20 Roaring Ways to Celebrate Winter in the Straits of Mackinac

Things have certainly changed in the Straits of Mackinac over the past 100 years. In the winter of 1920, things would have been pretty quiet as the frozen Great Lakes waterways would have restricted some visitors from making their way to this historic area. Yet, some hearty souls would have made their way here aboard trains traveling from Detroit, Chicago and other southern cities. Today, the Mackinaw City area is one of the coolest winter destinations with a variety of outdoor adventures and relaxing indoor settings to warm the mind, body and soul!

  1. Hit the trails on Saturday, January 11 as the entire Great Lakes State celebrates Winter Trails Day!
  2. Join us for the 27th Annual Mackinaw City Winter Festival, January 17-18 – with snow sculptures, a chili cook-off, ice fishing tournament and more!
  3. Build an Outhouse? Why not elevate your Winter Fest experience by competing in the 2020 Mackinaw Pepsi International Outhouse Race on Saturday, January 18. Put your creative and engineering skills to the challenge for this unique winter contest.
  4. Take to the ice. As the Great Lakes and area inlands lakes freeze over, it’s time to do a little fishing. Chas Thompson, a member of MiIceGuys.com and USA Ice Team, offers up some thoughts about this Pure Michigan winter sport: https://www.mackinawcity.com/hitting-the-ice-for-a-pure-michigan-fishing-experience/. (Note: February 15-16 is the Michigan DNR Free Fishing Weekend).
  5. Hit the trails! Mackinaw City is centrally located to provide snowmobile access to the Straits area. Utilize the north central State Trailhead located off of Crossing’s Drive to experience the DNR’s groomed routes, connecting Mackinaw to Cheboygan, Petoskey, Gaylord, Rogers City, Alpena and places south. The Mackinac Bridge Authority offers a ride for you and your sled north across the Bridge for $10 plus $2 additional for an extra passenger to access the trails north of the Bridge. For trail conditions in the area, click here.

    Did you know?
    Most years, the ice in the Straits of Mackinac is so thick that area residents place old Christmas trees along a “safe route” between St. Ignace (Upper Peninsula) and Mackinac island for those who want to snowmobile between the two communities. NOTE: The Coast Guard cautions people that the ice bridge is extremely dangerous. It usually is open for a short period due to the fluctuating winter temperatures and having strong winds blowing the ice out of the area in a matter of hours. If you have not seen the exquisite movie, Ice Bridge – Mackinac Island’s Hidden Season you must get a copy! Click here to read about it and to order it.

  6. Take a snowshoeing trek! Thousands of years ago, snowshoes were essential to travel during the winter months in the Great Lakes region. Today, it offers a fun excursion option for families.
  7. Be open to adventure. Big Bear Adventuresin Indian River (just 30 miles south of Mackinaw City off I-75) offers 90-minute guided winter rafting trips along the Sturgeon River—note as the fastest in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Offered for group up to 12, with three trips a day, seven days a week, this is a great way to experience the winter season in a unique way. Big Bear also offers cross country ski and snowshoe rentals and will help coordinate packages for all their seasonal activities.
  8. Try your luck! Kewadin Casino in St. Ignace features Vegas-style gaming and entertainment with over 1100 slots, poker, blackjack, roulette, keno, craps and more! Other Kewadin locations can be found throughout the Upper Peninsula in Sault Ste. Marie, Hessel, Christmas and Manistique).
  9. Look Up! The Headlands Dark Sky Park, stretching out along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, is the id-eal location to catch a glimpse of the illusive Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), meteor showers and other celestial events – like the January 10, February 9 and March 9 full moons.
  10. Learn more about our famed Mighty Mac! Opened in 1957, this Modern Marvel is a true Pure Michigan monument. If you’re interested in more of the history, facts and figures – as well as current conditions via the “Bridge Cam” – check out the website for the Mackinac Bridge Authority.
  11. Grab your binoculars! Be on the lookout for the beautiful Snowy Owls, which are known to spend their winters in the Straits of Mackinac area.
  12. Warm up! The Crown Choice Inn & Suites Lakeview & Waterpark is home of Mackinaw’s largest indoor waterpark with a 72,000-gallon, 84° indoor pool, an oversized whirlpool, sauna, waterslides, 500-gallon tipping bucket, water cannons and many other features.
  13. Take a trip back in time! Even though it is winter, the grounds of the Mackinaw City Historical Society Heritage Village are open for you to walk past historic structures including the Detweiler Log house, Freedom School, General Store, Stimpson Homestead, Heritage Chapel and more.
  14. Grab a bite. Pasties, whitefish and chili, oh my! When hunger strikes, stop in to one of Mackinaw City’s restaurants to satisfy your cravings and warm up with your hearty seasonal favorites.
  15. Bundle up and take in a game! The LaBatt Blue UP Pond Hockey Championships return to Lake Huron’s Moran Bay in St. Ignace, February 13-16. First held in 2007, this annual sporting event now features over 200 teams playing on 30 75-foot x 150-foot rinks with over 250 games throughout the full weekend.
  16. Try Geocaching…yes, even in the winter! 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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 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.
  19. Explore the Arts! The Mackinaw City Area Arts Council offers a series of classes and events throughout the year – including an exhibit during the annual Winter Festival, January 17-18 at Mackinaw Clothing and Sportswear Store on Central Avenue.
  20. Grab a camera (or your phone)! Winter in Mackinaw City is magical…a great time to snap pictures of everything from our lighthouse exteriors to Mackinaw Crossings to the shoreline and the ice formations under and around the Mackinac Bridge. Be sure to share these with us on social media! #MakeItMackinaw

