20 Reasons to Visit the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival

by | Jun 14, 2024 | Family Adventures, Midwest, Mommy Getaways, Romantic Retreats, USA

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Is there any scent as lovely as a lilac? Light and sweet, the scent of this delicate purple flower is as fleeting as the summer. We think that it deserves to be celebrated while it’s around! And we aren’t the only ones! Michigan’s Mackinac Island Lilac Festival is an annual 10-day celebration of all things lilac. And we are so here for it!

USA Today has ranked the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival as the #2 Flower Festival in the USA. Which is so exciting for my boys (it’s not), but it is for me! And don’t worry about them. They like the island’s fudge. 

There are no cars on Mackinac Island, just horses and bikes. The air is as pure as it gets. (Unless you are in the wagon of a horse who… well, you know…) Anyhow, it’s no wonder lilac lovers from around the United States flock here every year. 

No matter if you’re a seasoned visitor, like us, or considering your very first trip, here are 20 reasons why you absolutely need to visit the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival this year. 

 

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The Grand Parade

Let’s start with a bang – or, rather, a parade! The Grand Parade is the highlight of the festival, featuring horse-drawn floats, marching bands, and the Lilac Queen and King. It’s a sight to behold and a perfect way to kick off your lilac-themed adventure. The vibrant floats waltz down the street to cheerful music and set the tone for the flowery festivities. The tone is – fancy flower party meets fairytale princess. 

 

Pro-tip: Fudge and ice cream shops border the main street if anyone needs to be bribed.

 

Families line the streets to watch (and eat fudge). And visitors get to mingle with locals.

 

Live Music

What’s a festival without music? Enjoy live music performances throughout the entire festival, from local bands to guest artists. There’s nothing like dancing down Main Street with a lilac-scented breeze and a live soundtrack. The festival features a good variety of genres, ensuring there’s something for everyone, whether your jam is jazz, country, or classical. There is even music meditation! (Which is what I’m into, especially after a few days of hauling sugar-infused boys through a flower festival). The Grand Hotel Orchestra usually makes an appearance, adding an extra touch of elegance to the event.

 

man making a huge slab of fudge

This is what kept my boys satiated for long enough for me to see the Lilac Queen! ©Shutterstock

 

It’s a 10-Day Celebration

Yes, you read that right. This is not just a weekend event; it’s a full 10-day celebration! That means more time for fun, more time for flowers, and more time to soak in all that Mackinac Island has to offer. Each day brings new activities, from the Lilac Festival Run to Lilac Planting Seminars to Lilac Watercolor Workshops. My husband just reminded me that during the Lilac Planting Seminar, they didn’t talk about digging a hole and putting the plant inside of the hole, but they did, in fact, do that. He very gently suggested that the lilac bush I bought from Lowes two weeks ago shouldn’t still be above ground in its plastic container. “Well, it’s just another reason to head back next year!” I laughed. 

 

Fort Mackinac

History buffs, rejoice! Visit Fort Mackinac, a historical military outpost with guided tours and interactive exhibits. Learn about the island’s rich history and enjoy the stunning views from the fort. Established during the American Revolution, the fort has played a significant role in the island’s history. Its well-preserved buildings and informative displays make it a must-see for anyone interested in the early days of the United States. It also proved to be the perfect place to send the guys while I learned how to paint a lilac. Who knew there were so many different shades of purple?!

 

The Island’s Largest Summer Event

The Mackinac Island Lilac Festival isn’t just any festival; it’s the largest summer event on the island. My son, Michael, told me that this was wrong. He said that the largest summer event will be when he takes his shirt off at the pool, revealing his 10-year-old biceps. This may have been the case for the tween girls at the pool had they been able to take their eyes off of their phones, but for the rest of us, we can rest assured that the lilacs are the main and the largest event. It’s the perfect opportunity to see the island at its liveliest, with visitors worldwide coming together to celebrate. 

 

my son flexing

Michael flexing. He wins the most adorable event. ©Mom

 

Windermere Point

Head over to Windermere Point for a relaxing afternoon by the water. It’s a great spot to enjoy a picnic, watch the boats go by, or simply take in the beauty of northern Michigan. Bring a blanket and catch stunning views of the Straits of Mackinac. Bring a football, and you may even get the joy of refereeing a rambunctious pick-up game where you accidentally get grass stains on your ivory lilac party pants. Yes, whether unwinding after a busy day of festival activities or just soaking up the sun, Windermere Point is the perfect place to relax (or think about relaxing).

