This Autumn, Explore These Mackinaw City Area Scenic Byways

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, including:

State Scenic Byways:

State Recreation Byways:

National Forest Scenic Byway:

Download the official tour guide to the Pure Michigan Byways at

Did you know the apex of the Dixie Highway, West Michigan Pike and East Michigan Pike all met in Mackinaw City?

“The big feature of the day was the unveiling of the stone monument dedicated to good roads, and marking the union of the East and West Michigan Pikes and the apex of the Dixie Highway. The monument, built of rough stone, is eighteen feet high and about seven feet wide at the base.” – July 14, 1916, Cheboygan Daily Tribune (as included in the award-winning “Vintage Views Along the West Michigan Pike – From Sand Trails to US-31” by M. Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson, © 2011).

Unfortunately, the giant stone monument is longer standing but in its place is a giant four-sided clock next to the Dixie Saloon and the Shepler’s Ferry dock.

17 Things to Do in the Mackinaw City Area This Fall

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.

Warmer than normal temperatures are forecast for September, according to the 2017 U.S. fall forecast released by Yet, according to AccuWeather expert long-range forecaster Paul Pastelok, it’s too early to tell how the hotter than normal September and rain will affect the vibrancy of fall foliage.

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.

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!

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!

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.

Moon viewing. The Full Harvest Moon will make its appearance on September 6 and the Full Hunters Moon on October 6. 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, including:

State Scenic Byways:

* M-119 “Tunnel of Trees” (Cross Village / Good Hart)
* US-2 “Top of the Lake Scenic Byway” (St. Ignace to Manistique)
* Tahquamenon (Lake Superior, intersecting with the Whitefish Bay National Forest route)

State Recreation Byways:

* M-23 “Sunrise Coast” (Mackinaw City to Standish, intersecting with the River Road National Scenic Byway – All American Road in Oscoda and along the AuSable River)
* North Huron Recreational Trail (I-75 north of St. Ignace to Drummond Island)

National Forest Scenic Byway:

* Whitefish Bay National Forest (Lake Superior near Paradise, intersecting with the Tahquamenon route.

Click here to download the official tour guide to the Pure Michigan Byways.

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!

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.

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.

Huron-Manistee National Forest: Lying between the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron in the northern half of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, the nearly one-million-acre Huron-Manistee National Forests are in a transition zone between forested lands to the north and agricultural lands to the south. The Huron-Manistee National Forests contain rare ecological features, such as dry sand prairie remnants, coastal marshlands, dunes, oak savannahs, fens, bogs and marshes.

Hiawatha National Forest: Located in Michigan’s wild and scenic Upper Peninsula, the Hiawatha National Forest’s dramatic shorelines lie nestled up to Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan — three of the five great lakes. Six historic lighthouses stand on Hiawatha’s Great Lakes shorelines, five of which are owned entirely or in part by the Forest Service. The Hiawatha also boasts four distinctly different Great Lakes islands.

Those up for a longer trek (130 miles) can venture to Munising in the Upper Peninsula to visit the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore along the Lake Superior shoreline.

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.

Count Birds. The 2017 Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch waterbird count began on August 20 and continues through November 10. MSRW invites anyone interested to come to McGulpin Point, on the west edge of Mackinaw City, during this period to observe the migrating waterbirds and talk with migration experts who are conducting the count. In the fall of 2016, a professional counter observed a total of 44,302 waterbirds during 661 hours of work. As many as 20,000 long-tailed ducks and 4,000 white-winged scoters were counted in 2016, in combined spring and fall totals. The waterbird count began in 2015 with volunteer counters finding that there were substantial numbers of migrating waterbirds coming through the Straits of Mackinac area in the Fall. In 2015, counting for only 170 hours, a total of 18,164 birds were observed of 28 different species.

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

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.

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. Next, it was a statue of Alexander Henry—a fur trader at Fort Michilimackinac; followed by British Major Arent Schuyler DePeyster—who once commanded Fort Michilimackinac; Perry Darrow—a civic-minded village resident; Edgar Conkling—Mackinaw City’s founder (standing proudly in the park that bears his name); and Hattie Stimpson—one of the city’s first residents.

