Mackinac Island Lilac Festival beckons lilac lovers

The guests of honor arrived just in time, all decked out in pretty purple, pink, white, and fuschia finery. Their sweet fragrance perfumed the air for anyone strolling along car-free streets and shaded lanes, making it a glorious time to visit Mackinac Island.

Lilacs grow in profusion around Mackinac Island. (Susan R. Pollack)

Yes, lilacs, the star attractions, were out in full force when the 69th annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival got under way this past weekend in northern Michigan. And more lilacs – thousands of them — will be in bloom next weekend when the popular 10-day festival winds down.

The Lilac Festival Grand Parade, starting at 4 p.m., June 18, and two “Sip n’ Sail” Sunday evening cruises under the Mackinac Bridge wrap up the week’s events as throngs flock to the island this week to see and sniff several hundred varieties of lilacs in nearly two dozen species.

“There are literally thousands of lilacs on Mackinac Island,” says Jeff Young, a Vermont master gardener and lilac expert who has led lilac walking tours for 14 festivals. “Even the sewage treatment plant has beautiful lilacs – they’re everywhere.”

Lilacs are blooming just in time for the 69th annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival. (photo: Susan R. Pollack)

From now through Sunday, you can sip lilac lemonade and lilac-inspired cocktails and participate in a variety of activities (some ticketed, others free), from learning about lilacs on Young’s inspection tours to participating in beer tastings and barbecues.

A special tour of the Governor’s Summer Residence is scheduled Wednesday morning and an Irish dance session is on tap that afternoon. Friday is a big day, complete with a Purple Pig Roast at Mission Point Resort and an art walk along Market Street.

Saturday highlights include a costumed Dog & Pony Parade, various artist and author sessions, a magic show and other kiddie activities. Sunday’s events range from a Bloody Mary bridge cruise to a Scottish Tattoo featuring the Glen Erin Pipe Band – all before the horse-drawn Grand Parade led by descendants of Native American chiefs Mackinac, Pontiac and Okemos.

Lilacs perfume the air on Mackinac Island. (photo: Susan R. Pollack)

Naturally, purple soaps, candles and other Lilac Festival souvenirs are everywhere, and anyone who participates in lilac transplanting seminars, offered daily except Sunday, gets a free baby lilac to take home. The sessions are led by Young’s wife, Jan, also a Vermont master gardener.

From Mackinac Island’s marina, parks, churches, inns and white picket fences to the porch of the Grand Hotel, lilac-lovers needn’t go far to see and sniff these gorgeous blooms, which can be traced on the island back to pre-Civil War days — and possibly even before.

Lilacs come in many colors and varieties on Mackinac Island. (photo: Susan R. Pollack)

The beauty of Mackinac lilacs, according to the Youngs, is that they’re a natural part of the landscape. As Jan Young says: “You can go to a lot of the arboretums and see lilac collections but nothing like the natural beauty that has become the signature of Mackinac Island.”

Even if you can’t make it this year, it’s not too soon to start planning for the 2018 Mackinac Island Lilac Festival — the 70th annual — June 8-17, 2018. Check

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Susan R. Pollack
Globetrotting journalist and former Detroit News staff writer Susan R. Pollack has covered travel since 1985, visiting scores of countries on five continents, 49 states, six Canadian provinces and hundreds of cities, islands and outposts along the way. From Alaska, the Galapagos and New Zealand to South Africa, Thailand and Wales, she has suffered the occasional lost luggage, jetlag and Montezuma’s revenge but still delights in sharing travel adventures with readers. In addition to The Detroit News, her award-winning stories and photos have appeared in major newspapers including the Dallas News, Toronto Star, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Chicago Sun Times; and magazines including Delta Sky, Midwest Living, Long Weekends, Experience Michigan, Jetsetter, Home & Away, Lakeland Boating, Hour Detroit, Prevue Meetings and Group Tour. She has contributed to several books including "Rand McNally 2008 Ultimate NASCAR Road Trip Guide." She also writes for websites including, and