Mackinac Island was one of our favorite stops on our Great Michigan Road Trip. There’s much to love about Mackinac Island–there’s natural beauty and zero cars. It’s a fun family vacation destination steeped with military history. And there’s one place on the island go that combines fun things for kids to do and military history: Fort Mackinac.
Disclosure: Mackinac State Historic Parks provided complimentary admission and a complimentary cannon firing session so that I can write about it. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.
Fort Mackinac is part of Mackinac State Historic Parks. Built in 1780, it served as a military outpost, home for soldiers and their families, and later, was the headquarters for Mackinac National Park. Now, it’s bustling destination for history buffs and families, featuring 14 buildings, costumed interpreters, and possibly the best view found on the island.
Things Kids Will Love At Fort Mackinac
Firing The Cannon
Each morning at 9:30 a.m. sharp, the cannon is fired from the bluff overlooking the City of Mackinac Island and Haldimand Bay. Usually, it’s costumed interpreters doing the daily task, but guests can reserve the chance to fire it, too.
I got the chance to fire it on the morning we visited, and it was a thrill. It was actually quite a ceremony, and with my kids in tow, we learned a lot. They were too young to fire it–you must be at least 13 years old–but they were old enough to help clean, load and prime the cannon.
By far, this was the highlight of our visit, as we felt that we became a part of a centuries-long tradition. It helped that we also got souvenir hats, to boot. The kids wore them for the rest of the day.
The experience is $50 for one person, which includes admission into the park and the souvenir hat. Only one person gets to have the experience each day. More details and reservations here.
The cannon is fired a couple times a day, but it’s only the 9:30 a.m. salute that could be fired by the guest.
It’s one thing to read about history on a sign while you pass through historic buildings. It’s something all together different to hear about history through a character from that era.
Fort Mackinac has interpreters in the park who regularly perform demonstrations like a court martial, rifle firing, or a bayonet demo. The rifle firing is pretty loud, so be alert and cover ears.
It’s not just soldiers at the fort now, just as it wasn’t just soldiers back in its day. Look for ladies strolling in costume, as well.
The Kids’ Quarters is tucked inside the Officers’ Stone Quarters, built in 1780. Here, kids can touch exhibits meant to teach through play. They can pull a cord to fire a cannon, dress up like a soldier, practice morse code, and learn how to carry a rifle.
If your kids are under age 8 (probably even under age 10), they’ll like this place.
Walking through history
There are more than a dozen buildings to explore at Fort Mackinac. While some keep guests back from the exhibit to preserve items on the display, others are completely open.
Our tour guide pointed out the bathhouse, which dates back to 1885, as an example.
Fort Mackinac is also home to the oldest building in Michigan. Use that fact to impress your kids.
Treats With A View
The Tea Room, a cafe operated by the Grand Hotel, is located in Fort Mackinac. Of all the places I had a meal on the island (or in this instance, had coffee), this place had the best view.
Most of the day, they serve snacks, desserts and beverages. Lunch is available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
If you go
Where: 7127 Huron Road, Mackinac Island, Mich.
Hours: Fort Mackinac is a seasonal state historic park, so it’s best to double check the hours before going. Here are the 2018 hours:
June 9 – Sept. 2, 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (last admission 6 p.m.)
Oct. 8-28, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (last admission 3 p.m.)
Sept. 3 – Oct. 7, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission 4:30 p.m.)
Admission: $13, adults ($12 online), and $7.50, children ages 5-12 ($7 online). Note: Admission also includes The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum during the 2018 season and the Historic Downtown Mackinac buildings through Aug. 25, 2018.
Beyond the fort
Your admission into Fort Mackinac gets you into the art museum on the island. It’s housed in the historic Indian Dormitory.
It’s three stories of permanent and temporary exhibits, though we didn’t get to explore much. We spend all of our time in the downstairs art studio. Kids could work on different types of art projects there and either take them home, or hang them up with others. The art studio is only open during the summer.
Through Aug. 25, there are four other historic buildings you can tour that are connected to the island’s history as a fur trading depot. Those buildings are the Biddle House, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, American Fur Company Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum, McGuilpin House, and Mission Church.
Read more about Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island inspired an entire road trip through Michigan (more on that to come). To plan your own awesome road trip through Michigan, I’ll be sharing a road trip recap soon featuring restaurant highlights, sights to see, and where to stay. You can start planning now with this ultimate Michigan Bucket List.
For Mackinac Island highlights, read these posts:
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