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.

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.

Sample Beer & Wine. Make plans to visit on Saturday, September 9 for the 2nd Annual Mackinaw City Beer & Wine Festival, held in Conkling Heritage Park along the shores of Lake Huron. Food and music round out the weekend at this family-friendly festival. Click here for a list of other upcoming events.

Scare Yourself! It is Halloween season, after all. Fort Fright is a “haunted” experience held October 6-7 (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.

The Mackinaw Area Historical Society & Heritage Village is hosting two ghostly events in October. A “Ghost Supper” is planned from 2-4pm on Sunday, October 15 and “Triple Fright Night” will run from 6-8pm on Saturday, October 21.

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

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 and #MackinawCity whenever possible.

For lodging reservations for the fall season in Mackinaw City, visit

DAY TRIPS: Roadside Attractions Around Mackinaw City

By Scott Winters

As a child, one of my family’s favorite places to visit for vacation was the area around the Straits of Mackinac.

My father was one of those travelers that would have the station wagon packed the night before, and we’d get up in the middle of the night so that we could hit the road for “vacation” no later than 5 am. Dad believed in getting from point A to point B in the quickest way possible…with no stops whatsoever (sometimes requesting potty-breaks even became a challenge).

As we traveled to our destination, I remember seeing the signs for the various roadside attractions and wanting to stop in the worst way. Oh, how many times I would see the tourist attractions pass by the car window… and then fade off into the distance as I sat in that far back seat of the station wagon looking at what was behind us. I tried to imagine what I had just missed.

As an adult, I have found myself trying to make up for all those roadside attractions that I missed while growing up. Now, it seems like I stop at just about everyone along the way – which makes getting from point A to point B a much longer process than what it was when traveling with the family. I actually search out cool places to visit and plan my vacation around them. Many of these roadside attractions have become a favorite – and frequent – stop.

Here are a few attractions within an hour of Mackinaw City…

The Giant Hot Dog
Wienerlicious, 102 Central Ave, Mackinaw City
This 60 foot weiner may be the largest hot dog statue in the United States.

Mackinaw Bridge Museum
Above Mama Mia’s Pizza, 231 East Central Ave., Mackinaw City
The museum was created by the restaurant’s owner – J. C. Stilwell. He was one of many iron workers who helped construct the “Mighty Mac” Bridge. The first artifact in the museum was a spinning wheel that was used to pull the wire across the towers to complete the 24-inch main cables. Soon other iron workers from around the country began donating additional items to the museum – documents, photographs, other tools and a diving suit that were used during construction of the Mackinac Bridge.

Lady Liberty on Mackinac Island
7199 Main St., Mackinac Island (approximately 7 miles northeast of Mackinaw City, accessible by ferry)
This 8.5-foot Statue of Liberty replica was originally donated to the Island in 1950 by the Boy Scouts of America. Over 200 of these statues were donated to communities in 39 different states, but this was the only statue given to the State of Michigan. After battling the elements and overlooking the harbor for over 50 years, the statue was restored in 2014

Indian Village
499 N State St, St. Ignace (approximately 8 miles north of Mackinaw City)
This was the place to stop and get souvenirs as a child! I can still remember most of the items I was allowed to purchase over the years…from the little birch bark canoe and teepee to the rubber tomahawk adorned with brightly colored feathers. And the smell of pine still sticks with me from all of the ashtray, toothpick and trinket souvenirs that were made from wood. The building is said to have been built on the exact spot where missionary Father Marquette landed in 1671 to begin saving the souls of the Chippewa and Ottawa Indians.

Wooden Observation Tower
Curio Fair, 1101-1147 U.S. 2, St. Ignace (approximately 9 miles northwest of Mackinaw City)
This is one of the best views of the Mackinac Bridge. I make this stop every time I’m in the area. It costs just a small fee to climb the tower to see a spectacular view of the “Mighty Mac” Bridge.

