St. Ignace 350th Anniversary: 16 Things to Do in Michigan’s Second Oldest City
Founded by Father Jacques Marquette in 1671, St. Ignace trails only Sault Ste. Marie (1668) as Michigan’s oldest city. Marquette, a French fur trader and explorer, named the settlement after St. Ignatius of Loyola and sent a couple years in the area before joining Louis Joliet on an expedition down the Mississippi River. While it is no longer a center of commerce, St, Ignace is still a busy town in the summer months as it serves as a gateway to both Mackinac Island and the rest of the Upper Peninsula. In 2021, St. Ignace will celebrate its 350th anniversary (Aug. 20-22) and we thought we would help everyone plan their visit. Below you will find a list of 16 things to do while you celebrate the St. Ignace 350th Anniversary.
Make the climb to the top of Castle Rock – This limestone stack next to I-75 is home to one of Michigan’s ultimate tourist traps. It only costs a dollar to climb to the top but you first must pass through a gift sho full of Michigan souvenirs (doing this with children may prove difficult or expensive). The views from the to are spectacular as you can see Lake Huron, Mackinac Island, and even the Mackinac Bridge from nearly 200 feet up.
Visit St. Anthony’s Rock – Another limestone stack, St. Anthony’s rock is located a block away from the downtown “main drag” but is visited much less frequently than Castle Rock. You’ll find this local landmark next to a parking lot near the corner of Central Hill and Underhill St. (behind Gold Mine Jewelry).
Take the ferry to Mackinac Island – The Star Line and Shepler’s ferry docks in St. Ignace are tyically less crowded than their counterparts in Mackinaw City. Mackinac Island is a favorite day-trip destination and since there are no cars allowed on the island it takes visitors back to a time when walking and horse-drawn carriage were the means of transportation. Once you get to the island, you can check out its many historical sites, check out Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes, take a bicycle tour around the island, shop and dine downtown, visit sites from the film Somewhere in Time, or rent kayaks from Great Turtle Kayak Tours.
Visit Wawatam Lighthouse – This 52 foot tall tower stands at the end of a city park overlooking Lake Huron and Mackinac Island, and it is painted white with red accents and a red lantern room. The lighthouse takes its name from the car ferry Chief Wawatam, which operated between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace before the Mackinac Bridge was completed.
Hike the North Country Trail – After crossing the Mackinac Bridge, the North Country Trail heads through Straits State Park and then into downtown where it follows the Huron Boardwalk. From the NCTA website: “St. Ignace is proud to be the first NCTA Trail Town in the Upper Peninsula. Hikers experience whispering pines and vibrant wetlands, skirt lakes and streams, stroll atop ancient sand dunes and along the Niagara Escarpment to the Lake Superior shore. All four seasons offer nature at its best, first hand and up close. The North Country Trail is easy hiking and accesses abound from parking areas to USFS roadways.”
Tour the Museum of Ojibwa Culture – Indoor exhibits here focus on Ojibwa migration, technology and nature, family units, seasonal movement, the Great Medicine Tree, and interactions between native people and French missionaries. Outdoor exhibits include a replica of a Huron longhouse and the Medicine Wheel Garden. Neighboring Father Marquette Mission Park is home to Marquette’s grave, a statue, and a Michigan historical marker. Admission to the museum is by donation, and goes toward the future preservation of this site. See what life was like here more than 300 years ago by visiting the Museum of Ojibwa Culture.
Camp at Straits State Park – Home to more than 250 sites for tent and RV camping, Straits StatePark also offers mini-cabins and a day-use area with a bridge viewing platform. We’ve been staying at this park and using it as a base cam for U.P. adventures since the late 1990s, and it remains one of our favorites. Book your sites early, because the campgrounds here (especially the sites on the lake) tend to fill up fast!
Visit the Father Marquette National Memorial – This park pays tribute to the founder of St. Ignace, Father Jacques Marquette. A museum here burned down in 2000, leaving just an open-air building with informational kiosks about the life of the famous missionary. There is an interpretive hiking trail, and a few places that offer views of the Mackinac Bridge.
Enjoy views of the Mackinac Bridge – If you need to snap a few pictures of one of Michigan’s most iconic landmarks, St. Ignace has some great spots. The previously mentioned observation decks at Straits State Park and the Father Marquette Memorial offer great views, and Bridge View Park to the west of the fare booths is another excellent photo spot.
Feed the deer at the Deer Ranch – It’s easy enough to see whitetail deer alongside many of Michigan’s highways, byways and back roads – but the Deer Ranch in St. Ignace lets visitors see deer up close and even feed them. This reasonably priced, family-friendly attraction also features albino deer and fawns and it is located right on US-2 within a short drive from the Mackinac Bridge.
Find family fun at the Mystery Spot – A “tourist trap” known for optical illusions, the Mystery Spot has added a miniature golf course and a zipline in recent years. If you’re looking for a fun family outing for part of a day, then this is the place to go.
Grab a meal at a local restaurant – You won’t find much in the way of fast food or chain restaurants in St. Ignace, (McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway are among the few here) but there are some great local restaurants worth checking out! Clyde’s Drive-In out on U.S.-2 is known for its burgers while the downtown strip offers options like the Mackinac Grille, The Gangplank, MI Patio, Java Joe’s, The Galley, and more.
Experience a sunrise from the Huron Boardwalk – Michigan’s Lake Huron coastline is known for its incredibly photogenic sunrises, and the Huron Boardwalk offers many great backdrops for the perfect morning photo. The Wawatam Lighthouse, marina, Mackinac Island ferry boats, and local parks are all great things to have in frame as you try and capture a great sunrise as the day begins.
Grab some Mackinac Fudge to take home – The Mackinac area is famous for its fudge, and while St. Ignace doesn’t have as many shops as the island or Mackinaw City you will still be able to find some sweet treats to take home. Murdick’s, Zak & Mac’s Chocolate Haus, and the Mackinac Fudge Shop have your fudge needs covered, and all three are located on N. State St. near the waterfront.
Shop for souvenirs downtown on State St. – If you’re planning a family trip there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself looking for some Upper Peninsula souvenirs eventually. St. Ignace’s downtown shopping area has plenty of options for clothing, collectibles, postcards, and other souvenirs. Be sure to check out Totem Village, Das Gift Haus, Gustafson’s Up North, Indian Village, Castle Rock, and Lone Wolf Gifts for all your souvenirs!
Visit during one of the festivals – In addition to the extra celebrations for this year’s 350th anniversary, there are some annual festivals and events that can make it an even better visit to St. Ignace if you time things right. Keep in mind that due to COVID-19 restrictions some of these events may be canceled or altered. In April Jeep the Mac brings hundreds of Jeep owners north, and in May the city celebrates its heritage with the Native American festival. A car show in June is followed by Heritage Days in July, and after the big anniversary weekend in August there is an Antique Tractor Show and the Richard Crane Memorial Truck Show in September. Find out more at https://stignace.com/major-events/.