At 351 years old (and counting!), St. Ignace welcomes you into its colorful and dramatic past while serving up plenty of current entertainment—all set on the spectacularly beautiful Straits of Mackinac.

Imagine the Straits of Mackinac in the 17th century, at the cusp of European contact. This sacred spot where the deep blue waters of lakes Michigan and Huron meet between Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas was thick with trees that soared like cathedral spires hundreds of feet into the sky, and rich with wildlife from bear to beaver. The waters teemed with whitefish and other freshwater delicacies. For thousands of years, this land and water had supported Native Americans who developed a complex culture that was at one with the natural world.

Meanwhile, Louis XIV, France’s famous Sun King, was strutting around the opulent Palace of Versailles, plotting to colonize North America. The reason? To monopolize the trade in valuable beaver fur—pelts that had created an obscenely lucrative beaver-hat industry. What men were tough enough to brave this frontier? Certainly, rugged and rowdy voyageurs who handled their fur-ladened canoes like sports cars in the rough lakes and rivers between the North American interior and ports in Quebec, where the furs were loaded in ships sailing for France. The others willing to brave this wilderness? French Jesuit missionaries whose religious fervency fueled their courage.

When the French Jesuit priest Father Jacques Marquette built his mission at a place he named St. Ignace in 1671—just 51 years after the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock— these two cultures converged in a dramatic and colorful way. As the centuries rolled on, St. Ignace’s unique heritage has continued to accent its history, from the lumbering and shipping eras to the construction of the Mackinac Bridge.

“This is a magical place,” says local historian Judy Gross. “There are things here that exist in other places, but the way they come together in St. Ignace is special. Stand at the water’s edge and gaze at the vast expanse of either of the two lakes, and you’ll see ferries going back and forth to the mainland, Mackinac and other islands floating offshore, and of course, on the southern end of town, the Mackinac Bridge.”

Perhaps because, as Gross points out, so many of its founding families still are rooted here, St. Ignace is deeply invested in its history. Spend a couple of days in this gateway city to the Upper Peninsula, and see how history mixed with water springs to life. Here’s a taste of what you’ll find:

Vintage photo of an old home in St. Igance

Photo by St. Ignace Visitors Bureau

St. Ignace Museums, Events & More

Museum of Ojibwa Culture

500 N. State St., St. Ignace | 906.643.9161 | Admission by donation

The quaint setting of this award-winning museum, in a 19th-century mission church set in sight of the Lake Huron shore, belies its treasure trove of history. From the replica of a Huron longhouse, to exhibits, videos and sculpture gardens, visitors are immersed in the fascinating culture of the Ojibwa, Huron and other tribes who called this land home, as well as the dramatic story of Native contact with the French. “It remains a passion of mine to serve and work with the Native American Community to represent their culture and create exhibits that reflect their place in history,” says long-time director Shirley Sorrels. “There are no words to express my joy when we hear from guests that they have truly engaged with our exhibits both indoors and outdoors and know that we have created a distinct and unique destination and historical educational experience for them.”

This fascinating museum can easily soak up half of a day. Include time in your visit to browse the gift shop, home to art and crafts by 125 different Native American and Native Canadian artists.

Father Marquette Mission Park

500 N. State St., St. Ignace | 906.643.9161 | Admission by donation

This petite, tranquil park is the burial site of Father Jacques Marquette—the founder of St. Ignace who went on to join Louis Jolliet on the expedition that was the first to map the Mississippi River.

Native American Festival, May 28, 2022

Museum of Ojibwa Culture, 500 N. State St., St. Ignace | 906.643.9161 | No admission fee

For total immersion into the ancient and beautiful culture of the Ojibwa, plan to attend this festival held annually on the Saturday of Memorial Weekend. Don’t miss the excitement of the grand entry parade, and stay on to see traditional drummers and dancers perform in their tribal regalia, taste traditional Native food and watch demonstrations of Native crafts.

Historical event in St. Ignace

Photo by St. Ignace Visitors Bureau

Father Marquette Festival, June 2022

Watch for more information about this celebration of St. Ignace’s famous founder on the St. Ignace website.

Castle Rock

N2690 Castle Rock Rd. | 906.643.8268 | Admission, $1

Stretch your legs on the 171 steps that lead up to this rock—known also as Pontiac’s Lookout, as the famous Ottawa chief was said to have used it for scouting the Straits. Like Pontiac, you’ll be able to see 20 miles out over Lake Huron from 195 feet above the water.

Father Marquette Memorial

Straits State Park, 720 Church St. | 906.643.8620 | State of Michigan Recreation Passport needed to enter Straits State Park

Now that you’ve been introduced to Father Marquette, delve deeper into the life of this fascinating figure at his memorial. Linger over the 15 stops in an interpretive trail, and gaze at the wondrous view of the Mackinac Bridge from here. The memorial is located in Straits State Park, so you’ll also find camping, trails and picnic sites.

St. Ignace Historical Walking Tour

Huron Boardwalk, 99 N. State St. | Free audio tour

Dip a toe into history (and maybe your toes into Lake Huron!) while strolling the beautiful St. Ignace waterfront. Press the audio button on 29 stops along the way and learn about everything from courageous voyageurs, the disappearance of the Griffon (the first sailing ship on the Great Lakes) and the car ferries that once carried autos to and from Mackinac City across the Straits.

St. Ignace Lodging, Food & Fun

Lodging in St. Ignace

Be it a motel/hotel, cabin or bed and breakfast, chances are a view of the Straits of Mackinac comes with the room. Want to bring Fido on your St. Ignace adventure? Choose from one of 15 pet-friendly establishments in this city. If you’re looking for a stay with a historical twist, check into the 19th-century Colonial House Inn (906.643.6900). For more lodging:

Food You Have to Try

No one goes to St. Ignace without hitting Clyde’s Drive-In for a big, fat juicy burger and an old-fashioned malt (906.643.8303). You’ll also want to dig into a pasty—the traditional (and delicious) meat-and-veggie pies that U.P miners packed for lunch to eat down below. Take your pasties to go from the family-owned Lehto’s Pasties (906.643.8542) or eat them in at Bessie’s Homemade Pasties (906.643.8487). There’s no better tasting fish on Earth (as far as we’re concerned!) than a whitefish caught fresh from the Straits of Mackinac. Order it up planked at Village Inn (906.643.3364), in a hoagie at Mackinac Grille (906.643.7482), as a sandwich or broiled at The Gangplank (906.643.1500), and try it every way you can think of—including sautéed whitefish livers—at The Galley Restaurant & Lounge (906.643.7960). And last, but never least, take a seat at Bentley’s B-M-L Diner (906.643.7910) with its retro soda fountain theme and where historian Judy Gross tells us to “leave room for the pie—especially the peach/raspberry!” For more on eating and drinking in St. Ignace:

Fun When the Sun Goes Down

After a day spent looking back in time, some present tense fun is in order. The City of St. Ignace keeps the tempo lively on summer nights with its Music by the Bay series. That’s every night, from 7-8:30 p.m., in the Starline Ferry parking lot on the waterfront. And wait, that’s not all! Ever wish the fireworks could continue after the Fourth? In St. Ignace they do—every Saturday after the sun sets, from July 4 through Sept. 3. Grab a seat anywhere along the waterfront, on the Huron Boardwalk, at American Legion or Kiwanis Beach Park to watch the show. In town on a Sunday night? This city has your evening plans covered with Movies By The Bay—outside at American Legion Park on Lake Huron.

Visit the official St. Ignace website for more things to do and to start planning your trip!

Photo(s) by St. Ignace Visitors Bureau