For lodging reservations throughout the winter season, visit MackinawCity.com/stay/.

Chill Out at the 2020 Mackinaw City Winter Festival, January 18-19

For more than a quarter century, Mackinaw City has rolled out the white carpet for a weekend of seasonal fun and excitement fit for the entire family. The 27th Annual Mackinaw City Winter Festival is scheduled for January 18-19, 2020.




Please note: Ice fishing & snow sculpting are the only weather dependent events.

For lodging reservations throughout the remainder of the fall and into the winter season, visit MackinawCity.com/stay/.

PHOTO: http://www.mightymac.org/

Hitting the Ice for a Pure Michigan Fishing Experience

By Chas Thompson – Professional Ice Fisher & Brewer

Crisp winter mornings bring on a tradition tracing back to the first bearded men seeking the tranquility and solitude of fishing. Walking across the frozen inland lakes in the sheer quiet and peace of winter to cut a hole and pursue some fresh fish for their family. Many taught by their grandfathers, Michigan Anglers do not simply give up on their passion in the winter…0they adapt. One of the fastest growing sports in the Midwest, ice fishing is one of our great Michigan traditions

Primitive man most likely used stone tools to break through the ice. It probably took them five to 10 minutes to crack through five to six inches of ice. In my youth, my grandfather took me out on the ice with a spud and some short poles best described as sticks with a steel wire and some fishing line. We chiseled a hole for each of us by pounding the steel spud bar into the ice. In just a few minutes, we had a hole. Later in my life, Grandpa Tuck bought a spoon auger imported from Sweden. This was high tech for the mid-70s. It had a razor-sharp cupped blade that would shave the ice. It still took just two to three minutes, but the hole was smooth and perfectly round. Technology had crept into our beloved primitive sport.

Today as we stroll out onto the ice, most will utilize a modern auger with dual sloped blades, sharpened to a razor’s edge. Smoothly cutting through the hard water, quickly making a perfectly round hole through the thickest ice. Many purists still hand crank the holes, but most have moved to powered augers. Gas, electric or even cordless drills spin the augers into the ice as you see anglers cross the ice in search of fish.

Anglers in the past would just pick a spot based on some landmarks on shore and drop their lure to the bottom and raise it a bit to wait for a feeding fish to happen by. As you moved north you would see more shelters and eventually fish houses where several anglers would gather to wait for the fish. In the 1980s, fish finders started to migrate off of the boats and onto the ice.  Specialized units started to show up as smaller batteries were developed and electronics shrunk. Today a majority of hard water fishermen carry an ice flasher onto the ice.  Many fully digital with advanced controls to finely tune into the activity under the ice. Smart phones have merged maps, bottom topography and GPS technology to guide anglers to structure and depth changes on lakes they may have never fished. Targeting fish has become easier than ever before.

Most inland lakes in Michigan are no stranger to pop-up or flip over shelters, providing an image of a village covering a vast frozen open that we as residents of the Great Lakes State love. Water, hard or soft, as the people of our state love to go to the lake. From the simple lone angler sitting on a bucket to the ice castles of the north, the allure of catching a mess of fish for dinner is a tradition that seems to cross economic and other social boundaries like no other sport in the state. As Michiganders we embrace all our seasons, but for ice fishermen, winter is sacred. In the breweries, tackle shops and other gathering places, you hear the call of a cold day cross the lips of eager anglers, “Makin’ Ice!”

We all smile seeing a young angler’s face, landing their first fish through the ice, proud parents or grandparents capturing another perfect Michigan memory.