Mystery Spot
N916 Martin Lake Rd, St Ignace (approximately 12 miles northwest of Mackinaw City)
The story of Mystery Spot goes back to the early 1950’s. Three surveyors came to the area to explore the Upper Peninsula. They found an area where their surveying equipment just would not work properly. The equipment only seemed to malfunction in an area about 300 feet in diameter…a place they called the “Mystery Spot”. This roadside attraction was one of similar type venues across the country decades ago. Most have closed, but this one still remains. Visitors get a guided tour of the building that was erected on the “Mystery Spot” and witness balls rolling uphill along with other strange gravitational illusions. They have also added a maze, mini golf and zip lines

Castle Rock
N2690 Castle Rock Rd, St Ignace (approximately 17 miles north of Mackinaw City)
Another long-standing roadside attraction, this is one that my family actually would get to stop at from time to time. Castle Rock, a limestone sea stack or sea chimney, is 195.8 feet tall. The property was purchased in 1928 by C.C. Eby and opened as a tourist attraction. The same family runs the site today. You can take the walk to the top of Castle Rock for a small fee. The view is spectacular. Statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox sit next to the souvenir store.

Sea Shell City
7075 Levering Rd, Cheboygan (approximately 14 miles south of Mackinaw City)
Located right alongside I-75 in Cheboygan, this tourist attraction intrigued me for many years. My father would never stop for us to see the “Man Eating Clam” or Davy Jones Locker. (It wasn’t until I visited as an adult that I realized it was the pirate Davy Jones and not Davy Jones from “The Monkees”…I always wondered why people would want to stop and see his locker!) If you want any souvenirs made out of shells, you will probably find them at Sea Shell City.

Legs Inn
6425 N. Lake Shore Drive (M-119 – “Tunnel of Trees”), Cross Village (approximately 24 miles southwest of Mackinaw City)
This unique restaurant is quite the site to see. It is stone on the outside and hand-crafted wood on the inside. The restaurant has been run by the same family for 90 years and features authentic Polish food and draft beer. The restaurant gets its name from the old stove legs that were used along the roof of the building.

Cross in the Woods
7078 M-68, Indian River (approximately 29 miles south of Mackinaw City)
The Man on the Cross is made of bronze and is 28 feet tall from head to toe. This is the largest crucifix in the world. The sculpture towers above the surrounding trees. The shrine was declared a National Shrine in 2006. There are only 120 National Shrines in the U.S., and only two in Michigan (the other being the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak). There is also a museum of over 500 nun dolls dressed in traditional habits.

The Grotto to the Archangels
Marian Center, 2680 Maxwell Rd, Petoskey (approximately 44 miles southwest of Mackinaw City)
The Grotto is dedicated to the three archangels: Raphael, Michael and Gabriel. The statues are 9-foot- tall and are surrounded by the huge stone structure. The statues serve as a reminder of the constant protection the angels have in our lives.

Giant Metal Heads of George Washington and Gerald R. Ford
Moran Iron Works, 11739 Hwy 33-68, Onaway (approximately 45 miles SE of Mackinaw City)
See giant metal sculptures of the heads of George Washington and Gerald R. Ford. These works of art were created by Tom Moran of Moran Iron Works. He unveiled his Gerald R. Ford sculpture in 2012 and it was entered into the ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids a few years ago. He has also done a large eagle head and a replica of the Statue of Liberty’s torch. (PS…Moran Iron Works built the Miss Margy, the latest ferry to join the Shepler’s fleet last summer).

Happy Travels around our beautiful state. I’ll see you on the Michigan road!

Make Mackinaw City your home base when traveling around northern Michigan in search of these “roadside attractions.” For lodging options, visit

Scott Winters has been a radio personality in Grand Rapids for over 25 years. He is currently on 98.7 WFGR weekdays from 3-8 pm. He is also a licensed realtor in the state of Michigan. He maintains his own blog at