5 fall hikes to experience on Michigan’s Mackinac Island

Published on September 13th, 2018

Last updated on November 30th, 2022

Sugar Loaf looks stunning in the fall from atop Point Lookout, near Fort Holmes.

You may know about the ferries that shuttle Mackinac Island visitors to and from the mainland. You’ve probably heard of world-famous Mackinac Island fudge, the Grand Hotel’s world-record porch and the historic Fort Mackinac.

But have you seen Croghan Water?

Not many Mackinac visitors have. It’s one of many unique island sites that are off the beaten path.

There are more than 70 miles of hiking trails running through the state park, which makes up more than 80 percent of Mackinac. Because the entire island is less than 4 square miles, it’s easy to explore a lot of it in one day before taking a well-deserved rest in one of Mackinac’s charming hotels, resorts or B&Bs. Of course, there are so many trails that you’ll always have something new to see the next day.

Many of the island’s trails are great for biking or horseback riding, while some are just for hiking. To get you started, here are a few places on Mackinac you can hike this fall:

Around the loop – It’s 8.2 miles around the outer edge of Mackinac on M-185, the only state highway in the country that prohibits automobiles. It takes about an hour or so to bike around the island, and you can hoof it in two to three hours. The road is mostly flat, so not too challenging for novice hikers. And if you need a break halfway through you can grab a snack from the Cannonball Inn at British Landing.

Through the woods to Croghan Water – From British Landing there’s a nature trail that runs about a half-mile inland. The trail offers a good lesson in the island’s natural history as you pass by a steep bluff formed by receding glacial waters and see “Friendship Altar,” a limestone formation sticking out of the earth. Through the forest you’ll also come to Croghan Water, a wetland that’s “Pure Michigan.” Every Mackinac visitor gets a jaw-dropping view of the Mackinac Straits, but not many enjoy the quiet beauty of Croghan Water.

High above Lake Huron – Once you’ve visited the iconic Arch Rock almost 150 feet above Lake Michigan, head north along the east side of the island on the Tranquil Bluff Trail. The island’s longest and most challenging trail is a bit rugged at points and gets close to the cliff’s edge. The reward for enduring the steep climbs are amazing views of the lake far below. Along the way you can break off the trail into the surrounding forest and find sites like Eagle Point Cave. Other challenging trails on the east side of the island are the Winnebago and Lime Kiln trails near Arch Rock, and the Murray and Soldier’s Garden trails farther north.

Across the interior – Bicycles travel some of the trails around the island, like Leslie Avenue and Scott’s Cave Road, but those also are scenic walking paths. And many paths through the heart of the forest are just for hikers. You’ll find a bevy of wildflowers and a heavy dose of solitude on these trails, and some cool spots like Crack in the Island and Cave in the Woods near the airport. Near the village on the west side of the island, the Coffee, Allouez, Indian Pipe and Trillium trails all are moderately difficult and beautifully scenic.

Up to the summit – Okay, there’s no mountain on Mackinac. But the view from Fort Holmes, the highest point on the island, is pretty incredible. The British built the fort as added protection against an American attack, and it’s still there today. It’s a great place for a picnic, and not far from Point Lookout where you can get an amazing view of Sugar Loaf, a giant tower of limestone rising out of the island. On the way there or the way back – via Henry Trail or the Watch Your Step Trail – you can visit the infamous Skull Cave that got its name from the heaps of bones once piled in it.

Check out this map and start planning your own fall hike on Mackinac.