MACKINAC ISLAND, (Mich.) – Just off the coast of St. Ignace in the Eastern U.P. is Mackinac Island.
It is a tourist destination for thousands of people each year, but it’s also a home and a community for a few hundred folks. There is a lot to see and do during a visit, but there’s no one right way to experience Mackinac Island.
Mackinac Island was recently named as the Top Summer Travel Destination in a USA Today reader’s poll.
GETTING TO THE ISLAND
To get on to Mackinac Island, you’ll most likely need to take a Ferry. There are a few options, including Mackinac Island Ferry Company (formerly Star Line) and Shepler’s. Both have departures from St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula and Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula. We went with Shepler’s Ferry. Tickets can purchased online or at the ticket window.
We purchased tickets online. A QR code was emailed to us with the receipt. There are numerous parking options including free spots if you’re only visiting for the day. We opted for the on-site overnight parking. You can carry luggage with you. There are also options to check bags, which you will receive a corresponding ticket to have your bags taken to your hotel or resort.
On the ferry itself, you can sit on benches in an enclosed cabin or use open air seating on the top deck. For those who might get a little seasick, we found it more comfortable to sit on top in the middle. Our trip took approximately sixteen minutes.
TRAVELING AROUND THE ISLAND
Ferry’s will deposit you downtown. From there, you can walk, bike, or take a horse-drawn taxi to your destination.
From our experience, biking was the most efficient way to tour the island. You can bring your own on the Ferry with you for an added charge. You can also rent bikes on the island from a number of different vendors. The team at Mission Point Resort provided us with a couple of complimentary bike rentals to explore the area.
We talked with people who work and live on Mackinac Island. They say it takes about an hour to cycle around the outer edge of the island, and about 45 minutes if you’re really pushing it. With stops to take pictures and enjoy the views, it would likely take a little longer. We only traveled as far as Arch Rock on one side and over to the Grand Hotel on the other.
Walking or running are other ways to get around, but if you only have a limited amount of time to spend and want to travel further away than downtown Mackinac Island, you may want to consider one of the other previously mentioned modes of transportation.
To fully plan your visit, The Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau has an online guide. We spoke with Tim Hygh, Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau Executive Director about the importance getting national and international recognition.
“It’s not easy when you’re a seasonal business and you’re only six months and have to make a year’s worth of revenue. To get this kind of recognition this early in the season, really gets people fired up,” said Hygh.
We arrived on Mackinac Island the night before the official start to the 2023 season. Signs were still being put up, the remnants of a winter season were being cleared away, and the seasonal employees who represent more than a dozen different countries returned to continue providing exceptional service to guests.
“For all of us who got to go home for summer for three months and come back, it’s kind of like that, only we leave for the winter and then come back. We haven’t seen each other for a while, so we see a lot of greeting and hugging on the street,” added Hygh.
Between the shops, restaurants, and natural beauty, Hygh said one of the most unique experiences is the calm that comes at the end of a busy day for those who remain on the island.
“Any time at night when the last ferry leaves, there’s a feeling the comes over you. It’s a peaceful feeling where you don’t hear automobiles, but you do hear the clip-clop of horses, the waves lapping up on the shore. That’s my favorite time on the island.”
WHERE TO STAY
When it comes to finding a place to stay, you won’t find major chain hotels on the island. You will find resorts, hotels, condos, bed and breakfasts, cottages, and homes. We were provided a complimentary room for the night at the Straights Lodge from Mission Point Resort.
The room was clean, quiet, and well updated with plenty of charm and personality. The Straights Lodge is pet friendly. We only heard a couple of barks while walking down the hallway.
Mission Point Resort Vice President of Sales and Marketing Liz Ware talked with us in the video below about Mission Point’s focus on using Michigan made products when and wherever possible.
Mission Point recently updated its main lobby and its Round Island Kitchen restaurant. You can see the new look in the video below. If you look closer, you’ll notice very intentional touches. Light fixture that look like ferns or flowers you’ll find around the island. Bright white walls and blue carpeting are meant to mimic the waters in the Straits of Mackinac. The front desk is made with stones from around the island and the wood on top is constructed from wood that used to be the gymnasium bleachers from Mission Point Resort’s previous life as a college.
Mission Point has multiple dining options within its own resort. The previously mentioned Round Island Kitchen has a fresh look to it. We were given the opportunity to taste test the new spring menu at Chianti, Mission Point’s fine dining restaurant.
You can learn more about their Farm to Ferry approach to fine dining in our Restaurant of the Week feature.
Away from downtown, you’ll find Mackinac Island State Park. With miles of coastline for you to walk, run, or bike around, one of the more prominent features on Mackinac Island is Arch Rock. It is on the opposite side of the Island from the Grand Hotel. You can view it from below or take the 207 stairs to the viewing platforms.
There was more than you could possibly see, do, or taste in one day on Mackinac Island. With a six-month long season, there are plenty of opportunities to make it back.