Snowmobiles, Quiet Streets, and Stellar Sunsets: What Life Is Like on Michigan's Mackinac Island in the Winter

Mackinac Island downtown covered in snow

Mackinac Island, Michigan, is not your average island. It's a small, remote piece of land on Lake Huron between Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas that looks more like a Victorian village than it does a small town in the 21st century. Instead of cars you'll often see horse-drawn carriages, bikes, and in the wintertime, snowmobiles making their way through the streets.

And while it's a popular vacation destination for summer and fall travelers (the island's Grand Hotel was named one of the best resort hotels in the Midwest in Travel + Leisure's World's Best Awards in 2020), I've often wondered what it looks like when the tourists are gone and the charming coastal town is covered in snow. Luckily, I didn't have to go all the way to Michigan in the midst of a pandemic to find out for myself, since one TikTok creator has taken it upon herself to show those of us who are filled with wanderlust what it's like to live on Mackinac Island year-round.

Woman sitting by wooden arch

In early 2020, Bailey Janette took to TikTok to document life as a full-time resident of Mackinac Island, where she's lived since 2018. And with over 300,000 followers and 4.7 million likes in just over a year, it's clear she's made her mark on the platform's travel community. In her videos, Janette shares details of everyday life on the island, including everything from snowmobiling around town in the wintertime to preparing to take the ferry off the island. On Election Day this past November, for example, Janette shared a video of herself arriving at her polling place — a perk of small-town living, she was the only one in line. She also often posts ambient videos of nature on the island, simultaneously offering a dose of wanderlust for travel lovers stuck at home and a respite from the otherwise chaotic nature of the app.

Beach in winter with ice

Understandably, the mood on Mackinac Island is quite different season to season, as Janette explained. "We go from an influx of thousands of tourists and seasonal employees down to the bare bones of a community of 500 people," she said.

"In the summer, it's very fast-paced. There's a ton of people, there's an overwhelming amount of options as far as places to eat, places to go, things to see…but in winter, [locals] are allowed to really slow down, and time is a huge thing we value."

While summertime on Mackinac Island for vacationers often means carriage tours, bike rides, and waterfront dining, winter for Janette and other island locals offers a reprieve from the busy season, and of course, transportation via snowmobile. During the wintertime, "we get to sit back and breathe and recuperate from a long, hard working season," she said.

Sunset in snow with woman holding Christmas tree

As for her success on TikTok, Janette isn't surprised people are so curious about Mackinac Island, and she's been pleased with the positive response she's received on her videos. "The island itself has such a strong and loyal fan base," she said. "And to be able to share this very special place with so many people is very exciting."

It might be some time before Mackinac Island is ready for the same summer vacation crowds it's used to, though Janette shared some tips with T+L for future travel. On her list for must-see spots on the island are Arch Rock and Fort Mackinac, a stunning geologic formation and historic military outpost (and the oldest building in the state of Michigan), respectively. "Of course, everyone should try our fudge," she added. She also recommends taking a sunset cruise for the best views of the island. 

Mackinac Island Arch Rock

"The island is a safe place to really sit back, unwind, relax, and let the island show you what it wants to," Janette said. But for now, I, along with the rest of her TikTok fans, will be following along for more peeks behind the curtain of life as a local on Mackinac Island.

Madeline Diamond is a Brooklyn-based e-commerce editor at Travel + Leisure, and she's constantly fighting the impulse to overpack for her next trip. You can follow her on Twitter @madgdiamond and Instagram @madelinediamond.

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