Mackinac Island, Michigan
Value for Money:
Personality Types that Like it Best
Did You Know … ?
- The Grand Hotel’s 660-foot porch is the world’s largest.
- When the Grand Hotel opened in 1887, room rates were $3 to $5 per night.
- In summer, there are more than 500 horses on Mackinac Island.
- Admission to a Mark Twain lecture on Mackinac Island in 1895 was $1.
- Lake Shore Boulevard is the nation’s only interstate that does not allow personal motor vehicles.
Look Ma, no car
Mackinac Island enjoys one of the world’s ideal locations. No, it doesn’t sit in a broad blue sea where the skies are sunny and the waters warm 12 months of the year. Its situation and characteristics are more interesting than that.
The island is in the Great Lakes (Huron, to be exact) close enough to shore to have constant and useful interaction with the culture and commerce on Michigan’s mainland but far enough away to avoid a bridge and, therefore, to avoid cars.
A few early automobiles roamed the island, but they have long since been banned — all but emergency vehicles. The only way in and out is by ferry or by air.
The island is a few miles east of the point where Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas face each other across the Straits of Mackinac. The peninsulas are linked by a bridge, also called Mackinac. Ferries serve the island from both peninsulas.
Visitors are left, happily, to explore the small island (three miles long with an eight-mile perimeter) on foot, in buggies, by horseback or on bicycles. In winter, cross-country skis and snowshoes are alternatives. Mackinac Island State Park encompasses more than 80% of the Island’s land.
In season, visitors also take to the water in numbers, aboard fishing charters and sightseeing cruises. But the rocky Mackinac Island is not a beach destination. Swimmers head to hotel pools.
The town itself is a small place. It complements the island’s natural attractions with the bars, restaurants, festivals and sports events that entertain visitors when they are not communing with nature or zoning out in a rocking chair on their hotel’s porch. Activities are also staged in the state park at Fort Mackinac, a storied establishment that had a role in the War of 1812.
Guests stay in small inns or grander establishments. The aptly named Grand Hotel stands out, not just as a fine place to stay, but as a tourist attraction in its own right.
Mackinac Island, with a year-round population of 600, draws a million visitors a year. The tourism business is largely seasonal and some attractions close when winter sets in.
Things to do for Venturers
- It’s a pleasure to cycle on the island’s 70 miles of car-free roads and trails. For a challenge, choose the road that takes you to the landmark Arch Rock. You can bring your own bike to the island by ferry.
- Listen for some or all of the following — bluegrass, blues, classical, country, rock, folk and jazz — at the Mackinac Island Music Festival in August.
- Fly a kite. The island has the wind for it.
- Compete in the Lilac Festival 10K race or join the event’s street hockey tournament. The June festival celebrates the aromatic flower but is the setting for a wide range of activities, including line dancing in the streets, walking tours and wine tastings.
- Do your own driving in a hired buggy, accommodating two, four or six passengers, through Mackinac Island State Park.
- Cover the relevant parts of downtown during one or two pub crawls. A Mackinac Island crawl calls for collecting an official pub crawl T-shirt, then collecting the bartenders’ autographs.
Things to do for Centrics
- If a fan of the 1980 “Somewhere in Time,” filmed at the Grand Hotel, dress in relevant period costumes and join the fan club’s annual gathering to celebrate the time-travel love story that starred Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve.
- Meander through the woods on horseback, with or without a guide.
- Charter a boat for fishing the waters around the island. Or, for sightseeing, sail out into Great Lakes waters on a catamaran.
- See if you are frightened while on the island’s haunted history tour, which is based on the book, “Haunts of Mackinac.”
- When the snow is on the ground, slip on cross-country skis or snowshoes and follow the trails in Mackinac Island State Park. Follow the same trails in autumn for the fall colors.
- Go dancing, whether your choice is ballroom dancing at the Grand Hotel or doing the boogie in a downtown bar.
Things to do for Authentics
- Watch vintage sports. Each year, Wawashkamo hosts the Hickory Stick Tournament. Golfers carry hickory stick clubs and wear period clothes. Or, in July at Fort Mackinac, watch some baseball played using rules dating from the 1840s, the so-called “gentlemen’s rules.”
- Stay at the 19th century Grand Hotel; arrive by horse-drawn carriage.
- Eat the local fudge. Buy gift packages of the sweet to take home. Come for the Fudge Festival in August if it fits your schedule.
- Choose a horse-drawn carriage tour, which will take you through downtown and to other points of interest including Arch Rock and Fort Mackinac. Pair this with the Surrey Hills Carriage Museum to learn about the vehicles and see a working blacksmith shop.
- Watch and photograph reenactment activities at Fort Mackinac.
- Play golf. One choice is a National Historic Landmark: Wawashkamo, Michigan’s oldest golf course and a War of 1812 battlefield.
For more information, consult the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau at www.mackinacisland.org