There’s a reason the British built Fort Holmes where they did. Two hundred years ago, it just wasn’t easy for American forces to get up there, some 320 feet above lake level on the highest point of Mackinac Island.
Two centuries later, reaching Fort Holmes remains a challenge.“It’s all uphill,” said Jimmy Fisher, a year-round islander who owns Mackinac Wheels and Mackinac Bike Barn.
The reward for making it up to the top is not only a look around the recently-restored fort, but a spectacular, panoramic view of the island and the surrounding waters. It’s especially beautiful in the fall, when the blue of the Mackinac Straits contrasts with the reds, oranges and yellows of the leaves on the trees below Fort Holmes and nearby Point Lookout.
“Seeing the changing colors adds a different perspective to the island,” Fisher said. “One of my favorite spots in the fall to go is Point Lookout. You get a good northern view of the trees.”
The summer tourism season has faded into fall, but Mackinac Island is still open for adventure. Here are some of the best ways to experience the splendor of Mackinac in September and October:
Hike the trails — More than 80 percent of the island is a state park, and there are 70-some miles of trails running through it — including over 30 miles of single-track trails only wide enough for single-file hiking or biking.
Tranquil Bluff Trail is one of the more challenging trails on the island, and it offers incredible clifftop views of the lake below. “It’s very rooty and rocky with lots of ups and downs and they’re pretty steep,” Fisher said. “Part of it’s not even bikeable, but you can walk it.”
Other scenic trails: Lime Kiln and Winnebago trails on the east side of the island near Arch Rock; Allouez, Coffee, Indian Pipe and Trillium trails on the west side near the village; British Landing Nature Trail on the north side. Find maps here.
Explore the sites — Everybody goes to the iconic Arch Rock. Not everybody sees the other unique geologic sites farther into the island’s interior. If you can make it up to Point Lookout, you not only get a great view of the trees to the north but also a look at Sugar Loaf, a giant rock that rises 80 feet out of the middle of Mackinac.
The contrast between the island’s largest limestone stack, the fall colors around it and the beautiful blue waters beyond makes for a striking vista. Adventurous types can even take a staircase down to Sugar Loaf to get up close, where you’ll feel dwarfed by the sheer size of the tower.
Other sites to explore: Sunset Rock in the Stonecliffe Area is a popular engagement spot with a great view of the Mackinac Bridge; Crack-in-the-Island near the airport is a literal crack in the island; Skull Cave near Fort Holmes once housed piles of bones.
Pedal around — Because cars are not allowed on Mackinac, there are tons of bikes. You can take your own to the island on the ferry or rent from one of several shops. Most everybody who bikes takes a ride around the island on M-185, the country’s only state highway without cars. It’s 8.2 miles around the loop, which takes about an hour or so without stops.
There also are many miles of paved or gravel roads running the interior of the island, as well as single-track dirt trails. A fat tire bike is recommended to handle the roots and rocks of the dirt paths.
Other ways to get around: take a horse-drawn carriage ride through town or a saddle ride through the island’s interior; go for a sunrise kayak paddle and see fall colors from the water; get behind the wheel of a golf cart at the historic Wawashkamo Golf Club or The Jewel at the Grand Hotel.
After a day of play outdoors, relax the night away at one of Mackinac’s great restaurants and taste some world-famous Mackinac Island fudge, or join the party during the island’s inaugural Macktoberfest or popular Halloween weekend. Check out the island’s calendar of fall events.