Experiencing Northern Michigan: Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory
If you crave a little peace, a lot of lush greenery, and maybe a hint of magic, I highly recommend visiting the Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory on Mackinac Island, where hundreds of unique butterflies from all over the world call home. Last month, on my first-ever trip to Mackinac, I got the chance to take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the Island touring its iconic landmarks, parks, and cemeteries, as well as the butterfly conservatory located near the Grand Hotel Stables. Educational and fun for all ages, the Wings of Mackinac is the grooviest way to spend part of your day experiencing Mackinac Island.
The moment you step into the conservatory, color flutters all around. Butterflies are literally everywhere! The folks behind the Wings of Mackinac work hard to ensure the space is both a thriving environment for the butterflies as well as a breathtaking destination for guests. I love the how artistic and handmade the butterfly conservatory feels when you set foot inside! I’ve long had an affinity for butterflies, their transformative nature, their preciousness.
“Beautiful and graceful, varied and enchanting, small but approachable, butterflies lead you to the sunny side of life,” said Jeffrey Glassberg, an American biologist and author who founded the North American Butterfly Association in 1992. “And everyone deserves a little sunshine.”
The conservatory offers a lot of interesting information about monarch butterflies and butterfly-friendly plants, educational exhibits, and downloadable materials—including an identification chart and a butterfly diagram—for students, teachers, parents, and anyone to learn more about butterflies. Everyone working there is so helpful! They have a knowledgeable curator on site in addition to staff members available to answer visitor questions.
There are many astounding butterfly facts on display around the conservatory. For example, did you know that the fastest butterflies can fly 30 miles per hour? I had no idea! How about the fact that the earliest butterflies lived 130 million years ago? Butterflies were around at the same time as the dinosaurs!
Outside on the porch, staff members took part in seasonal crafts, including sign and face painting inspired by butterflies. “Quiet and peaceful” were the words decorating one sign at the conservatory, while another sign painted with butterflies read, “Mackinac’s ‘Hidden’ Secret.” Around the corner, there’s also a spectacular little gift shop with plenty of perfect souvenirs.
The gift shop carries a wide variety of nature gifts, children’s arts and crafts activities, travel and plush toys, a growing collection of educational and science items, books, clothes, jewelry, cards, posters, prints, mobiles, and gorgeous stained glass pieces as well as all sorts of butterfly-themed gifts.
The Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory also hosts intimate wedding ceremonies inside the greenhouse—by a wrought iron gazebo and water fountain—or outside at other scenic locations on Mackinac Island. Can you imagine a more magical setting than having hundreds of colorful butterflies floating all around you as you say I do? Pretty romantic. Upon exiting the conservatory, visitors are asked to spin around for inspection to make sure there aren’t any butterflies clinging to your clothes on the way out. A butterfly landed on my boyfriend Will’s head and chilled in his hair for a few minutes while we were there! It’s incredible how close you can get to these creatures. They’re so calm and friendly to humans!
New this year, the butterfly conservatory added a fairy garden among the greenhouse space. While the butterflies are friendly, the fairies are a bit more shy, so the fairy garden offers a fun opportunity for children and parents alike to find the fairies hiding around the conservatory. One of my favorite parts of the butterfly conservatory was the Peace Garden—it’s a tranquil escape within a tranquil escape. Signs hand-painted with phrases like “deep peace of the quiet Earth” and “deep peace of the shining stars” set a mood of stillness, brilliance, and meditation within the natural world.
Experiencing the beauty and diversity of the Island’s butterflies at the Wings of Mackinac was truly phenomenal. Open mid-May through the first week of October, the conservatory offers special rates for schools and groups that can include a carriage tour. Another popular spot on Mackinac Island for butterfly lovers is the Original Butterfly House & Insect World. Located directly behind the historic Ste. Anne’s Catholic Church, it’s the oldest live butterfly exhibit in Michigan and the third-oldest in America. With over 800 butterflies imported from Africa, Asia, and South, Central, and North America—all in one spacious tropical garden setting—the Original Butterfly House is worth exploring on any Mackinac Island getaway!
In addition to this butterfly conservatory adventure, an incredible tour of historic Fort Mackinac, fun at the Lilac Festival Grand Parade, and a stay at the Lilac House Bed & Breakfast, my first-ever Mackinac experience included a fascinating tour of the Island via horse-drawn carriage, kite-flying at Mission Point Park, biking along the shores of Lake Huron with the Mighty Mack in the background, visiting lots of cute tourist shops downtown, and more. Stay tuned!