Purple lilacs with a butterfly on them

Mackinac Island Lilac Festival (2024)

Mackinac Island is somewhere that is inherently magical. From restrictions on cars, which leads to travel by horse drawn taxis and carriages, to a sense of traditional, with small shops, handcrafted fudge, and local artists and artisans, it has a feel that is uniquely present on the island. However, for those of us who love lilacs, the annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival is probably the most magical thing one could experience there. While there are many reasons I’d like to return there now that we are sailing, but the idea of taking the boat there and enjoying a whole week at the Lilac Festival is at the top of the list.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Cool, right? Please see our full disclosure for further information.

When Is the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival

The festival is held annually around the first full week of June. For 2024 this means that it will be held from June 7th through the 16th. The dates for the next few years will be June 6th – 15th, 2025, June 5th – 14th, 2026, and June 4th – 13th, 2027. These dates allow for the shrubs to be in full bloom. Fortunately for those visiting for the festival, it also means that they’re on the island at an amazing time of year.

Light purple lilacs

Mackinac Island in June

Over the winter, much of Mackinac Island closes down. While the ferries to the island still run, the number of tourists goes way down and it is primarily permanent residents that are on the island. This also means that many of the shops and restaurants also close during the off season.

Fortunately, by June everything is just starting to ramp up for the season. Most, if not all, of the shops will be open and the weather is starting to warm up. With highs near 70 F, it means that the weather is perfect for comfortable hiking or exploring with just a T-shirt or blouse and perhaps a sweatshirt or jacket if you’re out later in the day. It also means that there are some tourists present, but it is far less than would typically be there in the peak of the Summer, so things aren’t yet crowded.

Plan on walking or riding bikes and carriages A LOT. There are not only no cars on the island, but even motorized options like e-bikes are limited to those with a documented mobility disability. This means that it is a pedestrian heaven. You’ll be strolling from one beautiful scene to the next, riding in historical carriages, or using a good old fashioned bicycle. Expect to be pretty active or paying $9-11 per person for horse drawn taxi rides between some of the more common locations.

What Does the Festival Include

While the draw of the festival is definitely the beautiful lilac blossoms, just one of many colorful flowers that can be seen at this time of year on Mackinac Island, the festival is also time for many other activities. Much like any small carnival, there is live music, a parade, and in this case even a Cornhole tournament. For those that enjoy more secluded options or are more active, there are walking tours and a 10K Run/Walk. For families, the Lilac Queen coronation and the bouncy houses might be the perfect option. And for those that really love lilacs and want to recreate a piece of the festival at home, you can sign up for lilac planting seminars. This is all in addition to the numerous artistic and historical events that are continuously present on the island.

Lilac bush at sunset

If You’re Sailing There

If, like us, you’re traveling to Mackinac Island by sailboat, there is one public marina. The Mackinac Island State Harbor has 70 transient/day use slips. As the website notes, though, you might want to plan ahead for your visit. There are two major boat races which both end at Mackinac Island in July. One is the Bayview Mackinac Race and the other is the Chicago Yachtclub Race to Mackinac. While both races end long after the festival is over, the marina’s website suggests that, “Due to the Port Huron/Chicago sail boat races, reservations are limited from mid-June to late July.” This means that while the races aren’t even started during the period of the Lilac Festival, the increase in traffic they experience from the races can sometimes overlap with the end of the festival.

Travel to the Lilac Festival Without Your Own Boat

Not planning on traveling to the island on your own boat? The fact that there is no way to get to the island by land (the Mackinaw bridge connects the upper and lower peninsulas, not the island), means that you will almost certainly be traveling by Ferry. There are a couple of different ferry services, with prices for tickets ranging from $25-45. Starline Mackinac Island Ferry even offers packages which include carriage rides on the island and a themed “Pirate” ferry.

Traveling without your own boat also means the loss of one of the better benefits of sailing, bringing your accommodations with you! Fortunately, Mackinac Island is the home of many beautiful inns and hotels (none of which are chain companies!).

Of the 36 different places to stay, the Grand Hotel is probably the most famous. It opened in 1887, and is well known for the amazing rooms, package weddings, and history. It was also the location where the 1980 movie “Somewhere in Time” starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve was filmed. With rooms priced from $300-2400 a night there’s a broad range of options. Many of the other options on the island are small inns and B&Bs in beautiful historic homes, so there are choices for all tastes. The many accommodations, their websites, and booking options can be found here.

Must See/Do Things on the Island

While the Lilac Festival is our main draw for this trip, you’d be remiss to visit the island without seeing some of the things it’s most known for. For many this is the numerous beautiful locations to take photos/selfies. Exploring the history of the island, including Fort Holmes and Anne’s Tablet are high on our list. As for food, there are plenty of small quaint eateries, but the number one food that is a MUST on Mackinac Island is the FUDGE (followed closely by salt water taffy…although I admit to not being a fan of this one)! If you’re tried the fudge (or the taffy if that’s your thing) you’ve probably had the most famous food they have to offer…and everyone loves fudge, don’t they?

Purple lilacs with a butterfly on them

Prepare for Your Trip

There are some amazing books that you can read to prepare for your trip. Some cover the history of the island and others are travel guides to explore eateries and places to stay. Among the best we’ve found are:

Mackinac Island (Images of America) by Tom North. This book is a history, through pictures, of the culture and uses of the island. Awesome for history buffs looking to add to their “historical to see” list as they prepare for the trip.

Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel by Mike Fornes. This one is specifically about the history of the most famous hotel on the island. Some may not love the grandiose nature of this hotel as much as I do, but if the hotel speaks to you and you want to know more, this is a great place to start.

Mackinac Island Travel Guide 2023-2024: Insider Tips and Local Insights for a Remarkable Mackinac Island Getaway by Sheila Ryder. This one is very up to date, so you’re sure to find the best places to eat or enjoy a quiet moment without fear that it’s gone out of business. I personally loved the fact that it includes various artisans and that we could grab it as a kindle ebook (meaning it travels with us on our phone, meaning last minute plan changes are always possible if weather changes or some other issue arises).

100 Things to Do on Mackinac Island Before You Die (100 Things to Do Before You Die) by Kath Usitalo. While this is the last on the list, it doesn’t mean it’s the least interesting. In fact, as a checklist fanatic, the notion of 100 things to do, combined with the suggested itineraries, means this is one of my favorites. With little tidbits of information to go with each of the suggestions, it is fun and historically insightful without being overwhelming for those that don’t love historical research.

What About You?

Had a trip to Mackinac that you loved? Tell us about your favorite places to stay, eat, or visit. Think the fudge is over-rated or that I don’t give the taffy enough credit, we’d love to hear what you have to say!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *