’t held until 1904 and by the third race, an all-women team with skipper Miss Evelyn Wright at the helm of the sloop Lady Eileen had entered the competition.

Today, the race hosts several hundred boats and over 3,000 sailors which set sail from the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse just off Navy Pier before crossing Lake Michigan and traveling north along the shoreline and then under the five-mile Mackinac Bridge and finishing in the Round Island Channel off Mackinac Island.

This year’s Chicago Mackinac Race begins on Saturday, July 21, with the fastest boats arriving as early as 18 hours later in the Straits of Mackinac.

It was in 1925 that the Port Huron Yacht Club and the Bay View Yacht Club in Detroit teamed up to host the first Bayview Mackinac Race. The 32-foot sloop Bernida, skippered by Russ Pouliot, won the race with a time of 49 hours, 50 minutes. A dozen yachts competed in that race, but only six actually completed the 261-mile course.

This year’s Bayview Mackinac Race begins on Saturday, July 14 in Port Huron with the smallest boats starting first followed by the larger boats. Teams typically begin arriving on Mackinac Island on Sunday evening through Tuesday morning, providing plenty of opportunity for the public to view the ships and their brightly colored sails making their way into the Straits of Mackinac.

Visitors to Mackinaw City during these two race periods will be delighted to see the brightly colored boats passing through the Straits area. Shoreline locations around Wilderness State Park and McGulpin Point provide great photo opportunities for the Chicago race, while the beach area in front of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse or along the Lake Huron shoreline are ideal for watching the boats coming up from Port Huron.

Dive In…To the Straits of Mackinac

By Dan Friedhoff, Secretary – Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve Association

Just off the shores of Mackinaw City lie a multitude of shipwrecks that are frequently explored during the summer months by scuba divers.

The Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve is known as one of the best spots for shipwreck diving in the Great Lakes. From pre-Civil War sailing ships to the third largest shipwreck in the Great Lakes that sank in 1965, the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve is now home to many shipwrecks. The many lighthouses that dot the shoreline, islands and shoals are reminders of the many dangers to the mariners that have sailed their ships through the busy shipping lanes of the Straits of Mackinac. These shipwrecks are time capsules and are protected by the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve, an area that covers approximately 150-square-miles.

One of the oldest shipwrecks in the area is the Sandusky. Almost 40 years before the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse was erected, the 110-foot sailing vessel was sailing from Chicago loaded with grain when she was met by a vicious early fall storm in September 1856. Despite a rescue attempt by another vessel from Mackinaw City, the Sandusky sank, taking all of her seven-person crew with her to the bottom of Lake Michigan.

The wreck of the Sandusky is located approximately five miles west of the Mackinac Bridge. She was discovered in 1985 sitting upright and fairly-intact in 80 feet of water, her sailing masts having snapped off lay to her side. There is a scrolled ram’s head figure head under her bow sprit and is a popular stop for divers visiting the Preserve.

The Eber Ward is also a favorite of shipwreck divers. She was a 213-foot wooden steam-powered ship that was cut open by ice in April 1909 and sank approximately five miles west of the Mackinac Bridge in Lake Michigan. She took five of her crew with her when she sank in 140 feet of water. She now rests sitting upright on the bottom—her anchors, rudder and propeller still in place. There is even one of her bathtubs and toilets laying on deck.

The most recent shipwreck is the 588-foot steel freighter Cedarville that sank May 1965. She was traveling through heavy fog in Lake Huron when a lack of communication resulted in a collision with a seagoing vessel. After some efforts to recover from the collision, the Cedarville rolled over and sank in 100 feet of water just three miles east of the bridge. Her massive size makes for an intimidating dive.  The pilot house, engine room, smoke stack, cargo holds and self-unloader provide many areas to explore. Following her 2017 visit of the Great Lakes, famed underwater photographer Becky Kagan Schott stated that “One of my favorite wrecks from the trip was the freighter Cedarville.”

The Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve also has many shallower shipwrecks closer to shore which can be explored by kayakers and snorkelers. Most of the shipwrecks are moored every year by the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve. The buoys promote safe and easy access for scuba divers exploring the shipwrecks and also protect the shipwrecks for damage from anchors. There is public boat access in Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. There are also a number of charter boats available to take certified scuba divers out to explore the shipwrecks.

For more information about of the shipwrecks in the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve, visit StraitsPreserve.com and like us on Facebook.