An Affordable, Car-Free Getaway on Michigan's Mackinac Island

by  Charu Suri | Oct 27, 2014
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island, Michigan / Michael Deemer/iStock

As Michigan's supremely serene and car-free getaway, Mackinac Island is characterized by the ubiquitous clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages and a history rich enough to excite any U.S. travel nerd. The island, which is accessed via ferry during the warmer months and snowmobile during the coldest months, offers so much in its relatively small 3.8 square miles of space, including a former military fort and several well-known hotels (you may have heard of The Grand Hotel, which was the setting of the film Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve). It also features too many fudge shops to count and a biking/walking circumference (Lake Shore Boulevard) that offers idyllic views of lighthouses and the often moody Haldimand Bay.

If you have just a weekend to spend on Mackinac, there are plenty of ways to get maximum mileage of this car-free getaway, and to experience the island as the Islanders do. Here are a few suggestions.

Stay: Mission Point Resort 
This 239-room lakefront resort offers 18 acres of leisurely options, from a health club and spa and sauna to ghost tours and a kids' arcade. The lawn faces East towards Lake Huron, offering spectacular sunrise and sunset views best enjoyed on a white Adirondack chairs with a glass of fine Michigan wine. Located a few blocks from one of the island’s oldest churches (Ste. Anne), the resort’s Main Lodge is built with locally harvested timber and quarried stone, paying homage to Mackinac Island’s native material. There’s always some sort of activity taking place inside the Great Hall, while the expansive hall also features slouchy leather armchairs and plenty of fireplaces for lounging. What's more, the rooms are spacious and some feature hot tubs to soak your weary feet after a long day of biking or walking. Rates start from $105 for Garden Queen rooms in the off-season ($225 for peak).

Do: Bike the Perimeter
Bike rental shops are as plentiful as the scenic views on this island, so don't hesitate to fork over the requisite hourly charge (typically $5-$10) and take a spin around Lake Shore Boulevard. The 8-mile loop takes you past gems such as Fort Mackinac, Arch Rock, and Skull Cave. One spot worth stopping at, especially for history buffs, is British Landing, where an amphibious night-time British military force surprised the Islanders in 1812, leading to the latter’s unconditional surrender. Keep an eye out for the piles of stones known as "cairns" that the Islanders had used as markers for age-old rituals.

Shop: Fudge Stores
Mackinac Island is a sweet tooth haven, with fudge as its crowning jewel. Marble slabs in several stores from Joann’s to Ryba’s Fudge -- named the island’s favorite by Detroit News three years running -- have witnessed the shaping, pouring, sculpting and molding of some of the best-tasting fudge in the world. There's even a fudge festival in the summer time. Throughout the island, you'll find traditional flavors as well as more creative ones like pistachio pecan and sea salt caramel.

Visit: Fort Mackinac
This former American military outpost is on the southern bluff of the island, near the Straits of Mackinac. The historic site features cannons that simulate fire each hour, as well as a comprehensive rifle demonstration by soldiers dressed in period costume ($12 admission). Feeling hungry? The Fort Mackinac Tea Room is a beautiful setting for a meal or afternoon tea with chamber music recital ($30 per person).

Smell: Local Lilacs
Mackinac is home to some of the oldest lilac stems in the world, and during the summer months gorgeous purple flowers carpet the island. There's also a Lilac Festival -- June 5-14 next year -- that features walks and talks, lilac-inspired cuisine, shopping, and hands-on activities like pressed-flower tutorials.

Charu Suri
Charu Suri/Lake Shore biking
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