Mackinac Island – it brings to mind fudge, salt water taffy, and horse-drawn carriages. There’s much more to it than just a tourist attraction, though – the island has a rich history. Our overnight visit in mid-June showed us a lot more.
Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron, not far from the Mackinac Bridge. (By the way, though they are all spelled Mackinac, they are pronounced Mackinaw.) While there is a small airport, most people arrive by ferry from Mackinaw City, Michigan. These are passenger ferries only – motorized vehicles are not permitted on Mackinac Island. Everyone gets around either on foot or via bicycle, horseback, or carriage. Likewise, all cargo and supplies arrive by boat and are delivered in wagons by a livery service. One thing we noticed on our visit is that the teams of horses are matched in terms of color and markings – we saw some beautiful dappled grays and bays. Very attractive.
And despite all of the horses, the streets were pretty clean…because there are horse-drawn street sweepers! The brushes and collector are motorized – it’s the propulsion that is horse-powered.
I mentioned history…did you know that Mackinac Island was America’s second national park? It was designated in 1875, after Yellowstone, and maintained by the U.S. Army soldiers at Fort Mackinac. In 1895 Fort Mackinac was decommissioned, and the fort and park were turned over to the state of Michigan to become Michigan’s first state park. (The National Park Service was not created until 1916.) About 80% of the island is part of the state park, the rest, which includes most of the “downtown” area and the hotels, restaurants, and shops, etc., is privately owned.
One of the “don’t miss” sights is Fort Mackinac, which is easily accessed from downtown – though you have to go up the hill. Tickets were $13.50/person this year, and I thought it well worth it. Fort Mackinac was originally built by the British, but was turned over to the United States after the Revolutionary War.
There is a beautiful view from there.
During the War of 1812 the British took it back – let’s just say that the Brits kicked some American butt in the Great Lakes region during that war. But at the end of the war it was relinquished to the Americans again. During the late 19th century Fort Mackinac was a desired Army posting – it even had a bathhouse.
Now there are interesting historical exhibits in many of the buildings, and costumed “soldiers” and their “wives” who answer questions and engage in various demonstrations. One of the cannons is fired multiple times a day…it can be quite startling if you’re unaware of it!
Up on the hill not far from Fort Mackinac is the Mackinac Island Botanical Trail. This is new – just opened this year. We were there in mid-June and there were lots of beautiful flowers in bloom – my favorites were these lovely Lady Slipper orchids.
Beyond the end of the Botanical Trail is Arch Rock. We were lucky enough to be there on a sunny day, and the color of the water of Lake Huron in the background was amazing. Rather than retracing our steps we took the stairs down to the road below Arch Rock and walked about a mile back to town.
The perimeter road around the island is paved. It’s a very nice bike ride – 8 miles to make a full circuit. If you don’t bring your own bike on the ferry there are plenty of places to rent one. On our afternoon bike ride we stopped at several places along the road: Skull Rock, Devil’s Kitchen, the British Army’s landing area in 1812, and we also saw Arch Rock from the bottom looking up. There were a number of other trails and roads we could have done if we’d had time.
Most people just make a day visit to Mackinac Island, but we were there overnight at Haan’s 1830 Inn. We stayed in the newer part – built in 1847. The rooms have been modernized with indoor plumbing, but the furniture and decor retains that late 19th century charm. It was really lovely.
And yes, I tried the famous Mackinac Island Fudge. And it was delicious. There are multiple shops that make fudge – I got mine from Ryba’s. They use a high quality chocolate, and while the fudge was sweet, it was not overly sweet. It was also nice and smooth. Yum. I didn’t get any salt water taffy, though.
It was a short visit to the island, but that just means we will have to return and stay longer!