It’s been a few years since we visited Mackinac Island, but we did have a wonderful visit! My family especially loved the Fort and the carriage ride around the island. My friend Tanya from Traveling Tanya was there last year, and hearing about her trip takes me back to our day on the island and makes me want to plan another visit soon! Check our her adventures and advice:
Spring has finally arrived! I’m Traveling Tanya, and I enjoy traveling just about any time of the year. But spring is an especially fun time to get out and explore. If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind getaway this spring, consider Mackinac Island.
Last fall I took my family to this magical island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While fall is a great time to visit the island, I long to return in springtime to see the flowers in bloom and watch this quaint town come back to life after a winter slumber. But for now, I’ll reminisce about our fall getaway to Mackinac Island!
Preparing for Mackinac Island
I’m a planner by nature, so before heading to Mackinac Island I did my research. Reading several travel brochures and googling places of interest on the island. Even if you aren’t your family’s designated “tour guide” or “travel agent” there are other fun ways to get up to speed and energized about an upcoming trip to an unfamiliar destination.
A few months before our trip, I happened to see a secondhand copy of a novel about Mackinac Island. The book included 4 short stories, all taking place on the island during different periods in time. Learning about a travel destination through fiction is a great way to ramp up the excitement about your impending travel. That is exactly what this book did for me! Since my mom was also coming on our trip, she read the book too and thoroughly enjoyed it as well.
Movies are another fun way to prepare for travel, and if you will be visiting the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island you must watch Somewhere in Time (Blu-ray + Digital HD with UltraViolet) Made in 1980, this classic love story features Christopher Reeve as his character travels back in time for a storybook romance with a beautiful actress, played by Jane Seymour. After watching the movie, I was even more determined to explore the magnificent hotel that was the setting for this timeless love affair!
When we first arrived on Mackinac Island last fall, I felt like I had stepped back in time! One of my favorite things, and what makes it so unique, is that there are no cars allowed on the island. No cars also mean no bulky garages, no unsightly parking lots, less pollution, and less traffic. All of this adds up to more charm and nostalgia for a simpler time.
With no gas-guzzling machines, you may wonder how people get around on the Island. Or how do people even get to the island in the first place?! We got to the island like most people do, via ferry.
Interesting Fact: During the winter months, at times the ferries can’t safely operate. What does that mean for the island’s residents? To get to the mainland, they have to charter a plane…or wait for the ice bridge to form and ride snowmobiles across! The ice bridge is lined with Christmas trees to help courageous travelers.
For our journey to the Island, we boarded the Star Line Ferry from Mackinaw City, and the ride lasted about 20 minutes. While there are 3 levels on the ferry, we opted for the top level to get the full exposure of the exhilarating wind in our hair! It snowed the day before, so we were happy that it was now sunny and at least in the ’40s!
Once on the island, typical modes of transportation include horse and carriage, bicycles, and good old-fashioned walking. During a warmer time of year, we likely would have rented bikes to explore the island, but for this trip, we stuck to walking and a carriage ride.
The Island itself is just 3.8 square miles, located in Lake Huron. It is situated just east of the Straits of Mackinac and between what is known as the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. (Any U.P. fans out there?!) According to the 2010 census, just 492 people call the island home, but as many as 15,000 tourists visit the island each day during the peak season. Tourism is big on Mackinac Island!
The island boasts numerous restaurants, gift shops, fudge stores, hotels, and Victorian style homes. And just one grocery store, family-owned since it opened in 1884. But 80% of the island is actually preserved as a State Park. With all this to explore and limited time on the island, we opted for a guided carriage ride…and we were so happy we did!
Mackinac Island Carriage Tour
We boarded our carriage, pulled by 2 beautiful horses, Charlotte and Vinny. Maggie, with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, was our capable human guide, and she educated and entertained us with history and stories about the island. We spent nearly 2 delightful hours clip-clopping our way through the island. Seeing the island’s main attractions as well as it’s hidden gems while listening to Maggie’s colorful commentary.
