There are only two ways to get to Mackinac Island… by plane or by boat, assuming you aren’t an Olympic swimmer. There are also two towns that have ferries to the Island. Mackinaw City is one and the other is the one we are in, St. Ignace. Several different ferry companies are available and charge around $25.00 per person round trip. Coupons are everywhere saving you from 2-3 bucks per person. However, the real deal to get over to the Island can be found on the Arnold Line. This fare is not reservable online so you must go to the harbor and buy your ticket there asking specifically for a ticket on the “Classic Ferry”. This round trip ticket is only $15.00 per person. The beauty of this fare is on the return trip you are not limited only to the Classic ferry as you can take any ferry back. We thought this was great as we were thus able to experience both types of ferries.
After purchasing our tickets we boarded and made our way to the top and front of the boat. We really enjoyed the slower ride over on the Classic Ferry as it went about half as fast as the others. This gave us extra time to take in all the sights along the harbors in St. Ignace and then on Mackinac Island as well. We also had great views of the expansive, beautiful Mackinac Bridge connecting Michigan’s two peninsulas. As we approached Mackinac Island the gorgeous harbor, Fort Mackinac and the Grand Hotel came into view. The Grand Hotel is impossible to miss due to its size. It boasts having the largest front porch of any hotel in the world. Perched on the hill with flags waving in the breeze it was indeed a grand sight to see.
Since Mackinaw Island is a tourist destination and thus can be very expensive we opted to save a few bucks by packing a nice picnic lunch. Our plan was also to pass on the horse drawn carriage or rental bicycles (bicycles taken on the ferry cost $8 round trip or can be rented on the island for $5 per hour for a single speed bike). Instead we preplanned our own self guided walking tour. We were sure glad we had a plan because once past the harbor and on into town there were throngs of tourists crowding the walkways. And the most striking thing we noticed was the lack of cars and trucks as no cars are allowed on the island. Here the streets are bustling with bicycles, pedestrians and horses trotting by!
Mackinac Island is only about 8 miles around but rather hilly in the interior. We quickly passed the many shops and saw plenty of places to stay overnight. Many say that the best way to get the full Mackinac experience is to stay overnight on the island but they must have deeper pockets than I. We turned off the main street and headed straight uphill toward Fort Mackinac pausing along the way to examine a couple historical buildings and a quaint church. Fort Mackinac was built by British forces in the late 1700’s. There is also an admission fee here ($11 I think) but we have seen enough forts and aren’t huge history buffs so we also opted out of visiting this one. Besides I personally love the architecture on the outside of buildings much more than seeing the inside. Near the fort be ready to hear an occasional bugler or cannon firing demonstration and the fort has period costumed guides that can be seen inside and outside the fort answering questions or reciting facts to anyone interested.
Next we walked over to the east side of the Island to Arch Rock located in the Mackinaw State Park. Mackinaw State Park is said to be the only free state park in the state and makes up a great part of the island itself. Arch Rock is pretty neat and after taking photos of the placid and clear turquoise waters through the arch we continued back toward town on the Manitou Trail. The trail took us along the edge of the coastline through densely wooded hills. These beautiful forests would open up every now and then for us so we could look out over the Straits of Mackinac at the vast lake below. Stunning!
We then navigated through a really nice neighborhood dotted with Victorian homes over to the Grand Hotel. Sharon wanted to see this magnificent structure as she remembered if from the 1980 movie Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. Now this hotel really caters to the upper crust. To protect them from the riff-raff they charge $10.00 per person to even enter the hotel… It worked as we only took pictures of the beautiful outside and continued on down the street… If you don’t want to pay the entrance fee then you can come after six o’clock at night and have dinner at the hotel but be forewarned all women are expected to wear either a skirt or dress and all men must wear a coat and tie. We were in shorts and tennis shoes so that was not an option for us either. Sharon was happy nonetheless as she mainly wanted to see the porch and courtyard areas depicted in the movie.
Since it was now time for lunch we wanted to find a spot near the water so we passed back through town one block above the main street where we saw more of the historic buildings on our planned tour. We found a nice waterfront park with flowers and a shade tree where we could see the sail boats coming in that were participating in the sailing race from Chicago to Mackinac Island. There was also a rocky beach right below us where kids were swimming and skipping stones. After lunch we struck up a conversation with a fellow at the park who happened to have been in the race (and who placed fourth by the way). He told us all about the race and how this was a tough year with the lack of winds, the heat and the bugs out on the water.
After our long leisurely lunch we walked back along the boardwalk around the perimeter of the island and saw many tourists riding horses or horse-drawn carriages led by a tour guide while others were toting their children along in a bike trailer behind bikes as they cycled around the island. And again since no cars are allowed on the island it interesting to note that all the normal day to day activities are performed using horses.We saw horses pulling a flat bed trailer used to transport goods throughout town and horses pulling garbage filled wagons to the dump (wherever it is).
That gives rise to the biggest negative (for us) of the island. Because there are so many horses around, there too was the stench of horse poop and horse urine nearly everywhere we went! Mackinac Island’s natural beauty and slow paced atmosphere provided us with a very peaceful and relaxing day. One that we truly enjoyed but to be honest Mackinac Island is probably a place we won’t return. The beauty and serenity of the island is offset by the hoards of people along the main streets and we were put off by the continued smell of horse urine and horse poo everywhere. So there are indeed tradeoffs when not allowing cars on the island. That being said however, I do think it would be even worse if cars were allowed on the island.
As we left the island we took the faster Arnold ferry back to St. Ignace to experience the speedier version, but we both actually preferred the slower Classic boat to this one. From the docks we made our way over to the Driftwood for a little happy hour overlooking the bay. There we were able to sample another local brew called the Widow Maker Black Ale made by Keweenaw Brewing Company in Houghton, Michigan… A good way to end a good day…
Note: If you do go to the Island make sure to print a good map to take along because if you wait till you get to the Island the visitors center will charge $2 for a map…