Great Lakes Direct

Mackinaw City, Michigan

Where is Mackinaw City?

Mackinaw City is located at the southern end of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects Michigan's Lower Peninsula with the Upper Peninsula.

The city sits on the shores of the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of the water and the Mackinac Bridge, which spans the Straits and is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world.

An aerial view of Mackinaw City
An aerial view of Mackinaw City

With a population of just over 800, this northern Michigan village offers a small town feel with many amenities. Visitors can explore the downtown area, which is filled with shops, restaurants and attractions.

Mackinaw City is a gateway to the Upper Peninsula and Mackinac Island, making it an ideal location for a day trip or extended vacation.

In addition to its natural beauty, Mackinaw City is rich in history. Visitors can explore the city's role in the American Revolution at Colonial Michilimackinac and Heritage Village.

How to get to Mackinaw City

Nearest airport to Mackinaw City

Those who want to take a connecting flight to Detroit or Minneapolis have a number of options in northern Michigan. Chippewa County International Airport in the Upper Peninsula offers both Detroit Metro and Minneapolis-St. Paul as destinations, while Cherry Capital Airport near Traverse City has the largest number of airlines.

Distance to Pellston Regional Airport: 16 miles
Distance to Chippewa County International Airport (Sault Ste Marie): 43 miles
Distance to Alpena County Regional Airport: 92 miles
Distance to Cherry Capital Airport (Traverse City): 100 miles

Those looking to drive from a major international airport will find that Detroit Metro Airport (295 miles) is the closest option.

Driving to Mackinaw City

Those driving to Mackinaw City will find that I-75 passes through on its way from Sault St Marie down to Detroit and, eventually, Florida.

Those wanting to take the Lake Huron coast will use US-23 heading east from Mackinaw City, while US-31 heads south to Pellston Regional Airport before rejoining the Lake Michigan shoreline at Petoskey on its way down to Traverse City.

Bus service to Mackinaw City

A single daily service connecting St Ignace on the Upper Peninsula with Flint and Detroit runs through Mackinaw City.

History of Mackinaw City

Where does the name Mackinaw (and Mackinac, for that matter) come from? It's a shortened corruption of an Ojibwe name, apparently meaning "place of the snapping turtle" (the shape of nearby Mackinac Island resembled the turtle, which was sacred to the Ojibwe).

And remember, both Mackinaw and Mackinac are pronounced the same way: Mack-in-awe.

The Straits of Mackinac were an important point on regional trade routes, and Mackinac City was first settled by the French when they built Fort Michilimackinac. This provided protection for the mostly French and Indian fur traders and trappers in the area.

The fort was captured by the British during the French and Indian War in the 18th century. It was eventually dismantled and moved to Mackinac Island, a more defensible location for the British.

Tourism in northern Michigan began to grow in the 19th century, and Mackinaw City became a hub for visitors who wanted to cross the Mackinac Straits by car or train, or take the passenger ferries to Mackinac Island.

The construction of the Mackinac Bridge in 1957 eliminated the need for car ferries (train ferries continued until the line was closed in the 1980s), and the village is now primarily a popular summer tourist destination.

Things to see and do in Mackinac City

The village has three attractions operated by Mackinac State Historic Parks, as well as boat tours of the Straits and ferry crossings to Mackinac Island.

Colonial Michilimackinac

Colonial Michilimackinac is located on the lakeshore near the Mackinac Bridge. It is a reconstruction of 18th-century Fort Michilimackinac and is designed to show the lives of the British soldiers, French trappers and Indian translators who lived in the stockade. It is open every summer from May to October.

Visitors can even sign up to open the park with the ceremonial firing of a cannon at 09.30 every morning.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse

This historic lighthouse, built in 1889, is also located in the Mackinac State Historic Park at the foot of the bridge.

The lighthouse ceased operations in 1957 and has since been restored so that visitors can enjoy the view across the water. Tours are offered regularly, and some rooms have been recreated as they would have been in 1910.

The lighthouse is only open during the summer months.

Historic Mill Creek

This is the third attraction operated by Mackinac State Historic Parks. Historic Mill Creek is located just over three miles east of Mackinaw City on US-23 toward Cheboygan.

The historic mill site includes a restored 18th century sawmill and dam that once produced lumber for buildings on Mackinac Island. There are regular demonstrations of how the mill once operated, as well as nature trails and children's activities on the site.