During that time of year (mid-October), it was a continuous ride with just one stop at Arch Rock, and then a final drop-off at our desired island destination (we chose the Grand Hotel). During busier seasons, riders have the option to hop off and back on at additional key sites, including the Grand Hotel, Fort Mackinac, Surrey Hills Carriage Museum, and the Butterfly Conservatory. With the cool air, we were happy to stay huddled together on the carriage as we enjoyed seeing the sites and the beautiful fall landscape slowly pass by!
The highlight of the tour for me was getting to see Arch Rock, as we likely would not have been able to get there by foot with our crew of 6, spanning 3 generations and a variety of fitness levels. I highly recommend a carriage ride with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours for anyone visiting this magnificent island.
This natural formation of limestone is an amazing site to see. Trust me, photos do not do it justice. Arch Rock is best seen in person…so start planning your trip to Mackinac Island now. According to our tour guide, Maggie, the elements will take their toll on Arch Rock and it will likely not last more than another 25 or so years.
Gazing through Arch Rock you will see the striking emerald green and turquoise blue waters of Lake Huron below. There are many stories and legends about Arch Rock and the island, but I recommend you make a trip there and board a Mackinac Island Carriage Tour to hear the fascinating history and folklore for yourself.
While we didn’t stay at the Grand Hotel, I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to explore this palatial and iconic building. It is truly a one-of-a-kind hotel! Just to enter and wander the ornate halls of the Grand Hotel will cost you $10 per person. But this is a far cry from the price tag to spend the night in one of its stately rooms. If you want to stay on the island, there are much less expensive Bed and Breakfasts. But if you want to splurge, stay at the Grand Hotel! You only live once!
A stroll down the world’s longest porch adorned with American Flags and hundreds of rocking chairs is a must. I also recommend going up to the 4th floor to check out the amazing views from the cupola. Throughout the hotel, you will find memorabilia from the movie “Somewhere in Time.” The Grand Hotel even hosts a “Somewhere in Time” weekend every October, perfect for romantic movie enthusiasts.
While exploring the colorful and unique decor on each floor of the hotel, you also have access to several dining options of varying price levels. We opted for a light lunch on the main lobby at Carleton’s Tea Store. While my daughters decided to wait and enjoy ice cream on Main Street, the adults thoroughly enjoyed a meal of soup and sandwiches as we gazed out onto the famous porch. It was a good thing we left the island before dinner time as there is a strict dress code after 6 pm, and we weren’t up to snuff! But on a future trip to the island…you can bet I will be donning my finest attire and dining like royalty!
A trip to Mackinac Island is not complete without sampling your weight in fudge! The island has a rich history (pun intended!) of producing world-class fudge, and there are no shortages of fudge shops on the island.
Ryba’s, Joann’s, Murdick’s, May’s, and Sander’s are just some of the well-known fudge makers with numerous storefronts on the island and in neighboring towns. Each fudge shop has its own fudge making history and secret recipe…and claims to be the best.
While I didn’t try EVERY kind of fudge, I did enjoy several samples and can admit there wasn’t one I didn’t like. In the end, Joann’s fudge won me over due to the friendly service and the adorable souvenir boxes. Some of the fudge we bought even made it home to its intended recipients!
We loved our fall trip to Mackinac Island with minimal crowds and beautiful fall colors. But now that winter is ending, I hope to go back for a romantic weekend with my husband during spring or summer to experience Mackinac Island at its peak. Then I can check out all the sites we missed on this trip…and maybe try some more world-famous Mackinac Island fudge!
Have you been to Mackinac Island? Comment below and share your island experience!
Wherever the road takes you, make it a joyous journey, Traveling Tanya
I’d like to thank Mackinac Island Carriage Tours for partially sponsoring this trip. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.
Thanks for sharing Tanya – fudge, beautiful sights and a horse-drawn carriage? Perfect trip, right???
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