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Mackinac Island: A Timeless Retreat in Northern Michigan
Mackinac Island is a unique gem tucked away in Northern Michigan.
This secluded getaway offers a respite from the busyness of our everyday lives, taking us back to an easier time.
The island’s charm lies not only in its gorgeous landscapes but also in its rich history and unique lifestyle. There’s even movie history on the island! Check out “Somewhere in Time” with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour for a vintage peek at the island.
When visiting Mackinac Island, you’ll experience a world where horses and bicycles replace cars, fudge shops line the streets, and Victorian architecture transports you to another era.
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The Allure of Mackinac Island
So, what’s the secret behind Michigan’s Mackinac Island being named as the best island in the continental United States by Travel + Leisure magazine? Is it just its unique location nestled between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas in Lake Huron or is there more to this northern Michigan gem?
In essence, it offers an escape from modern hustle-n-bustle with horse-drawn carriage rides replacing cars for transportation – creating a serene atmosphere that feels like stepping into another era.
A Blend of History and Natural Beauty
Mackinac isn’t all about nostalgia though. It holds historical treasures such as Fort Mackinac, a national historic landmark that gives a peek into past events while offering panoramic views over Lake Michigan at the same time. Gorgeous views and historical lessons! I’ll take it!
Beyond history, nature plays her part too. Limestone cliffs tower majestically around parts of this roughly four-square-mile island. The island’s dense forests are home to plenty of hiking trails leading up to attractions like Arch Rock within Mackinac Island State Park. Finally, the family-friendly downtown area has something fun awaiting you at every corner. If you love shopping, you’ll love downtown Mackinac!
Midwest State Park Adventures makes a great travel companion or gift. Some of the best travel writers in the Midwest collaborated to put this book together, which covers 12 Midwest States and hundreds of state parks.
And I, the Hip Grandma, contributed by writing the Michigan chapter!
You can click on the photo to order on Amazon or click HERE to learn more and order a signed copy directly from me.
Captivating Charm: More than Just Scenery
The island’s charm extends beyond scenic beauty, too. The entire island offers tranquility & adventure at the same time, and that makes it stand out from other destinations. Whether exploring the quaint shops that sell everything from souvenirs, clothing, art pieces, and more to visiting renowned art galleries featuring works by local artists – there is always something exciting happening here. So next time you plan a trip, add Mackinac Island to your list because the experience offered here is truly unmatched anywhere else.
A Journey Back in Time: The History of Mackinac Island
Michigan’s Mackinac Island, a gem nestled between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, boasts an intriguing history that has left its mark on the United States. Its strategic positioning made it a pivotal player during the War of 1812.
The island is home to historic forts like Fort Mackinac which remain from a bygone era. Fort Mackinac was initially erected by British soldiers during the American Revolutionary War and served as a crucial military base throughout the subsequent war with Britain.
The War of 1812 and Its Impact on Mackinac Island
In July 1812, just days into what would become known as the second fight for independence from Britain (the declaration hadn’t been reached yet), British forces seized control over Fort Mackinac without firing even one shot.
However, American troops were not ready to back down so easily. They constructed another fortification named Fort Holmes, strategically located atop the highest point on the island. Despite their best efforts though, they couldn’t reclaim Fort Mackinac until after the fighting ended.
Today these sites are more than just historical monuments; they offer an immersive peek into our own history. At Fort Mackinac, visitors can witness reenactments performed by costumed interpreters or explore original buildings filled with authentic furnishings reminiscent of those turbulent years. Meanwhile, at Fort Holmes, you’re treated with panoramic views across the straits while imagining what it would be like to stand here during those early days. All of this history contributes to creating an unforgettable journey through our nation’s rich history.
Getting to Mackinac Island
So how do you get to Mackinac Island? Easy! By way of a ferry ride from either St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula, or Mackinac City in the lower peninsula.
The Shepler’s Ferry and Star Line Ferry both offer regular voyages during peak season. And let’s not forget about those unforgettable views of the iconic Mackinac Bridge. Shepler’s Ferry now offers a bridge-view ride, which includes a side trip underneath the amazing Mackinac Bridge. Have your camera ready because you won’t want to miss this cool experience!
Of course, as you make your way to the island, you’ll want to keep an eye out for the Round Island Lighthouse, another well-loved landmark, and of course, watch for sailboats bobbing gently amidst Great Lakes freighters. The views on your ferry ride are half the fun of getting to the island!
Finally, note that the ferries offer an up-top seating area where you can feel the sun beat down and the wind in your hair, or a more protected and climate-controlled indoor seating area for those who prefer a less “natural” experience on the open waters. If you plan to take photos, I recommend sitting up top where the views are best!
Accommodations on Mackinac Island
Once you arrive on the island, you’ll need to have a place to stay. And trust me when I tell you that an overnight on the island is the perfect way to really experience the full joy of island life! There is no shortage of options for an overnight stay, either. The Grand Hotel, for instance, offers a very high-end experience that’s akin to stepping back into a more elegant time. Pack your checkbook for this stay. The Grand doesn’t come cheap!
