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Mackinac is a timeless place. Mackinac is a humorous place. Mackinac is a beautiful place. Mackinac is a different kind of vacation place. Read on to see how...
It's cool air, pristine waters combined with the beauty of the island, historic buildings and multitude of recreational activities create a magical place to visit - be it a long week-end, a week or more.
When to visit the island - just pick a season. Tourist season used to be July through Labor Day.
Spring is ideal with flowers making their spring bloom after a hearty winter spell. Breezes will be cool off the big lake and days getting longer with bouts of mild sunshine. Enjoy the Mackinac City Pagent. This is the final launch before summer season hits.
Summer is for tourists - all shops, restaurants and gift stores are open for the mad rush of people to the island. Enjoy longer days, warm sunshine, mild breezes and tons of things to do. Enjoy the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival, The Straits Auto Show(Michigan is the home of the Big Three after all - GM, Ford, Chyrysler). Fourth of July Festival, the Port Huron to Mackinac Yacht Races, Horse show, Anqtique boat show.
Fall is for the relaxed crowd. The trails on the island are for exploring and seeing the vista of leaves on trees turn from green to orange to yellow to gold. Businesses still remain open and the rush of people has died down. Enjoy the Bridge Walk (across the Mackinac Bridge) and the Mackinac Island Boat Race.
Winter is for the hardy. Great cross country skiing, winter hiking and warming up beside a cozey fireplace and sipping cocoa. A time to explore and a time to relax.
Mackinac Island is located between Michigan's Lower Peninsula and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. You can get to the island by ferry boat, commerical or private plane or by private boat.
Ferrying: three ferry companies operate from the mainland...Arnold Ferry Line, Shepler's Ferry and Star Line Ferry. Ferries run from May-Oct. from the Lower Peninsula and May-New Year's Day from the Upper Peninsula. Hours are of course longer in the summer and shorter the rest of the year. Check current time schedules for departures. Usually...every 15 minutes to 1/2 hour in the summer and less the rest of the year. Costs change yearly - expect to pay about $15-20 per adult round trip and $10 or so for kids (once again check current schedules to be exact). The porters load your luggage from your car to the boats and onto the island. Tips are not required but, kind to do. Most ferry companies allow you to park your car at their loading stations for no charge. The newer boats take about 15-20 minutes to cross the waters to the island...older boats 30-40 minutes. Either way...on a beautiful day...the boat crossing is great fun itself. Bundle up - it's windy!
Flying In....Mackinac Island has a 3,500+/- ft. paved lighted runway that is very busy with incoming and outgoing traffic in the summer. There are modest fees for landing, tieing down planes etc. The airport is about 3-4 miles from town. You'll need to take a taxi into town from here. There is also a commerical airlines in the area - Great Lakes Air - out of St. Ignace Aiport. They can carry 1/2 a dozen people to and from the island in 5-10 minutes.
Sailing to the island....Mackinac Island has it's own marina - The Mackinac Island State Marina. It can accomodate roughly 100 boats and is open most of the year. Get there early as spots are first come, first serve. And...in the height of summer, they fill up very fast. Boats are charged rentals on a per foot basis for overnight stays. Usually, four-five nights is the max, that way someone else gets some time in harbor too. There are little stations to gas up and such. A nice way to get to the island and leave again. Nothing like being on the great lakes from the deck of your own boat. And...Michigan is still the boating capital of the US and visiting this island, you'll know why.
So...getting here is a breeze!
There are standard hotels, resorts and B & B's on the island. Those can be researched on line. There is also availability to rent true cottages, apartments and houses as well. Contact the Mackinac Chamber of Commerce for the most update to date openings. Take your pick, what you want, they have be it for a few days or for a few weeks.
A short list would be The Grand Hotel (the one you see in all the famous shots with it's long, long porch), The Chippewa Hotel, Harbor View Inn, Iroquis Hotel, Island House, Lake View Hotel, Lilac Tree Hotel, Stonecliffe Resort, WIndermere Hotel,Inn on Mackinaw, Market Street In,, Mcnally Cottage, Metevier Inn, Pine Cottage, Small Point, Mission Point, Bay View, Bogan's Lane Inn and Chateau Lorraine.
You need to read up on each of these properties to get a feel for location, size, amenities and price. Some are located in town, some outside of town, some on the edge of the island. Some provide full service - true hotels - others more moderate involvement. Most of the B & B's are renovated old houses turned businesses and offer the perks of personal service, quaint rooms and hearty breakfasts. Prices can be low at $75 a night in some spots up to the mid $400's in the best of places. Research well, price is not all the matters on this island.
Remember that off season rates can be much lower than high season rates. High season would be June-Labor Day, and off season all other times. Ask for special packages as some places do carry those upon request.
We stayed at The Mission Point Resort - see my review there for full details.
Remember...one of the exciting things about Mackinac Island is that cars, trucks, motorcylces and the like are banned from the island! Motor vehicles have been a no-no since the turn of the century. Companies who made their livings via horse drawn carriages and the like petitioned the city council so that no vehicles with motors could be used on the island and it passed.
