Upon arriving on Mackinac Island by ferry, it’s natural to get caught up in the energy and excitement of Main Street, where horse-drawn carriages fill with passengers headed to their lodging or on excursions about the island. Where inviting storefronts and restaurants beckon to travelers. Where bicycle rental shops steadily supply patrons with a variety of bikes, because there are no motorized vehicles on the island. Where fellow travelers stand in awe and in anticipation of what awaits them on this charming island of northern Michigan.
After spending some time on the bustling street, it’s easy to see how the island became so inviting to summer travelers. Before it became a summer respite, though, Mackinac (pronounced Mack-in-aw) provided a popular fishing haven, outposts for the French, for the British, and eventually the United States, as well as a thriving fur trade headquarters. Fortunately, the island has been under the protection of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission since 1895, so visitors may now enjoy the historic character of the island in addition to its natural beauty.
The impressive Fort Mackinac is a short walk from Main Street and offers access to the fort’s significant buildings, such as the guardhouses, the post schoolhouse and to countless interactive exhibits and fort interpreters. Most importantly, perhaps, is the view of the beautiful Straits of Mackinac and of Lake Huron.
Also in and around Main Street are a visitor’s center, a park, additional museums devoted to art and to the fur trade industry, mission houses and churches. Not to be missed is The Grand Hotel and its 660-foot porch lined with rocking chairs, geraniums, American flags and its magnificent view of the water.
As for enjoying the natural beauty of the island, M-185, or Lake Shore Boulevard, circles the island in 8.2 miles of narrow blacktop. Many elect to cover the island’s perimeter by bike, but I prefer to walk it. Along the way, you can enjoy the view of the water on one side and caves, overlooks and limestone formations on the other. The center of the island also offers much to explore. Cemeteries, golf courses, nature areas and historical markers are just a few.
The combination of the preservation of history and the celebration of nature is what lends Mackinac Island its charm. The rhythm, the feel, the flow of the island create the unforgettable awe.
(Note: Margie Appelman is an English, communications and journalism teacher at Mason County High School and co-founder of the travel blog, Tales from the Trip, which is also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. She can be reached at [email protected].)