On a side note, if you don’t plan to stay in the Grand Hotel, take note that for a $10 fee, you can come on in and wander around. You can even enjoy a cocktail in the Cupola Bar where you are treated to a stunning view of Lake Huron and the Mackinac Bridge.
Boutique Bed & Breakfast: Embrace Local Charm
If your tastes lean more toward charm and comfort, consider one of the boutique bed & breakfast accommodations on the island. There are at least ten to choose from, all ranked as top-notch stays. And there’s nothing quite as charming or comfortable as enjoying your breakfast and a cup of coffee with the sounds of the island coming to life, complete with horses hooves clomping down the roads surrounding your accommodations.
Hotels on Island offer Modern Convenience
There are also a variety of hotels to choose from on the island. No matter what your budget or style, you’re sure to find the perfect place to stay. Most of the hotels are conveniently located in downtown Mackinac, so you are within walking distance of the shops, restaurants and attractions.
In addition, many of these hotels have pools, hot tubs and fitness centers. Some even have private beaches or cocktail areas. I have stayed on island multiple times and getting luggage across is super simple. Staff at the hotels is usually helpful and friendly and will answer any questions you have about the island.
In summary, there is no shortage of places to stay, although I do recommend booking early as the island is plenty busy in the summer months.
Experiencing Life Without Cars on Mackinac Island
In 2023, Mackinac Island celebrates its 125th anniversary of the motor vehicle ban. The absence of motor vehicles here is a unique and charming characteristic that first began in 1898. The story is told that a few cars originally came onto the island, the locals’ horses were spooked, and the government body on the island voted on a motor vehicle ban that remains to this day. One of my favorite parts of island life is the sight of horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and pedestrians all weaving in and around one another on the streets of the island.
Mackinac Island Carriage Tours: A Guided Journey Through History
If you’re looking for guided exploration with historical insights, Mackinac Island Carriage Tours offers just that. You’ll be transported around the main attractions as horses’ hooves rhythmically clip-clop against cobblestone streets – adding to your journey’s charm.
A horse-drawn carriage is the perfect introduction to the island and its many stories. All you need to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. If you are coming with a group of people, consider a private carriage tour, which offers a more personal experience at a competitive price when divided up amongst the riders.
The Bicycle Experience: Freedom at Your Fingertips
If you prefer more freedom during your adventure on the island, consider bringing your bike. Bicycles are welcome on all ferries and are easy to load and retrieve when you travel to and from the island. Of course, renting a bicycle from one of the island businesses also provides the opportunity for self-guided tours along scenic trails or down the main street at your own pace.
You can’t miss the bike rental shops located right on main street. They’re everywhere and they have bikes of every shape and size, including tandem cycles. Bike rentals rates are generally reasonable so don’t worry about breaking the bank.
A special note about e-bikes. As of summer 2023, only class 1 e-bikes, which are pedal assist for people with qualifying mobility disabilities, are allowed on the island, so know that you’ll have to put the leg work in if you want to ride.
Pedestrian-Friendly Streets: Walk into Tranquility
Of course, you can always use your own foot power to explore the island. In addition to carriage rides and cycling adventures, walking is a pedestrian-friendly way to get your steps in and explore at your own speed. The very best way to discover the downtown area is on foot, as crowds get fairly heavy during a regular summer day.
Lose track of time and embrace the slower pace of life when you’re on Mackinac! You’ll create memories that last a lifetime.
Culinary Delights on Mackinac Island
Foodies delight! Embarking on a culinary adventure on Mackinac Island is like opening a treasure chest of foodie delights. The island boasts plenty of dining options that cater to all palates and wallets.
You’ll discover everything from upscale restaurants serving gourmet dishes crafted by renowned chefs to laid-back eateries dishing out comfort food classics. Many pride themselves on incorporating locally sourced ingredients into their menus for an authentic taste experience.
My personal favorite is, of course, the Pink Pony! The food is delicious, and there’s pink everywhere! This place is the perfect retreat for this pink-loving Hip Grandma! Be prepared to put your name on the list if you stop in at a classic mealtime. The place gets busy. This is the perfect opportunity to explore the Pink Pony gift shop and find a new pink accessory to add to your wardrobe while you wait for your table.
I recommend sitting on the upper patio outdoors where you can enjoy a lovely view of the island’s marina and watch ferries pull in and out with loads of people coming and going from the island.
Mackinac Island Fudge: A Sweet Indulgence
And of course, no visit would be complete without indulging in the local delicacy – Mackinac Island fudge. This mouth-watering treat has been delighting visitors since 1887 when Henry Murdick first introduced his confectionery creations. Today you can watch the fudge being made right before your eyes at several iconic fudge shops across the island.
Fudgemaking isn’t just another craft here; it’s considered high art. Each shop holds its own unique recipe passed down through generations creating flavors such as chocolate pecan or maple walnut, which are simply irresistible. My favorite is cherry amaretto, not only because it’s delicious, but also because it is, you guessed it, pink!
