Accessible only by air or water, park your vehicle, grab your bags and hop a boat or jump a plane to one of Michigan’s most beloved summer vacation destinations: Mackinac Island. Confusing even to spell, Mackinac is technically pronounced ma-kin-aw (saying mac-kin-ac, is the equivalent of pronouncing the “s” in Illinois). Known for the complete absence of automobile traffic, you’ll find horses, bicycles, and strollers a plenty on the 5.6 square mile island.
Getting There: A sixteen minute ride from Mackinaw City to the Island dock, Shepler’s Ferry was no three hour tour. The luggage was tagged, our car valet parked, and the rooster tail spray of water behind our boat that had the boys jumping and punching the air. You can sit on the upper deck (cooler and breezier with better views) or lower deck (less crowded, padded seats, enclosed), depending on how windblown you like your hair. Shepler’s Ferry also transports passengers to and from the St. Ignace Dock, north of the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Where to Stay
Find family-friendly accommodations in Mackinac Island, Michigan from traditional hotels to private vacation rentals through Stay22.com:
Lodging: Our luggage was magically loaded onto one of many horse-drawn carriages shuttling people and their belongings to-and-from the Island’s handful of resorts and hotels. We poked our way along Main Street, out of the bustling downtown and past the colorful sail boats in the marina. Caution: about ten minutes into the walk, a feeling of relaxation may overtake you. Rush hour is gone. The air is clean. Kites strings, tourists, and Adirondack chairs are probably your biggest obstacles.
Upon arriving at Mission Point Resort, we found that our bags had again been magically deposited in our room. Located slightly away from the more popular attractions, Mission Point Resort is an oasis in its own right. Over the course of the resort’s almost 200 year history, it has grown from a mission house to a convention center and a even a college. A lodge, grand hall, theater, sound stage, restaurants, and tower museum have been added to the resort over time, and it’s improving in the spirit of casual elegance even today.
Adventure: From our room, we walked the short distance to the on-site Activity Center and rented two bicycles, a burley trailer, and a tag-a-long kids bike. Well after main “traffic” hours, cooler, and around the corner from panoramic views, the bike rates were competitive, helmets were complimentary, and we finished right back where we started. In fact, Mac the Moose met us in the main lobby for story time with free cookies and milk.
Tip: Alternately, you may simply want to bring your own bicycle(s) with you to the island. Depending on how much of a hassle this is, you may save money in the long run. Bike shops employing bike mechanics are also available if you encounter a flat tire or need another type of repair.
The next morning, we walked to the Mackinac Island’s Original Butterfly House & Insect World. The attraction features an all-glass conservatory and ornate garden while surrounded by hundreds of butterflies. Before leaving, guests pass through a small educational area focused on entomology and the environment. You can also learn how Mackinac Island is planting milkweed to help stimulate the declining Monarch butterfly population. The kids enjoyed the butterfly scavenger hunt, looking for the different specimens listed on a laminated handout.
Tip: Our trip to Mackinac Island was in the middle of the summer. If you have toddlers or kids that tire walking a short distance, you may want to pack a stroller with shade awning, underneath storage compartment (good for holding lots of taffy and fudge) and water bottle holders. Fortunately, we found strollers to rent at a reasonable $3/hour.
One of the more popular activities on Mackinac Island is to ride in a horse-drawn carriage. A carriage tour will give you a good feel for the lay of the land and with your tour guide interjecting various points of interest and weaving in some island history. We enjoyed a 1 hour and 45 minute tour with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, which included a mid-tour stop at the beautiful Arch Rock. Another highlight is passing the famous Grand Hotel.
A trip to Mackinac Island is not complete without spending time at Fort Mackinac. With scheduled programs, historical talks, demonstrations, and fourteen buildings to explore, set aside at least two hours to fully appreciate the historical significance of the Fort. Maintained by the Michigan State Park system, Fort Mackinac proudly sits high atop the main bluff and can be seen from the mainland. Most of our time at Fort Mackinac was in the Kids’ Quarters, dressing up, sending telegraph messages between rooms, and even learning to march in formation with wooden rifles.
Perfect weather, a carefully-constructed itinerary, and modern-day conveniences were certainly instrumental in the overall success of our road (er boat, bike, and horse) trip to Mackinac Island. Whatever your budget or your overall mission, Mackinac Island is a great way to experience one of the most beloved attractions in the state of Michigan.