Michigan: Mackinac Island
A delightful journey back into the past when things were gentler and a slower pace.
Mackinac Island (pronounced MAK-IN-AW) covers around 3.8 square miles and is located in Lake Huron, at the eastern end of the Straits of Mackinac, between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The island was home to a Native American settlement before European exploration began in the 17th century. It served a strategic position amidst the commerce of the Great Lakes fur trade. This led to the establishment of Fort Mackinac on the island by the British during the American Revolutionary War. It was the scene of two battles during the War of 1812.
In the late 19th century the Island became a popular tourist attraction and summer colony. Much of the island has undergone extensive historical preservation and restoration; as a result, the entire island is listed as a National Historic Landmark. It is well known for its numerous cultural events; its wide variety of architectural styles, including the famous Victorian Grand Hotel; and its ban on almost all motor vehicles. More than 80-percent of the island is preserved as Mackinac Island State Park.
The ferry journey only takes about 20 minutes to reach the harbour area of the Island. The summer months are busy times here on Mackinac, the ferries are full and the dock is busy with bustling porters taking bags from the boats to the awaiting horse-drawn carriages. The only ways of getting around truly are by horse, bicycle or foot. Fantastic!
The buildings in the town have been restored to their former Victorian splendour so the place is quaint beyond belief and made all the more glorious by the warm summer sun. Whilst people actually do live here the place is also a historic landmark and a number of the residences have been turned over to being museum pieces. We buy a ticket that gets us into the houses and to the fort.
After exploring the town we climb the steep hill to Fort Mackinac, which provides a splendid viewpoint (and defensive position) across the harbour and Mackinac Straits. The ownership of the fort changed a couple of times between the British and American through the late 18th centuries. Today, it is a museum and has been beautifully restored with oodles of fabulous exhibits. Being the holiday season there is plenty of activities being offered by the Park Service. In the main parade ground, we get to see a court-martial and there are lessons on marching and playing in the regimental band, which Jack and Emily get to join in.
We spent a good 2 hours visiting the Fort before heading back down the hill to the town, where there are a number of houses and buildings that have been turned into museums. During the tourist season, these mini-museums are occupied by volunteers in traditional costume who are only too happy to tell you more about the history of the building and how folks lived in yesteryear.
By this time we were ready for a refreshing ice cream and an obligatory paddle in Lake Huron. All too soon it is time for our ferry ride back to the mainland. Mackinac Island is a magical place and well worth the visit – but it is not a place you would pass on the way to anywhere particular so you have to make the effort to get there!
Interstate I-75 brings you to the ferry docks of both Mackinaw City (Lower Peninsula) and St. Ignace (Upper Peninsula). Access to the island can be made from both of these cities.
Where to stay: