If you live near the Great Lakes area, you’ve no doubt heard of Mackinac Island in Michigan. If you live farther away, you might not know anything about this American beauty. A visit to the dreamy isle of Mackinac is like a trip back in time to another century.
What makes this tiny island worth visiting? The beauty! The history! The fun! There is so much to do and so much to see there.
Mackinac sits on Lake Huron, right where it borders Lake Michigan. There are no bridges from the mainland to the island. Most people arrive via boat and that boat is usually one of the large commercial ferries that travel in and out of the Mackinac harbor from early morning until sunset. There is a very small airstrip there but it is used mainly by the locals.
Let’s start with the natural beauty of the place. Every inch of the 3.8 square mile island is now a National Historic Landmark and approximately 80% of the island is now a Michigan state park. Trees and flowers blanket the isle, as do surprises like this natural rock formation.
As if the natural beauty wasn’t enough, mankind has added a few wonderful touches to compliment nature's striking background. The most notable site when approaching the island is the Grand Hotel. Once you disembark, you will come across a darling village full of charming Victorian bed and breakfasts, wonderful restaurants and small shops.
There are no cars on the island. Only emergency vehicles are allowed and a tour guide told us that there are only three of those. There are only three ways to get around the island, those being by foot, by bicycle or by horse. Over 500 horses are kept on the island. Even the UPS deliveryman uses a horse-driven wagon.
Bikes are absolutely everywhere, too. Not only do the locals use them for their daily transportation but thousands of tourists rent the two-wheelers every day.
WHEN TO GO
The tourist season is short, running from late spring through early fall. Spring temps remain cool well into July. We went in June, just after the Lilac Festival. It was a lovely time to go because the lilacs were still in full bloom. The air was fragrant with the pleasant combination of lilacs and fudge with only an occasional whiff of horse poop marring the experience.
WHAT TO WEAR
Mackinac Island is all about tourism and traditional tourist gear is what most folks wear. Most people wear casual shirts and pants. If you dress up for a day on Mackinac, you’ll be out of place.
You can even visit Grand Hotel dressed casually. While the hotel dictates dressier clothing for dinner, most people wear casual clothing during the day.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you don’t have your own small plane or a boat, you’ll have to take a ferry to reach the island. There are several in the area and they run all day long. The prices and times are similar. The two main companies are Sheplers and Star Line.
WHERE TO STAY
If you are a boater, you can sail there and dock at the harbor pretty reasonably, which is what we did. We stayed for three nights. Staying on our own boat in the harbor was considerably cheaper than staying at one of the local inns. The harbor is well equipped with a bathhouse, large restrooms and even boasts a small but excellent coffee shop right at the end of the dock.
If you prefer more glamorous accommodations go for Grand Hotel. Many of American presidents and celebrities have visited this historic landmark. Two movies were made on the hotel grounds. However, it is not for the budget-minded. Just walking into the hotel will cost you $10.00 per person if you aren’t checking in.
It is cheaper to stay on the mainland and ferry over for the day. However, if you intend to stay on the island for two days or more, staying on the island will be more cost effective. There are several nice ones to choose from. I have yet to read a bad review about any of the facilities there.
WHERE TO EAT
There is no shortage of good places to eat on the island. Don’t miss the Grand Hotel lunch buffet. The cost is $40.00 but the $10 hotel admission that you paid is deducted from the price of your lunch. It is pricey but the food was very good. The cocktails are just as pricey but they were among the best I’ve had anywhere in the world. Lunch at Grand Hotel is worth the price.
There are a lot of good restaurants right on the main street of Mackinaw. We enjoyed several. Just ask one of the tour guides or follow the crowds and you’ll find the best ones. Honestly, we did not have a bad meal during our three day stay on the island.
WHAT TO DO
First and foremost, take a horse and carriage tour. You’ll quickly learn the layout of the island along with its interesting history. Can take a group tour for $24.50. Private tours also available at a slightly higher cost. The tours take you all around the island and the guides are very informative.
Another fun little activity you can do is tour Fort Mackinac. It’s not hard to find because it sits on the highest point on the island. At $11.00 per adult, the self-guided tour is affordable and it is interesting. The best views of the town can be experienced from the Fort.
Shopping is a popular activity on the island. Like with most tourist areas, you will find cheap hats and tee shirts. If cheap is what you seek, look for the shop with the yellow bags. I can’t remember the name of the shop but nearly every tourist in town can be seen carrying those yellow. That particular shop sells a lot of Kitschy souvenirs there. If your tastes run are a little more sophisticated, there are plenty of local higher ends shops to sell artwork, clothing and nautical souvenirs.
Another popular activity is bike riding. Bike rental stands are plentiful. The bikes all have baskets for your gear. Some rental places even provide you with bottled water to take along on the ride.
If bikes aren’t your thing you can go horseback riding. If you prefer not to straddle a horse, you can rent a horse-driven carriage.
If you prefer to get around on your own two feet, there are plenty of places to hike, both on the village streets and on wooded paths. While you’re out walking, stop in at the tiny public library. It is just the cutest library I’ve ever visited. They also offer Wi-Fi and a daily used book sale. Visitors can also walk the Grand Hotel gardens without paying the entrance fee. Just enter from the lower end of the gardens where they border a public park.
Mackinac Island is a beautiful, fun, safe place to visit. It is a great place to go whether you are seeking fun activities for your family or a romantic getaway for you and your sweetie. It really should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Oh, and whether you go to Mackinac Island or Mackinaw City, it is always pronounced Mackinaw.