Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Mackinac Island during the summer months – but what is it like on the island during the winter?
For approximately 450 full-time island residents, it is an opportunity to sit back and enjoy a little peace and quiet as the tourist season winds down. Tony Brodeur, owner of Mustang Lounge, is one of the year-round islanders and his business remains open all year. “Very few things are open here in the winter,” laughs Tony. “It’s quiet up here and it’s cold.” However, it isn’t as quiet as one would think. In the month of December, there are still quite a few tourists who come to enjoy the Christmas Bazaar, and Christmas Week is gaining steam as a tourist attraction, Tony reports. A few hotels and shops will reopen during that time. Doud’s Grocery Store, which happens to be the oldest grocery store in America, stays open in the winter, as well as Cawthorne’s Village Inn restaurant.
The month of January is when it gets really quiet, according to Tony. The boats stop coming to the island because of the ice and sometimes it is too foggy for the planes to fly in. The island allows snowmobiles and is a popular destination for enthusiasts once the ice forms between the island and St. Ignace. Islanders also use snowmobiles for transportation. The snowmobile path across frozen Lake Huron is called the Ice Bridge, which Tony says doesn’t happen every year; but there has been a bridge for the past two years due to the sub-zero temperatures. He gets his supplies by snowmobile and they can also be flown in, but food orders have been delayed due to the weather. “We are beholden to weather patterns,” Tony says. “We get our fair share of snow, but what we really get is the wind and the nasty wind chills.”
Around February, when the ice builds up a little more, snowmobilers make the trek to the island to enjoy many groomed trails for snowshoeing, cross country skiing and hiking. Tony enjoys snowmobiling on the Ice Bridge. “The Mackinac Straits area is pretty amazing in the winter,” he says. With such a small number of residents, many of them get together through the winter for game nights and gatherings. “Monday is Euchre Night,” Tony laughs. What he enjoys the most is having some time for rest and relaxation after a busy tourist season.
If you want a taste of Mackinac Island without all the crowds, a winter trip might be the thing for you. “There aren’t many people but there is always something to do,” Tony says. “Don’t forget to bundle up!”