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Between the Upper and Lower Peninsula of Michigan, and right at the intersection of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron is the hidden gem of Mackinac Island. Conde Nast magazine famously named it as one of the Top 10 islands in the world! As a child living in Washington, D.C., my family frequently visited Mackinac Island in the summers. There are videos of me as a two year old waiting for the ferry to arrive and me screaming, “I see the boat, Mommy! I see the boat!” Needless to say, I was a very excitable child ;)
Since 1898, the island has been entirely motor-free (minus emergency vehicles). It is one of the only places in the United States that banned motorized vehicles and never lifted the ban. The only way to get around the island is via foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage. But that’s exactly what makes Mackinac Island so charming and peaceful! The island’s lack of cars forces you to slow-down and really appreciate your surroundings.
Mackinac Island is the perfect day trip from Traverse City! There are two main routes to take – 75 or 119. Going up 75 is about 30 minutes quicker (2.5 hours) but not very scenic. Driving 119 along the Lake Michigan shoreline is absolutely gorgeous but adds about 30 minutes onto the trip (3 hours). I’d suggest going up via 75 and then lazily meandering back to Traverse City via 119. You can either take the ferry to Mackinac Island from Mackinaw City (spelled differently, pronounced the same as “Mackinac”…the “c” is silent in “Mackinac”) or St. Ignace. Both locations take about 20 minutes to reach the island and arrive in the same location. In the summertime, ferries run as frequently as every 15 minutes. You can also boat over yourself or arrive via a plane at Mackinac Island’s airport (only for private planes).
As I stated above, Mackinac Island is the perfect day trip from Traverse City. I left my house at 8 am and was home by 8 pm. However, it takes a bit of planning and knowing where to go in order to successfully navigate the entire island!
Table of Contents
1. Eat Lunch at Pink Pony
After getting off the ferry, it should be around noon and the perfect time to refuel on lunch before heading out to explore. My personal favorite is the Pink Pony. Right on Main Street, it has delicious sandwiches and very reasonable prices!
2. Rent bikes!
This will be your main source of transportation around the island so if you haven’t already brought your bikes over from the mainland, make sure to rent them! All the companies have about the same rental prices and policies so you really can’t go wrong choosing one. They are located all along Main Street so you definitely can’t miss the bike rentals!
3. Head out to Arch Rock
If you don’t want to bike around the entire island, you should definitely bike as far clockwise as Arch Rock. Knowing that we were in a bit of a time crunch, the Prince and I decided to bike to Arch Rock and then come back into Main Street instead of biking around the entire island.
4. Visit Fort Mackinac
As the site of the first land battle during the War of 1812, this fort is now a historical landmark that features daily reenactments and various museums. It is run entirely by young volunteers (college-aged mostly) and the Girl Scouts!
The views from the top of Fort Mackinac are absolutely fantastic and give you a great vantage point over the entire island! Also, can someone please buy me one of these gorgeous houses in the last picture?
How cool is this comparison in the bottom picture? Obviously, the trees have grown a bit since the 1880s ;) Also, there is a cannon that still fires from the top of the fort several times a day. It is funny being on Main Street and watching all the tourist jump when it goes off!
5. Ride along Main Street
In my opinion, the Main Street of Mackinac Island is its main attraction (pun intended?). From the quaint hotels, yummy restaurants, abundance of fudge (see below), and adorable shops, the Main Street of the island is worth a stroll – whether by bike or on foot!
6. Explore the side streets
One block in from Main Street is the adorable Market Street with quintessential all-American houses and decor. Also, the houses as you get a bit further out from Main Street tend to get larger, grander, and oh-so-beautiful.
The Prince was absolutely loving Mackinac Island, especially all the American flags everywhere! You rarely ever see a German flag being flown outside someone’s home in Germany because it is seen as nationalistic (which is then a reminder of the Nazi past). Plus, he’s pretty much in love with anything American.
7. Take in Lake Huron
There really isn’t anything better than the Great Lakes. As they say, “no salt, no sharks, no problems!” On the day we went, the water was a mixture of teal, blue, and green. Simply breathtaking!
8. Take in the Grand Hotel
Awwww, the majestic Grand Hotel – a staple of Mackinac Island. The most well-known and popular hotel on the entire island, I’m still convinced it lost my hotel reservation when the Prince and I tried to check in there! ;) But seriously, you can only get about this close before they start questioning you or attempting to charge you ($10/person to go inside if you’re not a guest). The porch of the Grand Hotel is the longest porch in the world!
The Grand Hotel was named one of the Top 100 hotels in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine. Furthermore, it served as the backdrop for the 1980 movie Somewhere in Time. It has been host to many important and influential figures including U.S. Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Ford, Bush Sr., and Clinton. Thomas Edison debuted his phonograph to the public on this porch and Mark Twain frequently visited the hotel during his speaking tours. Vladimir Putin has also been a guest at the Grand Hotel!
9. Buy fudge!!!
I would have posted photos of the fudge that I bought…if I hadn’t eaten it on the entire car ride back to Traverse City. It is seriously addicting!!! I’m boring and always just go for plain chocolate. However, the island’s fudge shops offer dozens and dozens of flavors. Although everyone has their favorite, I personally prefer JoAnn’s for my fudge!
10. Take in the majestic Mackinac Bridge
At the time it was built, the Mackinac Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world! While it no longer holds that title, it is impressive never-the-less. The best way to see the bridge? On your ferry ride over or back. Because we had horrible rain storms on the way over, I decided to take all of my photos on the ferry ride back. And bonus, it was around sunset!
I’ve tried to label all of my favorite spots on the map below! Enjoy :)