Mackinac Island - A vacation where you go back in time.
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this place. If you have never heard of Mackinac Island, it's in Northern Michigan (really northern Michigan!). Just as a little aside, it's pronounced the same as Mackinaw.
Where is Mackinac Island and how do I get there?
Mackinac Island is a true island in Northern Michigan. You get onto Mackinac Island not by a bridge but by one of two ferries. You drive to either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, Michigan. There are two ferry companies, one is Shepler's and the other is Star Line. The ferry trip is part of the adventure. Both companies have lots of parking and when you land on Mackinac Island, you are right downtown! No transportation worries!
Mackinac Island - When I take the ferry, where do I end up?
Mackinac Island is known for is no motorized vehicles (actually, I think there may be one ambulance hidden away somewhere). Seriously, there are NO CARS on the road. The main mode of travel is by bike. Bring your own over on the ferry or rent one right on the ferry dock. Or, if a bike isn't your thing, grab the horse drawn carriage to your hotel. That's the local cab service (or, should I say, UBER). It's a little surreal the first time you experience it. You keep expecting to see cars on the road. It's just bikes and horse drawn carriages as far as the eye can see. The huge plus is the ferries both have docks that land right downtown. If you need to get to a hotel, find out if the hotel sends a coach (YES! A real horse and carriage!!), or if they have porters who will bring your luggage to the hotel (via bikes) for you and you are a short walk to the hotel. Remember, no cars!!
Above is one of the two ferry lines that go back and forth all day. If staying on the mainland, make sure you confirm when the last one goes back! It wouldn't be fun to get stuck on the Island without a hotel reservation!
Below is our luggage getting transported to the hotel! Yup! A bike brings it from the ferry to the hotel. Actually, some of the bigger hotels use the horse-drawn carriages for the luggage too!
For years, my kids and I ventured to Elliot Lake, Ontario in Canada to visit my Dad. Mackinac Island was our half way point (6 ½ hour drive from Milwaukee). We made a point of spending a few days there each trip north. The kids and I love it.
Where to stay on Mackinac Island.
We've stayed at three different places.
The Grand Hotel
This is the jewel of the Mackinac Island hotels. This is where the rich families of old vacationed to be pampered and to beat the summer heat. Yes, you still need to dress for dinner and stay in your fancy duds from 6pm on each evening. It adds to the experience.
It is so beautiful at The Grand! The HUGE wrap around porch is lined with white rocking chairs where you can savor a cool drink as you enjoy the view. A wonderful pool, and immaculate gardens on the grounds! Non-guests now have to pay $10.00 to view them now. No riff-raff on this property : ).
The Grand Hotel Stage Coach picks you and your luggage up from the ferry dock.
The Island House
Love history? Stay at the Island House. One of the first, if not the first of the summer Island Hotels. Rooms are pleasant but a little on the small side. I loved the restaurant at the hotel. We bought the package with dinner included. We were greeted by name the first night!
What my boys loved the most was, they had a bonfire in front of the hotel and give us the makings for smores. And, as you are eating your smores, you see the ferries coming back and forth on the lake.
Below is a picture of the Island Hotel.
My personal favorite place is the Lilac Inn. It's newer, the rooms are a little larger and it is right on main street. You're right in the action. Leave your windows open and wake up to the clomping of horses! The Lilac Inn is the yellow building with the Lilac colored awnings (and purple planters on the balconies!)
What to do you do on Mackinac Island?
So, once you get to the Island, what do you do? Well, you relax!! Cell phone service is spotty and internet service is limited (It has probably been updated since this post was written). That's part of the relaxing element and the feeling of stepping back in time. One of our family's main activity is the bike ride around the island. There is a beautiful paved 8 mile road around the Island. Actually, it's Michigan Highway #1. Seriously, it is Hwy 1! But no motorized vehicles allowed!
On Mackinac Island, you'll see many historical plaques. There is so much history here!
It's an easy flat ride. We always finish up at the Dawg House, to enjoy a hotdog at the end of our ride and to watch the kite flyers in the park on the shore.
On the bike ride, you can stop to look at various sights/sites. You get a nice workout climbing stairs to check out the view from the Arch Rock. It's pretty and it's worth it!
Another main attraction is Fort Mackinac. It's up on the hill overlooking the town. It's a wonderful historical experience where the shoot of old cannons still happens. Plus they have some time period re-enactments in a period restored the fort. Love living a little piece of history!!
You can golf on Mackinac Island too. We didn't tackle the real course but always enjoy our round on the nine putting greens. Yup. You just play 9 greens. It's fun for adults and kids alike.
I'm an early bird. One morning I got up early, grabbed my camera and snuck out to wander around before the day really started. The flowers everywhere are breathtaking! Flower gardens, hanging pots and planters abound with vivid color. Can't get enough.
But, I still am amused when I caught the early morning garbage collection. If you didn't believe that they are hardcore about no motorized vehicles on the island - here is the 'garbage truck'!
Bet you won't see that picture on any brochures or on an official website :). Even UPS delivers via horse and carriage but I never did see that 'vehicle'.
A couple of tidbits of advice. Book early if you wish to stay on Mackinac Island. No Hilton's or Holiday Inns so the number of rooms are limited. You can stay at Mackinaw City in Michigan and take the ferry over and back. That's an option but limits the experience. Most important advice, watch out for the horse poop! Ha, ha!!
If, like me, you are trying to figure out your summer, think about this as an old fashioned family trip. It's fun, relaxing and so different from what you have probably done in summer's past.
Enjoy your summer, whatever you choose to do!
I have been to Mackinac Island numerous times, I live in northern Wisconsin, and love it each time I visit...such a wonderful and historic place to visit. Thank you for your great article!
I truly love Mackinac Island! It is an amazing place to go. As soon as I get off the ferry, I am stress free!
I've have heard of Mackinac Island but never had the chance to visit. Your article makes me want to plan a trip. Sounds like our kind of place. Thanks!