Whether you’re new to ice fishing or are an experienced winter angler, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources invites you out for one of two annual FREE FISHING WEEKENDS…coming up February 15-16, 2020. For this weekend (as well as June 13-14, 2020), all fishing license fees are waived for both residents and out-of-state visitors on both inland lakes and Great Lakes waters, for all species of fish (all fishing regulations still apply). Additionally, a Recreation Passport will NOT be required for entry into state parks and recreation areas during Free Fishing Weekend.

For additional Pure Michigan ice fishing, visit the DNR website.


Chas. Thompson, a member of MiIceGuys.com and USA Ice Team spends his winter time ice fishing all over the world. 


Snow Trekking in the Straits

According to Snowshoes.com, “From Europe to North America to Asia, people began using snowshoes over 4,000 years ago out of a basic need explore new territories and to find food in the winter…the great success of snowshoes for winter travel was first observed by European explorers with Northeastern tribes such as the Huron and Algonquin, which led subsequent trappers, hunters, and surveyors to adopt snowshoes as their own.”

Here in Michigan, early French explorers and missionaries are said to have learned of these winter accessories from the Native Americans who had been well established throughout the Great Lakes region. While today snowshoeing is more of a winter pastime, it was vital to survival here centuries ago.

Craig Wilson, historian with Mackinac State Historic Parks, created a short YouTube video which shares a bit more information: “Snowshoeing at the Straits of Mackinac”

In our modern era, Iverson’s has been handcrafting snowshoes in the Upper Peninsula village of Shingleton (115 miles from Mackinaw City) since 1954…celebrating 65 years in 2019.

“It started back in 1954 when Clarence Iverson began building his snowshoes for the State of Michigan,” according to the company’s website. “His premise was simple: reduce expended energy by walking on top of the snow, not through it. His designs provided maximum weight distribution for optimum flotation. News soon spread of the Iverson snowshoe, and demand expanded the company into the consumer market.

“Clarence was very picky. He only used the finest materials–premium Michigan White Ash, full grain rawhides, and pure copper hardware. These components are expensive, but well worth the cost when you find yourself in extreme conditions, or when it’s time to pass your Iverson’s on to the next generation.”

Today, Iverson’s handcrafts 17 models of snowshoes which can be purchased online or at retail outlets including The Locker Room in St. Ignace or Kings Fish Market in Naubinway (50 miles northwest of Mackinaw City, in the Upper Peninsula).

Michigan is home to thousands of miles of trails open to snowshoeing and according to the Michigan Department of Transportation, “you can snowshoe anywhere on state land that is open to the public,” but please, if you’re using trails groomed for cross country skiing walk net to the tracks so as to not disturb them for skiers.

So, where can you snowshoe in the Mackinaw City area?


Created in 1980, the longest hiking trail in the U.S. is managed by the National Park Service and passes through 10 National Forests, with some 800 miles in Michigan. The 46-mile section between Petoskey and Mackinaw City (which skirts the lakeshore through Harbor Springs, Good Hart and Cross Village) includes 14 miles of trails within Wilderness State Park. With varied terrain and four seasons of beauty, the trail is a popular route for snowshoers. The village of Mackinaw City is even one of the handful of “Trail Towns” throughout the state, offering a haven for recreationalists to relax before or after a day on the trail.


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. The trail network offers hours of inspiration among hardwoods and ferns in the warmer months, and spectacular snowshoeing throughout the winter. There is even a guided trek planned for Saturday, February 3 at 2pm.


Located along the shoreline southwest from downtown Mackinaw City, this state park boats over 20 miles of winter trails throughout the 10,000-acre wilderness, with over 26 miles of shoreline open for exploring. It is advisable to bring a compass since this State Park is, as its name implies, in the wilderness especially in the winter months. It is possible to get lost if you venture off the trails or if you get caught in a winter-time squall off Lake Michigan, and cell service is often limited.


While there is no access to the regular parking lot at this seasonal attraction, you can park near the entry area and access the hiking trails from there (at no charge). Situated on over 600 acres of beautiful forests, wildflowers and scenic views, this property 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.


In addition to offering winter canoeing, kayaking or rafting trips down the Sturgeon River, this Indian River company (just 30 miles south of Mackinaw City) also offers snowshoe rentals for those looking to hit the trails or get off the beaten path.


Looking to keep warm while out on your trek? Be sure to outfit yourself in stylish hats, gloves and apparel (including the noted Mackinaw coat) made by Stormy Kromer (also a UP company). Read more in our Facebook Note: What is a Mackinaw? (including three local retailers who sell Stormy Kromer items).

NOTE: Saturday, January 11, 2020 is the 28th Annual “Pure Michigan Winter Trails Day” presented by the Great Lakes Winter Trails Council …a chance to get out and explore all that the state’s natural wonders have to offer!


Photo Source: Experience Michigan magazine.