I fell in love with Mackinac Island on my first visit as a child in the 1960’s with my parents, brothers, and a great aunt and uncle. Everything about it charmed me including the ferry ride on Lake Huron to the island, the use of horse-drawn rather than motorized vehicles, and the gingerbread Victorian architecture. When my husband and I visited in 1976 and again with our children in 1991, it seemed as if nothing had changed. In September 2017, on the surface at least, the island still appeared to be stuck in time. In today’s fast-paced world, this quality is comforting.
Fun facts about Mackinac Island:
- Whether spelled Mackinac or Mackinaw, the pronunciation is Mackinaw.
- From 1875-1895, Mackinac Island was the nation’s second national park. (The first was Yellowstone National Park.)
- Mackinac Island State Park was established in 1895 as the first state park in Michigan.
- Over 80% of the island is within the state park.
- Automobiles were banned in 1898 because they were loud and scared the horses.
Planning to take an early ferry to the island, we stayed at the Best Western Plus Dockside Waterfront in Mackinaw City, just down the road from Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry. While the hotel was somewhat tired and dated, its proximity to the ferry sold us. After an outstanding complimentary breakfast, we hustled down the road to the ferry only to discover we could purchase the tickets cheaper at the hotel. Always ready to save a couple bucks, we returned the several blocks to the hotel, bought our roundtrip tickets for $21.59 each rather than $26 at the dock, and we were still among the first in line for the 8:30 ferry.
Our goals for our visit were modest. As history nerds, we wanted to revisit Fort Mackinac; I was keen to visit the Grand Hotel which met with eye-rolling from my husband; and last, but not least, we planned to purchase some famous Murdick’s fudge to take home.
We enjoyed the 16-minute scenic ferry ride on a pleasant sunny morning in late September on day 11 of our Great Lakes Road Trip of 2017. Upon our arrival, not much was open on Main Street but, fortunately for us, the Visitor’s Center was ready for business and staffed by friendly, helpful workers. Armed with the map they highlighted to show our route, we set off for Fort Mackinac. The fort opened at 9:30 and we were early so we checked out Marquette Park, the Missionary Bark Chapel, and Trinity Church while we waited.
During the American Revolutionary War, the British believed Ft. Michilimackinac on the mainland was vulnerable to attack by the American rebels. In 1780, they dismantled it and moved it, lock, stock, and barrel, to Mackinac Island, renaming it Ft. Mackinac. In 1796, the British departed and the Americans took over but in the War of 1812, the British surprised the American forces who surrendered without a fight. At the end of the war, the fort was returned once again to the Americans. The film shown every 20 minutes in the fort commissary provided this history and other interesting facts as a great introduction to our self-guided tour.
After a thorough exploration of the fort, we proceeded up Garrison Road to the highest point on the island, Ft. Holmes. Built during the War of 1812 by the British as a redoubt and originally named Ft. George, the Americans renamed it Ft. Holmes to honor Major Holmes who died in battle there. The current structure is a reconstruction.
From nearby Point Lookout, we enjoyed a view of Sugar Loaf, a natural limestone breccia formation that rises 75 feet.
As we continued our hike, we made a few wrong turns but finally found our way to the Grand Hotel Stables.
I have never seen such a clean, well-maintained stable. The horses that reside here are lucky animals.
The highpoint of my day was definitely our visit to the Grand Hotel. Possessing a vivid imagination, I’ve dreamed of staying at the Grand Hotel ever since I first glimpsed it as a child. While I have no desire to pay the minimum $199 per PERSON per day for the best deal the hotel offers, I was delighted to learn we could tour the public areas for a mere $10 each. My husband grumbled a bit (he’s an “eat the rich” kind of guy) but I told him to think of it as a museum tour. The historical value of this famous landmark built in 1887 is undeniable.
Reviews of the hotel are mixed. Looking at the virtual tour on their website, the standard rooms appear small and cramped and I’m certain the 19th-century style doesn’t suit all 21st-century tourists. Most complaints I read, however, centered around the staff stopping visitors to inquire whether they were guests of the hotel. No one asked us but I visibly gripped my brochure indicating I paid to wander around and pretend I was a guest.
Our last stop on the island was at The Original Murdick’s Fudge, a Mackinac Island tradition since 1887. Although we’re not big candy consumers, I wanted to take some of this iconic confection home to our adult children.
After a last look around Main Street, we boarded the ferry for the return trip to Mackinaw City.
If you’ve never visited Mackinac Island, you’ve missed one of the top destinations in the Midwest. With more time, a bike rental would have topped my list of fun things to do. It’s just an 8-mile ride around the island with lots of amazing views and a good escape from the crush of tourists. Many visitors take a carriage tour and I recommend that as well. While we barely scratched the surface this visit, we were satisfied with our day.
Based on events from September 2017.