The American love affair with the automobile got its start in Michigan, but one of the state’s most idyllic vacation destinations—Mackinac Island—is entirely car-free.
Mackinac Island sits like a crown jewel between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan on the Straits of Mackinac, where the waters of lakes Huron and Michigan merge. Postcard-pretty Victorian homes dot the island’s high bluffs and the clippity-clop of horse hooves can be heard through the historic downtown from the moment one steps off the ferry.
A church on Mackinac Island.
Mackinac (pronounced mack-in-awe) may be known for its ban of motorized vehicles and as the location for the movie Somewhere in Time, but families treasure the island for its simple pleasures, from leisurely horseback rides along towering bluffs, to a stomach-filling survey of the confectionary delights made in the town’s many fudge shops.
Re-enactment of a United States soldier's life at Fort Mackinac.
A Car-Free Environment
Since 80 percent of the island is actually state park land, there are miles of scenic trails and footpaths for exploring by horseback, on a bike or simply on foot. The promise of two amazing natural stone formations, Arch Rock and Sugar Loaf, is one way to keep the kiddos on the move.
Mackinac Festival Fun
The summer season on Mackinac Island offers plenty of festival events to interest individuals and families alike. Here are four to consider.
Mackinac Island Lilac Festival: This 10-day event, celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2009, takes place each June. Plan now for next year’s event! www.mackinacislandlilacfestival.com
An American Picnic: This Independence Day BBQ celebration takes place at Fort Mackinac. Catering provided by the Grand Hotel. www.mackinacisland.org/picnic.html
Annual Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac: Watch some of the world’s best sailors (and yachts) compete in this internationally acclaimed event. This year marks its 100th anniversary: July 19-23.
Mackinac Island Fudge Festival: Its fourth year running, the Aug. 21-23, 2008 event is a must for fudge connoisseurs. (Read more in our Taste Buds Food Festivals article [LINK].)
Children accustomed to car trips adore the breezy rides offered by horse-drawn taxis; if yours are anything like mine, then you’re sure to hear more than a few ‘eews’ when the huge plough horses do their business, so to speak. Bicycles and horses are available by the hour or the day; bike shops line the main street just off the ferry landing for those wishing to explore on two wheels. Be warned that tiny legs may tire quickly as there are plenty of steep hills to navigate. Guided horseback rides are encouraged for inexperienced riders and families with young children. We walked from the Grand Hotel to Cindy’s Riding Stables to saddle up for a guided tour of the forests on the island; although we’re all experienced trail riders, neither the kids (ages 9 and 14) or I were ready to go off on our own.
Mackinac’s rich military history—the island was the site of the first land battle of the War of 1812—is told at both Fort Mackinac and Colonial Michilimackinac, two sites that cover different periods in the island’s history. Fort Mackinac focuses on the mid-to-late 1800s, while Colonial Michilimackinac takes visitors back to the 1770s, when it was occupied by red-coated British soldiers. At both sites, there are ample opportunities for play and learning, and Fort Mackinac has a terraced tea room that overlooks the Straits of Mackinac and a children’s play area. Admission is $10 for adults, $6.25 for children (ages 5 to 17), and free for children 4 and under. The Mackinac “Triple Choice” package allows your pick of three historic Mackinac sites, and costs $13.50 for kids (ages 5 to 17) and $22 for adults.