Mackinac Bridge

Driving across the bridge is the most common way to traverse the roughly five miles between Mackinaw City and the Upper Peninsula town of St Ignace.

There is no pedestrian walkway on the bridge, but each year on Labor Day the bridge is closed for traffic in the morning and about 50,000 participants take the opportunity to cross on foot, usually led by the Governor of Michigan.

Labor Day walk across Mackinac Bridge on Lake Huron
Labor Day walk across Mackinac Bridge on Lake Huron

Those interested in the history of the bridge, which was built in 1957 and is the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere, can visit the small but free Mackinac Bridge Museum above Mama Mia's pizzeria in downtown Mackinaw City.

Over to the west of Mackinaw City are a trio of attractions:

Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Located two miles west of Mackinaw City, the Dark Sky Park was originally created on 550 acres of old-growth forest on the shores of Lake Michigan. It became a Dark Sky Park in 2011 - one of the first ten in the world at the time.

Visitors can hike the trails during the day, but it is at night that the park offers fabulous views for stargazers.

McGulpin Point Lighthouse

McGulpin Point Historic Site & Lighthouse is open May through October. The lighthouse was in operation from 1869-1906. The site and lighthouse are now owned by the county, which has restored the building and offers tours during the summer months.

McGulpin Point Lighthouse
McGulpin Point Lighthouse

Heritage Village

The Heritage Village has been developed by Mackinaw Area Historical Society in co-operation with Mackinaw City. It is located on 143 acres of land just west of Mackinaw City and covers the period from 1880 to 1917, using historic buildings and discovery trails to showcase life in that time.

Back over on the Lake Huron side of Mackinaw City:

Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum

The Icebreaker Museum is housed aboard the former U.S. Coast Guard vessel, which was built during World War II and served until 2006 to keep shipping lanes clear during the winter months. Tours of the Mackinaw are offered during the summer months.

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island has been a tourist destination since the late 19th century. It was the second U.S. national park (after Yellowstone) and became Michigan's first state park when the island was transferred from the federal government.

Much of Mackinac Island's appeal comes from the fact that it is car-free (except for emergency and municipal vehicles) and that the original buildings have been preserved. For example, the Grand Hotel is a National Historic Landmark, with its long front porch overlooking the tea garden.

Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island

Fort Mackinac, a former American Revolutionary War fortification, is now a museum with guided tours.

Regular ferry services are available to the island from Mackinaw City and St Ignace:

Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry

Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry services have been running since the end of World War II. They operate from a jetty near the Marina and the Icebreaker Museum. Boat tours of lighthouses in the region are also offered.

Mackinac Island Ferry Company

Mackinac Island Ferry Company operate their services from a base a little further south near Mackinac Bay beach. They also have a winter timetable (weather permitting) to the island from St Ignace and offer a special Pirate Boat ferry service for families during the summer months.

Other Lake Huron Towns in Michigan

Alpena, MI


Alpena is a city located on the Thunder Bay River, which flows into Lake Huron. It is the main gateway for the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which is home to more than 100 shipwrecks protected by the cold waters of the lake. The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena is the visitor center for the sanctuary.

Port Austin, MI

Port Austin

Port Austin is located on the tip of the 'Thumb' of Michigan's 'Mitten'. It is known for its beautiful sand beaches, which are perfect for swimming, boating, and relaxing in the sun. Visitors can also explore the nearby Port Crescent State Park, which offers hiking trails and a beach. The much-photographed Turnip Rock is just a few miles to the east.

Port Sanilac, MI

Port Sanilac

Once a lumber settlement, Port Sanilac is said to have been named in honor of a Wyandotte chief, Sanilac. The town is home to the Port Sanilac Lighthouse, which has been in operation since 1886, and an 1850 Victorian mansion that now serves as a museum. A number of shipwrecks lie off the coast of Port Sanilac.

Port Huron, MI

Port Huron

Located at the southern end of Lake Huron, Port Huron is a charming city with many activities for visitors. The Blue Water Bridge connects Port Huron to Canada, making it an international gateway. Visitors can enjoy a stroll along the boardwalk, visit the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse or explore the Huron Lightship Museum.

Mackinaw City Links

Mackinaw Area Visitor Bureau:
Mackinac State Historic Parks
Headlands International Dark Sky Park:
Heritage Village:
McGulpin Point Lighthouse:
Mackinac Icebreaker Museum:
Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry:
Mackinac Island Ferry Company: