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.

Experience Michigan Trails Week in the Straits of Mackinac

A new season is upon us and throughout the Straits of Mackinac area, acres of woodlands surround scenic trails ideal for exploring during the fall color tour season—especially during Michigan Trails Week, September 22-29. Michigan Trails Week concludes on National Public Lands Day, a day for volunteer-led efforts to beautiful and build awareness about the value and breadth of U.S. public lands.

Michigan State Parks and Recreation Areas in Northern Michigan offer some of the best outdoor recreation opportunities in the Midwest. One of the most enjoyed activities is hiking, whether for exercise, nature observation or while on a backpacking trip. Some of the best hiking opportunities exist in the Mackinaw City area south of the Mackinac Bridge and once you cross into the Upper Peninsula.

A few of the key spots to visit for a hiking excursion include:

The Headlands:

An Emmet County Park on the Straits of Mackinac. The Headlands property is made up of nearly 600 acres of forested lands, four miles of trails and two miles of beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline including Michigan’s only Dark Sky Park. You will experience breathtaking sunsets, pristine lakeshores and natural surroundings full of wildlife. St. Helena’s Island, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Mackinac Bridge, Waugoshance Point, Wilderness State Park, Cecil Bay and Trails End Bay are all visible from the shores of the Headlands. The Headlands has been painstakingly preserved by local residents and groups for your enjoyment.

Wilderness State Park:

Offering 12 miles of designated foot trails that weave throughout the park, Wilderness State Park boasts several marked trails include Sturgeon Bay Trail, Swamp Line, Boundary Trail, Nebo Trail, Pondside Trail, Red Pine Trail, Hemlock Trail and Big Stone Trail. Check with the DNR staff first, as parts of the shoreline are closed in the spring and early summer when the endangered Piping Plover is nesting. It is also suggested you request a complete hiking map to fully enjoy the sites and trails. This is a wonderful area to explore the ecosystem of the Great Lakes meeting the great hard woods of Northern Michigan.

Mill Creek:

Situated on over 600 acres of beautiful forests, wildflowers and scenic views, Mill Creek State Historic Park is also home a reconstructed sawmill. The park has 1.5 miles of trails including a half-mile nature trail that borders the creek and passes two scenic overlooks from where the Straits of Mackinac and Mackinac Island can be viewed. Departing from the nature trail is a mile-long spur to a beaver pond. Interestingly enough, Mill Creek has a one of a kind mile loop nature trail that is totally handicap accessible.

Mackinac Island:

There are 140 miles of roads and trails on Mackinac Island with many of them designated for foot traffic only, as there are no motor vehicles allowed on the Island. The majority of them are paved roads that are shared by bicyclists, carriages and pedestrians. The longest walk is the “Round the Shore” trip, an 8.2-mile journey along Lake Shore Road which takes you by many natural features of the Island and shows off the breathtaking scenic shoreline. Other popular routes are “Across the Turtle’s Back,” “A Tranquil Bluff Trail” and “British Landing Nature Trail.” For detailed trail maps, purchase a Historic Visitor’s Guide to Mackinac Island on the ferry boat or at the Mackinac Historic Park Visitor Centers, for $1.00.

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.

For lodging reservations for this weekend, or throughout the fall season, visit MackinawCity.com/stay/.

 

#MiTrails #PureMichiganTrails #MakeItMackinaw #MiTrailsWeek

 

PHOTO: Photo by Kathryn Bartoszyk courtesy of Michigan Trails Magazine.

Discovering Michigan’s Majestic Waterfalls

By definition, a waterfall is “a perpendicular or very steep descent of the water of a stream” or “a place where water flows over a vertical drop or a series of steep drops in the course of a stream or river.”

Many people think you need to be in the western United States to see waterfalls, but in fact, Michigan is home to more than 300—most of them in the wooded areas of the Upper Peninsula and easily accessible via a day trip from Mackinaw City.

