Mackinac Island is a nearly secret place in Michigan that hardly anyone knows about. It’s way up north in the waters between the top of the mitten and the upper peninsula. It rests below the massive spires of the great Mighty Mac Bridge.
On the island, they adhere to the old ways. Like the 1800s ways. There are no cars and only a few places to stay. None of them are chain hotels.
Once there, you can hike, engage in non-motorized watersports, or bicycle around the island. You could borrow a horse if you prefer that over a bike. Once you’ve worn yourself out, you can get dinner in one of a dozen restaurants and acquire some handcrafted fudge made fresh before your eyes for dessert.
That’s it. That’s about all there is to do on this secluded, secret island. But a visit there will leave you feeling like you’ve gone back in time – because you have.
You can only get to the island by boat. We, non-rich folk, take Shepler’s Ferry. While on the ferry, you’ll pass nearby the massive “Mighty Mac.” Nearly five miles long, the bridge is the world’s 24th-longest suspension bridge and a sight to behold. It connects the lower and upper peninsula of Michigan. It’s one to put in your architecture scrapbook.
At the end of the ferry ride, you are deposited on the docks, where horse-drawn carriage taxis will take you a short ride up the hill to downtown.
The downtown looks like something out of the 1800s with a dirt main street and small candy, trinkets shops and novelty restaurants. This is exactly the type of Americana that American’s love. WE LOVE IT. But it’s not a re-creation; it’s real. It never changed.
The World’s Largest Porch
The Grand Hotel’s front porch is so big it could be a joke like your momma’s butt. No, really, it’s so big you can actually see it from the ferry on the ride to the island.
It has been around since the 1890s, and at 660 feet, it’s the largest porch in the world. The views from the porch are amazing, but you have to be a very posh guest to sit among the rocking chairs that line the porches promenade.
I got a great deal and steep discount one year and stayed at the hotel; they turn down the bed covers and leave chocolates on your pillow. It’s all very elite. But, if you’re too poor like most of the world, you can still visit the porch … for $10 per person or just $5 per child. It’s a relative bargain!
The hotel really is a blast from the past and leaves you feeling like you’ve stepped back in time.
Fun fact: The movie “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour was filmed at the hotel and around the island.
Mackinac Island Fudge
Mackinac Island Fudge is a thing. The island’s fudge is world-famous, and more than 10,000 pounds of fudge is produced there each day. Each day. During my visits, I’ve consumed a fair amount of tonnage myself.
Many shops downtown make the fudge in windows, putting on a show and giving away free samples. Nobody leaves without buying several boxes. Nobody. You’ve been warned. Even if you don’t eat it, you need to buy it to give as gifts to friends and family who might learn that you’ve been to the island. I’ve lost friends neglecting to do this.
Mackinac Island Lilac Festival
I once went to Mackinac during the week-long lilac festival that takes place in June. Growing conditions on the island are perfect for this tree and the entire island is covered in the purple, pink and white flower clusters.
During Lilac Festival the entire island smells like lilac. It wafts through the air. Nearly every shop sells soaps and lotions and other items made from native lilac fragrance and it’s divine and can be had no place else.
Fun fact: According to the Michigan Big Tree register, the largest lilac tree in Michigan is on Mackinac Island.
No Motorized Vehicles
You can ride a horse or in a carriage, or you can ride a bike … that’s about it. What you won’t ride in on Mackinac Island is a car. They’re not allowed. At. All.
There are roads, but only horses and buggy travel them. M-185 is the only state highway in the country where motor vehicles are not allowed.
But, never fear, if you’re not a big walker or a fan of horsepower, there are over 1,400 bicycles available for rent. I once rented a tandem with my daughter. We tried to bike all around the island. We didn’t make it and got a bit lost trying to cut through the woods halfway, but you might have better luck.
On another visit, I rented a horse instead of a bike. I don’t know which experience was worse. That darn horse would not listen to me and kept backing up into bushes to try and get me off its back. If I went again, I’d opt for my feet. They’re more reliable.
The most famous rock formations on the island, this arch towers above the water, are more than fifty feet wide. It attracts the vast majority of the tourists to the island and can be reached by foot, taxi, carriage or bike. It can also be viewed from below, on the perimeter tour of the island.
There are many cool rock formations along the island’s perimeter, which you can see by bike, carriage or kayak as you go around the road that outlines the entire island. It’s only four-square miles.
All along the way, you’ll see rocks stacked on top of each in the universal symbol hikers leave to indicate you’re going in the right direction. Since it’s a circle, you can’t really go the wrong way, but the rocks look nice.
Fun fact: Native Americans called Mackinac Island, Michilimackinac, meaning “place of the great turtle.” Not because there were turtles, but because the island is sort of shaped like one.
The island is always "open" but most businesses are closed during the winter. Everything reopens in May through October.