Michigan: Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is a small place but packs a punch when it comes to a rich history, and makes you feel you have just walked on to a film set
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.
One of the first places we called upon was the Mackinac Island’s Missionary Bark Chapel. These chapels were made out of bark and were established by the Jesuit missionaries. The first ones were built in the 1600s by the “black robes” as the Indians called the Jesuits. Father Charles Dablon was the builder of the first birchbark chapel a recreation of which sits below the fort on Mackinac Island.
After exploring the town we climbed 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 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!
In Summary …
- Getting to Mackinaw City is the hardest part and it is not the cheapest place to get to
- There is a lot to do on the island so you can easily spend a day or more
- There is no motorised transport so you’ll have to take a horse and cart or cycle or walk!
- The summer months are busy so get your tickets for the ferries and book your accommodation well ahead of time!
Planning the journey
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. The exits are clearly marked for several miles.
1. Mackinaw City
2. St Ignace
|Journey time:||2 1/2 Hours|
|Fare (Round trip) – online fares||Adults $27; Children (4 to 12) $16; Under 4 free|
|Fort Mackinac Infomation|
June 5 – September 5, 2021
September 6 – October 10, 2021
October 11 – October 24, 2021
Child (Age 5-12) $8.00
Best time to visit Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is a popular tourist destination in Michigan. Many people visit the island during the summer months – this is when the weather is at its warmest and it’s considered the best time to visit Mackinac Island. The mornings are cool and the afternoons are warm. Because schools have breaks during the summer, Mackinac Island can be a little crowded during this season. The fall months and the spring months are good times to visit if you don’t mind chilly temperatures: the island is less crowded and room rates come down. Winter time is cold and warm clothes are necessary to enjoy the beauty of the island. There are many free things to do during the winter season on Mackinac Island.
Where to stay on Mackinac Island
1. PINE COTTAGE BED AND BREAKFAST
The unique Victorian farmhouse décor and design of each room with rustic hardwood floors lend itself to the quaint cottage’s much-beloved country character. Choose from 14 traditional guest rooms with either a private or shared bathroom. One multi-room suite will accommodate up to six guests. All rooms have flat-screen smart television and high-speed wireless internet. Porter service for your luggage is available to and from the ferry docks. Each morning a to-go breakfast is available in the dining room. Built in 1870, Pine Cottage was one of the first hotels on historic Mackinac Island. Over the years, it has welcomed some famous guests, including writer Ernest Hemingway and baseball player Ty Cobb. See for yourself what’s been drawing visitors here for centuries. Reserve your Mackinac Island getaway today!
2. MURRAY HOTEL
This historic, 69-room hotel dates back to the late 1800s. Family owned and managed since 1882, this charming hotel is located in the heart of downtown Mackinac. Guests to relax in an atmosphere of Victorian-era décor or to step out of the double doors onto Main street. The old-fashioned atmosphere has been preserved, whilst the facilities have been updated to meet the needs of the modern traveller. All rooms have their own private bathrooms.
3. THE INN AT STONECLIFFE
Situated high on the west bluff of Mackinac Island, The Inn at Stonecliffe lodging offers something for everyone. The Cudahy Manor offers 16 captivating guest rooms featuring views of the Inn’s expansive grounds, the Mackinac Bridge and surrounding Straits of Mackinac. The Summer House contains 29 richly appointed studio suites and two two-bedroom suites, decorated in a classic summer cottage style with a light Victorian influence.
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