 

DON’T MISS! The Traverse City National Cherry Festival

 

Downtown Mackinac Island

There’s always something happening in downtown Mackinac Island. Explore charming shops, indulge in local cuisine (the fudge!), and enjoy the bustling festival vibe. The historic architecture and quaint streets make every stroll a unique and delightful experience. Don’t forget to stop by the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau for tips and information on the best places to visit during the festival. Downtown is also home to many of the festival’s key events, making it a hub of activity. It should be a first stop!

 

 

Unique Walking Tours

Take advantage of the unique guided walking tours available during the festival. These tours provide a deeper look into the island’s history, flora, and fauna. Plus, you’ll get your steps in while learning something new! From the Lilac Walking Tour that showcases the island’s beautiful blooms to historical tours to scavenger hunt tours that bring out a lively sense of competition perfect for engaging kids through Mackinac’s past, there’s a tour for every interest. 

 

Coronation of the Lilac Festival Queen

Don’t miss the coronation of the Lilac Festival Queen, a beloved tradition where the new queen is crowned amidst a respectable amount of fanfare. It’s a must-see event that adds a touch of royalty to the festivities. The event’s pageantry and excitement make it a highlight of the festival. If anyone was wondering, word on the street is that the Lilac Queen’s ideal date is June 4th because it’s not too hot nor cold, and it’s the date she won her crown. 

 

 

Rich History Dating Back to 1949

The festival has a rich history dating back to its inaugural event in 1949. Discover the stories and people who have made this festival a staple of northern Michigan culture. From its beginnings as a small community event to its current status as a major global tourist attraction. 

 

Find Out How One Family Made an Island

Learn about the Hubbard family, who were key figures in the island’s history. Their legacy is an integral part of the festival and the island’s development. The Hubbard family was instrumental in preserving many of the island’s historic sites and promoting its natural beauty. Their contributions have helped shape Mackinac Island into the beloved destination it is today.

 

Northern Michigan

You’ve heard Kid Rock sing about it. Now, you get to experience it – the natural beauty of Northern Michigan. The region’s lush forested landscapes and scenic lake views are the perfect backdrop for a lilac-filled adventure. From the rolling hills to the clear waters of Lake Huron, northern Michigan offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The festival is a perfect excuse to explore this special region that everyone in Michigan calls “Up North.”

 

The mackinac bridge

The Mackinac Bridge is in charge of connecting Michigan’s lower peninsula and upper peninsula. It’s also in charge of the fact that I can now hold my breath for 4.995 miles. ©Shutterstock

 

New Hampshire Connection

Did you know there’s a New Hampshire connection to the festival? Many of the lilacs on Mackinac Island are said to be descendants of those in New Hampshire. We hope this adds a fun bit of trivia to your visit. Or, we hope that if you make it to the final round of a trivia contest during the festival, you do NOT lose a free vacation to the island because you didn’t know the answer to the question, “From what state do many of the lilacs on the island come from?” The answer is New Hampshire. 

 

arch rock on mackinac island

The Arch Rock on Mackinac Island is hands down the coolest rock I’ve ever seen. ©Aubrey Antles

 

It’s Free!

There isn’t much that is free in life. Great news – the festival offers complimentary admission! Enjoy many free events and activities without breaking the bank. From concerts to tours, there’s plenty to do that won’t cost even a dime. This makes the festival accessible to everyone, ensuring that all visitors can experience the joy and beauty of the event. It also means more spending money for those charming shops on Main Street.

 

The Carriage Taxi

Take a carriage taxi ride around the island for a truly unique experience. It’s like stepping back in time as the horses clip-clop along the historic streets. And it is a great opportunity for your children to ask if you remember when you rode in a buggy before cars were invented. Then in your new lilac diary, you can journal about the cute exchange that follows.

“No, honey, Mommy was born in 1979.” 

“I know. Was that hard without cars or TV?” 

“I’m sorry, dear, I said 1979… not 1879!” 

Back to the carriage taxi, whether it’s a romantic ride for two where you get to really pretend that you are living that Bridgerton fantasy or a fun family outing, a taxi carriage ride is a must-do activity.

 

horse carriage on Mackinac Island

This is the ride that my sons think that I rolled around in in 1979. ©Shutterstock

 

Carriage Tours

In addition to rides, there are also guided carriage tours. Learn about the island’s history and sights from the comfort of a horse-drawn carriage. These tours provide a good overview of the island’s key landmarks and historical sites. With the added benefit of a guide’s commentary, you’ll better understand Mackinac Island’s past and present. We also learned that it gives the perfect opportunity to learn about how truly unique a horse’s potty habits are on the island. I would go further into it here, but I will save that special surprise for you and your loved ones to uncover. 

 

Mackinac Island Public School

Visitors will undoubtedly wonder what it would be like to live on the island full-time. Check out Mackinac Island Public School’s role in the festival. The school adds a special community touch to the celebrations, from student art displays to performances. The involvement of local students highlights the community’s commitment to education and the arts. It’s a great way to see what it means to be a full-time citizen on the island.

 

Hubbard’s Annex

Visit Hubbard’s Annex, an area dedicated to the island’s first summer homes for wealthy vacationers. This historic district is rich in history and beautifully preserved. It offers a glimpse into the island’s architectural heritage, many in the Carpenter Gothic Style, and the lives of its early residents. The well-maintained buildings and serene environment make it a delightful place to explore or role-play your favorite Bridgerton scene. 

 

 

Complimentary Admission to the Mackinac Art Museum!

During the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival, visitors can enjoy free admission to The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. The museum’s collection includes fine and decorative arts related to Mackinac through four long-term exhibits. On the first floor, the main gallery displays stunning views of Mackinac from the early 19th to the late 20th century. Two smaller galleries give a glimpse into decorative and Native American art. Head up to the second floor to explore Mackinac photography from the museum’s permanent collection and a gallery dedicated to Great Lakes maps. Audiovisual presentations throughout the museum provide an even deeper dive into some standout pieces. Great news for the best teens in your life: they can finally wear their earbuds in a place where it doesn’t seem rude to do so because everyone else is wearing them to hear the tour. Feeling Sigma? Borrow their tunes while strolling the galleries.

 

Beautiful Marquette Park

Relax in beautiful Marquette Park, a central spot for many of the festival’s activities. It’s the perfect place to chill and forget about the real world. The park’s lush greenery and vibrant flowers create a picturesque setting for whatever is going on with the family- a picnic, poetry writing, or even a burping contest. (Don’t ask me how I know.) 

 

When You Go

 

 

Getting To Mackinac Island From Los Angeles

Visitors can fly from Los Angeles into the Pellston Regional Airport, the nearest airport, in about 7 hours. The airport has shuttle services to the ferry docks. Mackinac Island is accessible by a short 20-minute ferry ride from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace. Shepler’s Ferry and Star Line Ferry offer regular service to the island. Once on the island, getting around is easy with bike rentals, horse-drawn carriages, and walking.

An excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia! This is where we start our research for the best deals!

If you’d like to be in the know for exclusive discounts to fly anywhere in the world, check out Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). Their website shows current deals, and they send emails when they find crazy cheap discounts. Some can even be booked with points.

 

Where to Stay In Mackinac Island

The Grand Hotel

Known for its historical charm, The Grand Hotel offers luxurious accommodations, multiple dining options, an outdoor pool, and stunning views of the Straits of Mackinac.

 

The Grand Hotel

I can’t decide if I would rather stay inside of it or across the street from it. © Aubrey Antles

 

Mission Point Resort

Mission Point Resort features include a lakeside pool, fitness center, restaurants, and family-friendly activities. It’s perfect for those seeking a comfortable and relaxed stay.

 

Lake View Hotel

Lake View Hotel is a Victorian-style hotel with an indoor heated pool, complimentary breakfast, and easy access to downtown Mackinac Island’s attractions.

 

Where to Eat On Mackinac Island

The Pink Pony

Famous for its waterfront views and pink umbrellas, this restaurant’s menu includes a variety of dishes, from fresh seafood to gourmet burgers. It’s a great spot to enjoy a meal while watching the boats come in.

 

front doors of The Carriage House restaurant

Another great restaurant to check out- The Carriage House! ©Shutterstock

 

The Gate House

This casual dining spot near the Grand Hotel has the most delicious sandwiches, salads, and local favorites. It’s perfect for a relaxed lunch or dinner.

 

Mary’s Bistro Draught House

Known for its extensive beer selection and hearty meals, this bistro is a must-visit for anyone looking to enjoy great food in a lively atmosphere.

 

In my humble opinion, The Mackinac Island Lilac Festival is the best flower festival in the United States. There’s something for everyone, from the Grand Parade and Live Music to the Lilac Walking Tour and Coronation of the Lilac Festival Queen. The island’s rich history and abundant beautiful lilacs make it a truly unique vacation.

 

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Steffy McCourt is a mom to three active and awesome boys, two budgies, one cockatiel, and a mischievous corgi. Currently an ELA Teacher in Plymouth, Michigan, she also writes for parenting magazines and education websites. She just recently launched her own travel website, www.mifamilytravel.com; a tribute to the state of Michigan. She has an MS in Educational Leadership from Butler University and a BA in English from Indiana University.