Without question, the state’s largest and most noted waterfall is Tahquamenon Falls in Paradise just 80 miles from Mackinaw City. The centerpiece of the 50,000-acre Tahquamenon Falls State Park, 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.

The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which stretches for 42 miles along Lake Superior between Munising and Grand Marais in Alger County (120-130 miles from Mackinaw City) is home to several popular waterfalls. According to the National Park Service website, “most of the waterfalls in this area are the result of water running over a shelf or cliff of hard limey sandstone called the Au Train Formation. This geologic formation resists erosion better than the softer sandstone layers just below it.”

At Munising Falls you can walk the paved 800-foot trail up a shaded sandstone canyon along Munising Creek to the base of the falls, where two sets of stairs lead to platforms to view the 50-foot waterfall as it drops over a sandstone cliff.

The Miners Falls Nature Trail offers views of the Miners Basin and Miner Falls (pictured), which drops about 50 feet over a sandstone outcrop, creating the park’s most powerful waterfall. There are 64 steps down to the lower viewing platform at the falls.

Bridalveil Falls is viewed best from the water, but can be seen at a distance from the lower Miners Castle overlook or from the west end of Miners Beach.

Located about one mile west of Grand Marais, on Alger County Road H-58. Sable Falls tumbles 75 feet over several cliffs of Munising and Jacobsville sandstone formations on its way to Lake Superior. The first viewing platform is down a long staircase of 169 steps. The trail continues past the falls for about a half-mile down to a rock beach where Sable Creek flows into Lake Superior.

Spray Falls plunges about 70 feet over the Pictured Rocks cliffs directly into Lake Superior. This remote waterfall is best viewed from the water as there is limited viewing access from the North Country Trail. The 1856 shipwreck “Superior” lies at the base of the falls in 20 feet of water.

Laughing Whitefish Falls is considered by many to be the most spectacular of Michigan’s falls. The falls cascade through a picturesque gorge with old growth white pine and hemlock towering above. The falls can be reached by a moderate (.6 mile) hike through beech-maple forest.

Ocqueoc Falls, along the Ocqueoc River, is the only recognized waterfall in Michigan’s lower peninsula. It is also the only universally-accessible waterfall in the United States. Located 46 miles southeast of Mackinaw City (between Cheboygan and Rogers City in Presque Isle County), Ocquoec also provides approximately six miles of hiking and biking, along three marked loops. You can even swim in the falls, where the Ocqueoc River has cut a channel through the limestone bedrock that underlays the entire region.

Please use caution while hiking to waterfalls. Stay on the trails and watch for uneven footing.

Spring Blossoms in the Straits of Mackinac

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. 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.

Savoring Michigan’s sweet treat…maple syrup

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, including 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.

Mackinaw City…for the birds!

The 2018 Mackinaw Raptor Fest, April 6-8, provides an entertaining and educational showcase to promote public awareness and knowledge of raptors and waterbirds and the significance of the Straits area during migration. Located at the junction of two peninsulas and two Great Lakes, Mackinaw City creates a unique confluence of migrating birds every spring and fall. A variety of activities are planned throughout the weekend, including field trips, bird counts, watches, banding, star gazing, live raptor presentations and special programs focused on identification, photography and ecology, among other activities. For the complete schedule of events, please click here.

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 Resourcest 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.

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. Mark your calendar for April 20 to attend a special program on Statewide Astronomy Night under the Lyrid Meteor Shower and a waxing crescent moon. Spring full moons will grace the sky March 31 (a blue moon – the second full moon of the month), April 29 and May 29.

For list of events taking place in the Straits of Mackinac during the spring season (such as the Spring Meltdown, Spring Break Splash, Taste of Mackinac and Mackinac International Bridal Expo), click here.

Those wanting to venture over to historic Mackinac Island during the pre-season should note that ferry service begins April 1. Mackinac State Historic Parks (Colonial Michilimackinac, Historic Mill Creek and Fort Mackinac) open in early May.

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