So...know when you visit, you get around in a few different ways:
1) Walking. Use your feet and let them do the walking - all around the island. Wear good shoes - you'll need it.
2) Bicycles - you can bring your own to the island or rent one at many of the bike rental firms on the docks. You can rent for an hour or all day. Costs have been going up in recent years and can be pricey if you have a large family. Either way - expect costs to be about $5-8 per hour and then up. Deposits are required.
3) Horse drawn carriages - Yes, the real thing. You can see it and smell it but, both the horse and it's team are well taken care of so, expect no messes in the streets - it's quickly cleaned up. Carriage tours pick you up at the docs and take you and your luggage to the hotel/inn of your choosing. Most hotels have specific carriages for their patrons so, no cost there or minimal. Other carriages around town have moderate fees per hour. You can rent private chauffered carriages, do group carriage tours or even drive by yourself. The first two carriage costs maybe $15-20 per person per hour...the other maybe $40-50 - not cheap but, all worth it to see the island in it's glory - often away from the main hustle and bustle of town.
4) Taxis - by this, I mean simply a large horse drawn carriage that holds maybe a dozen people. These operate 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Like yellow cabs, you simply stand on the side of the road and hail a "taxi" and jump on and fill up the carriage as everyone else does. You tell the driver where your stops are and jump off when the time is right. Very easy and very convenient.
Be aware horses do not move like cars do - they are slow moving at best. Especially on hot days or when they are feeling tempermental. When you come to the island plan to scale back and relax. Things move at a much slower pace so, make sure you adjust your schedules to this. The horse and driver will get you to your destination as planned - just at their own pace.
5) Remember that there are over 140+/- miles of trails on this island - feel free to walk, jog, bike, hike, roller blake or rent a horse for horse back riding around to all the sites. It's your time, see it at your leisure. The carriages only stay on designated paths and/or near downtown and the hotels so, the rest of the island is yours to explore in a very personal way. Enjoy.
If it's food you want on your vacation - you will find it on Mackinac Island. Thankfully, with all the walking you will do...you can work off some of the calories you are bound to take on with all the food to be eaten on Mackinac.
There are restaraunts in the heart of the city- by the harbor called the downtown district. There are restaurants outside of the downtown area and of course, at each of the main hotels.
Some examples of eating establishments are: Ice House Bar & Grill & Govenor's Dining Room (Both at the Island House Hotel), Pub Oyster Bar & Grill, Horn's Gaslight Bar, Pilot House, Harborside Dining Room/Pink Pony - Chippewa Hotel, Pancake House, Waterfront Cafe, Surrey Sandwich Shop, Dockside Restaurant, Lighthouse Grill, Carriage House - Iroquis Hotel, Yankee Rebel, Mustang Lounge, The Point Dining Room - Mission Point Resort, Round Island Bar & Grill - Mission Point Resort, Jockey Club, Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, Brian's Barbeque.
There are of course a ton of other pubs, restaurants and grills to enjoy on the island. I mentioned those above as most we stopped in a either had a drink/appetizer, main meal or desert. All had lots to offer in terms of great food selections, specialties, drinks and beautiful lake views to behold. Prices could be low at $5-5 per appetizer to $15-$30 pp/per meal at some of the better spots. There is truely something for everyone. Be it a burger, a steak, a fish dinner or some fine road side barbeque.
Of special note is the Dining at the Tea Room at Fort Mackinac. The view alone will take your breath away. There are outdoor tables/chairs/umbrellas over-looking a large terraced eating area. You can have a light snack and or drink and simply sit back and enjoy the beauty of viewing the harbor, lake and other islands in the distance. It is a magical sight being hundreds of feet in the air over-looking the wonder of Mackinac Island - especially on a sunny, summers day.
If you are into pomp and circumstance most people choose to eat at the Grand Hotel Restaurants - The Main Dining Room and Terrace Room. Both typically require reservations and proper dress for men, women and children. We did not eat here as we wanted a relaxing vacation not one requiring dress code and high prices. Expect to pay $30-35 for lunch pp and $60-70 pp for dinner. Maybe more. The location, the decor and the ambiance are very appealing - only you know if these high prices will be worth it. We chose elsewhere but, The Grand is certainly a must on any visit to the island.
Families will find the island very kid friendly. Most of the hotels and restaurants cater to kids so, menus will have food they like and activities for them to do. All the food and sweets on the island will be like heaven on earth for the little ones.
You can't mention food without saying "FUDGE" on Mackinac Island. They are known world wide for this sweet and sugery creation and it is everywhere on this island. Many stores, many locations so, you can't avoid the scent or the sounds of it being made. It's a must to stop in and try at least a small piece of two as the stuff comes in every flavor under the rainbow now.
My husband and I stayed at the Mission Point Resort and I gave specific feedback to two meals we had in the main dining room. Visit the hotel review to see our input.
Suffice to say...lots of other choices, considering eating elsewhere.