Ryba’s Fudge Shops or Joann’s Fudges have become must-visit spots due not only to their rich history but also because they offer so many varieties for every tastebud. So remember not only savor some during your stay but also take home boxes as keepsakes for those who couldn’t join you.
Exploring Nature on Mackinac Island
The allure of nature on Michigan’s Mackinac Island is undeniable. Mackinac offers a whole list of outdoor activities that allow you to immerse yourself in its natural beauty.
This entire island forms part of the Mackinac Island State Park, an expansive green space covering over 80% of the land area. It presents endless opportunities for nature enthusiasts and adventurers alike. Just look around and you’ll find trees such as Cedar and the Norway Maple, flowers including Jack-in-the-pulpit and Wild Columbine, and a huge number of ferns and fungi. But don’t pick them, no matter how tempting they are! There is a fine on Mackinac Island for picking the flowers and plants, so remember to leave only footprints and take only photos!
Oh! And don’t forget the Lilacs….
Annual Events That Make Visiting Extra Special
Every June, Mackinac Island hosts the annual Lilac Festival when hundreds upon hundreds bloom across the island creating a visual spectacle unlike one you’ve seen before. The island even smells like Lilacs, and you’ll find a whole host of Lilac scented products in the gift shops. If you are a lover of Lilacs, then an Island visit in June is just perfect for you!
In addition to the Lilac Festival, take note of the Race To Mackinac yacht race – quite literally thrilling spectators as participants navigate challenging waters around the island. You can find more details about this exhilarating race here.
Hiking Trails within Mackinac Island State Park
Of course, you’ll find plenty of hiking trails on the island that will take you to Instagram-worthy sites like Arch Rock & Skull Cave, among others. Arch Rock stands tall above ground level providing panoramic views over Lake Huron while Skull Cave carries historical significance dating back to Native American times and further used during the War Of 1812.
Shopping & Art Galleries in Downtown Mackinac
Finally, let’s talk a little more about Downtown Mackinac. You can’t miss Mackinac’s family-friend downtown. As you disembark after your ferry ride, you’ll find yourself right in the middle of the hubbub. With its family-friendly vibe and diverse offerings, downtown Mackinac is a shopper’s paradise. The area brims with stores selling everything from trendy clothing to unique art pieces and memorable souvenirs.
Roaming through the quaint stores gives you a feeling that’s hard to replicate elsewhere. But no worries, of the roughly four-square-mile island, downtown is only a small portion. So if shopping isn’t your scene, just find your way to the carriage tour location or take a left and walk right on out of the busy area!
Renowned Art Galleries Featuring Local Artists
Beyond retail therapy, downtown Mackinac boasts a thriving art scene as well. Renowned galleries scattered across town display works by local artists who draw inspiration from Michigan’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.
A Taste Of Unique Shopping Experiences
Mackinac Island offers more than your typical touristy gift shops, too. Here you will find one-of-a-kind shopping experiences. For instance, book lovers will love the local independent bookstores offering titles of various genres including island history, nature & other interesting fun topics.
I especially enjoy the little grocery store right on main street, which reminds me that people actually live on Mackinac Island year-round! This little grocer carries a little bit of everything and I love wandering the aisles imagining that I’m one of the local residents.
If you’re looking for some guided fun while you’re on the island, check out one of these cool scavenger hunts from my partner at Viator. This is a great, low-expense way to explore the island and it’s history!
FAQs in Relation to Mackinac Island
What is so special about Mackinac Island?
Mackinac Island’s unique charm lies in its car-free lifestyle, historic forts, picturesque landscapes, and rich history. It was named the best island in the continental United States by Travel + Leisure magazine.
What happened on Mackinac Island?
The island played a strategic role during the War of 1812. Today, it’s a beloved summer resort known for its Victorian-era charm and horse-drawn carriage tours.
What are the historical facts about Mackinac Island?
Mackinac Island was significant during the War of 1812. Landmarks like Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes provide insights into this past. The entire island is also listed as a National Historic Landmark.
Why is the C silent in Mackinac?
The name “Mackinac” originates from Native American languages where final consonants were often not pronounced. Despite spelling variations, pronunciation remains consistent with its origins: ‘mack-in-awe’.
Need a Place to Stay?
Wrapping it All Up
From the allure of its car-free streets to its rich history, Mackinac Island is a truly unique destination. The War of 1812 left a lasting impression on the island, both in its landscape and culture. Getting there is part of the adventure. Enjoy a ferry ride from Michigan’s Upper or Lower Peninsula!
Once you’re there, accommodations range from luxury resorts to quaint bed-and-breakfasts – all exuding Victorian-era charm and offering stunning views over the Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.
A life without cars awaits visitors, where transportation involves horses, buggies, and bicycles. It’s a refreshing change! Culinary delights abound too – don’t forget to try some local fudge!
Nature lovers will be in their element exploring trails leading up to landmarks like Arch Rock or Skull Cave within Mackinac Island State Park.
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