The pinnacle of our summer and now a six-year tradition, our visit to Mackinac Island commences when we board the ferry in St. Ignace (we cross the Mackinac Bridge for fun), a component of the trip I convinced Brett was important in creating that “far away charm.”
“Seems like a lot of effort to get there,” he mentioned as we passed our bags to the ferry staff and confirmed they’d be delivered to our hotel (by horse and carriage, of course).
“It wouldn’t be so special if it was easy,” I reminded him.
I can’t help but write about Mackinac as anything but a persuasive essay. There are these corners of the island where the magic of summer feels so intoxicating, I want to bottle it up and give it away to the people I love.
I’ve shared many posts about Mackinac Island in the summer here over the years, but if you’re new, here’s my tour guide summary:
– Mackinac Island is a small island (3.8 square miles) in Lake Huron, located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas.
– The island was a pivotal center of commerce during the Great Lakes fur trade leading to the establishment of Fort Mackinac on the island during the American Revolutionary War. Two battles were also fought there during the War of 1812.
– Incredible efforts have been made to preserve and restore the historical integrity of the island, and it is listed as a National Historic Landmark. You can definitely feel that in every corner of the island. Motor vehicles are banned on the island (with the exception of an ambulance and fire truck I believe); so horses, bikes and boats make up all transportation. More than eighty percent of the island is also preserved as Mackinac Island State Park.
– The most famous structure on the island is The Grand Hotel, a historic coastal resort with the largest porch in the world. The film Somewhere in Time was filmed there, and many U.S. presidents and dignitaries have stayed there. All hotel renovations have preserved the history and story of the hotel, and while it costs $10 simply to walk inside, it’s worth it to sit on the porch with a drink or explore the ball rooms, libraries and restaurants–like stepping into a movie. Conde Nast Traveler “Gold Lists” the Grand Hotel as one of “The Best Places to Stay in the Whole World” and it’s been noted as one of the top 100 hotels in the world by Travel & Leisure magazine.
And now that the informational part of this travel guide is through, I’ll gush about why I really love the island. You’ll find the majority of tourists walking about Main Street during the day which, yes, offers taverns and fudge shops, a charming grocery store, gifts from local artists, carriage tours, bike rentals and enchanting views of the bay; but the real magic of the island can be found beyond the lively tourist stretch in the quieter corners of the island–the library, the Grand Hotel lawn, the hill on Marquette Park, Mission Point or my favorite–the side streets and trails behind the main stage, where cottages are lined up with flowers spilling over window boxes and the most inviting front porches you’ve ever seen.
I like how many families you see here–everywhere you look: kids pedaling behind their moms and dads in a trail of bikes, happy babies being pushed in strollers, toddlers entranced by horses and the taste of their very first fudge.
We walk all day on the island.
We walk, but no one complains because there’s so much beauty to take in while we walk and because our walk rhythm makes room for breaks–
Walk, walk, fudge.
Walk, walk, fly a kite.
Walk, walk, putt-putt.
Walk, walk, tavern.
If you are Dash, every step of your walk includes horse research.
This includes studying their every move–noting their color, their size, the sound of their clip-clop; taking pictures of them; asking carriage drivers for their names; leaning over to take a closer look at their droppings.
We topped last year’s record for horse names collected–115 this year. Dash learned how to record the names himself this year (thank God because that was a lot of writing) with the talk-to-text notes feature on the phone. His final list revealed his precious interpretations of the names he heard including “Dilbert & Adorable” for the horse duo Wilbur & Orville and my personal favorite, “Bowls & Rice” for Rolls and Royce.
This year we stayed at Mission Point which is located at the far end of the island and offers some of the most beautiful views of Lake Huron. We had so much fun exploring the grounds and found so many hidden nooks–libraries, hidden hallways and this mammoth empty sitting room where Lainey put on her own show.
Other favorites–our walk to the library (stopping at the toy store to pick up a new kite to fly on the neighboring lawn):
Sunset at the playground behind the little public school on the lake:
Our serendipitous timing of walking by the old church on Main Street as the 11:00 evening service was beginning–I heard voices singing and saw the light behind those stained glass windows and couldn’t walk in fast enough. Brett laughed and walked back to the hotel, but my cousin and I sat in one of the back pews through the sweetest choruses while Nella fell asleep in my lap.
The best part, by far, of our island stay this year though was a secret of the island I cannot believe I waited six years to discover–Woods, a Hansel & Gretyl-ish tavern tucked in the woods far from the populated part of the island. It took a 30-minute carriage ride to get there–an enchanting experience in itself as our horses carried us along the lake shore through wooded paths where hidden cottages emerged with their glorious summer charm and the setting sun put on a show. I could not stop with the “Oh my Gods,” and I heard Brett whisper from the back of the carriage, “Well, this did it for me. This is everything.”
And then, Woods appeared…
…and when we walked in, my “Oh my Gods” turned into “Holy Craps” because my enthusiasm can best be expressed by only the classiest of exclamations.
There’s a one-lane bowling alley in the back of the tavern–so old, you have to walk down and reset the pins yourself, the kids’ favorite part.
So there’s my nugget of Mackinac tourism advice…Woods, Woods, Woods. You can’t visit the island without an enchanting escape to Woods.
The rest fills in nicely–ice cream at Sadie’s, fudge at Murdick’s, lunch at The Pink Pony.
Let the kids make pretend calls from the red phone booth on the Grand Hotel Lawn.
Stop at all the open grass to sit and drink it all in…
Take pictures with your camera to remember what you might otherwise forget.
Take pictures with your heart to preserve the rest (don’t worry, it will keep).
(Dash figured out an entertaining way to fill the time while we wait for the ferry)
And every year as the ferry pulls away, I whisper so many thank yous–to the island and its magic and for our family and another year of sweet summer memories together.