Mackinac Island is small but, charming. As I said above, Soho it's not...Rush Street it's not...New Orleans French Quarter it is not...but, it does have alot to offer even when the sun goes down. We visited a few bars and pubs and the music was playing and people were singing, dancing and whooping it up - long into the night. A few places we visited or snuck a peep were:
The Pink Pony
The Mission Point Resort
The Jockey Club
The Island House Hotel
The Horn's Bar
Since we were there a few years ago...some new places may have come or old ones gone. Check with the Chamber upon your landing to find out what is the latest so, you get in on all the after hours fun.
There are three shopping areas on the island - The Grand Hotel, Market Street and Main Street. When you reach the island, be sure to buy a map. It will show all the important locations of shop on each street so, you can stroll the the main areas you want or simply help you look at everything in an orderly fashion one by one.
When I say the island offers everything, I'm not kidding. For a little place it sure packs a punch. You can buy anything your mind imagines on this island and then some. There are stores for babies, kids, adults, and even animals. If you want something, they probably have it here. Examples include:
Silver mine goods
Traditional island t-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, etc.
Toy stores (including the necessary rubber tipped tomahawk, kites, windsocks, games and beach gear)
Ice cream, candy & fudge stores (9-10 of these no less!)
Photography store/picture stores
Village Blacksmith store
Shops specific for Michigan made goods & materials
I have no idea how many stores are in place but, my guess is a good 100 or more.
If you like shopping, this will be your little piece of heaven.
My husband and I refrained from buying too many "holiday goodies" and stuck to the important stuff - some Michigan made goods, some homemade candy and two original art works that were scenes of the island and harbor in oil. We were happy with our small purchases even if they set us back a bit. Chatting with the store owners and artists are also a real pleasure on this island. Everyone is happy, friendly and not at all pushy. Browse and look to your hearts content, it's part of the fun on this island.
The location of Mackinac Island is important. Being positioned in the middle of of the straits gives the island importance to past military leaders, government officials and the historic native indians . The beauty of the island's harbor, high bluffs and amazing vistas, boundless blue waters and natural woodlands make it an ideal location for those who lived in days gone by and current visitors. There is something for everyone to do on this island.
Water - Mackinac Island in in the straits of Mackinac - sandwiched between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan - a 50 mile passage. Two of the largest and most beautiful fresh water lakes in the world let alone the U.S.
This area is an important shipping channel so, you can view freighters and ships on a daily basis in this area carrying goods to and fro.
In turn, the water is loaded with fish of all kinds - trout, bass, salmon and whitefish. This is a fisherman's paradise. Cast a line in designated areas and see what you catch (try to have your fishing license handy).
You can also enjoy the water by swimming, paddle boating, yahting or sailing and simply walking along the waters edge. A paradise for sure.
Natural Sights to see include Anne's Tablet, Arch Rock, Cave In The Woods, Devil's Kitchen, Brown's Brook, Sugar Loaf and Skull Cave. It's amazing to see what centuries of wind, water, sand, sun and storms can do to the land.
Because Michigan sees all four seasons, the landscape is ever changing. There are a wide variety of trees (maple, oak, cedar, spruce, pine) and hundreds of varieties of natural and wildflowers dotting the land as far as the eye can see. The terrain is diverse - beaches, bogs, marshes, woods and meadows. A serious adventure awaits the outdoor buff.
Historical attractions...Make sure you stop and buy your tickets at either the Visitor's Center or the little ticket booths near the main attractions. You can't visit many places without a pass so, plan on buying one. It gives admission to the most important historical sites. I can't remember the cost - somewhere in the range of $15-25 a person. Check for current costs. Plan on a full day for the below sites - it's quite a bit of walking up the bluffs to the Fort, walking around the Fort and it's buildings and then down toward the harbor again for the balance of the village historical sites.
Must view items include the Indian dormitory, Fort Mackinac, Fort Holmes, British Landing, The Governor's Summer Residence, Missionary Bark Chapel, all the island churches, blacksmith shop, courthouse, Fur Company Warehouse, McGuilpin House, Stuart House, Beaumont Memorial and more.
The island is teaming with little shops and villages that will take you back in time. The history of Mackinac is over 300 years old after all! It wasn't until the late 1770's that the island truly became a place of strategic importance between the French, British, Indians and Americans.
Since then development has been on-going and fortunately progress has been tempered so that the past remains and the present has been allowed in small portions. That allows the present and future not to erase the past but, enhance it. Kids will love all the demonstrations going on around the Fort and adults will enjoy learning about a history of the state and how important this island was to the nations of the world.
Make sure you check into the Visitor's Center to acquaint yourself once in town and/or visit the information booths around the downtown.
It's a must that you buy a map of the island, insider guides books to help you along the way (such as Historic Mackinac Island The Visitor's Guide or Amy McVeighs Mackinac Connection Book or Mackinac, An Island Famous in These Regions put out by The Mackinac State Historic Parks) and any necessary visitor passes or tickets early for entrance to all sites and events.
Visitor guides, historical books and maps likes these make your trip complete, fun and the best it can be. While you can manage the island without them - the key is you will miss so much if you don't have them. The cost is worth it.
Happy travels to Michigan and Mackinac Island!