Island getaway, Michigan-style

By on August 16, 2010

Mackinac a destination that delights the senses
by Lynn Meredith
MACKINAC, Mich.—If the thought of slowing down this summer sounds appealing, a visit to Mackinac Island may be just the getaway you need.

My trip to Mackinac (pronounced mack-i-naw) began as I stepped off the ferry onto the island. I was greeted by the sound of horses’ hooves clopping on the pavement. I felt as though I had gone back in time to where horses drew carriages along streets lined with white picket fences, ornately trimmed “wedding cake” houses and turreted Victorian homes.

Mackinac Island rests in the waters of Lake Huron between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan in view of the “Mighty Mac,” as the Mackinac Bridge is known. No motorized vehicles are allowed, so residents and visitors alike walk, bike or ride in horse-drawn carriages. The exceptions are an ambulance, police car and snowmobiles in December when the lake freezes and locals travel to the mainland for shopping.

The ferry brings day-trippers, overnight guests, and summer residents in a quick and bouncy 15-minute trip from the mainland every half an hour. When I arrived, the town was bustling with visitors.

Tourists, called “fudgies” by locals, flock to the several fudge shops in the downtown and stroll the quaint streets amid novelty shops, bicyclists and horses.

Visitors stay in bed-and-breakfasts, small hotels and larger resorts. The best known of the resorts is the Grand Hotel. The gleaming white structure, which can be seen from the mainland on a clear day, is included on Travel & Leisure magazine’s list of “Best Hotels in the World.” It was the setting of the 1980 Christopher Reeve-Jane Seymour film, “Somewhere in Time.” You may enter the hotel through its often-photographed front porch lined with white rocking chairs but will pay an admission of $10 if you’re not a guest. After 6 p.m., women must wear dresses and men suits on the hotel grounds.

I stayed on the east side of the island at Mission Point Resort, a casual hotel away from the fudge shops and crowds. I relaxed on the expanse of lawn that fronts the shores of Lake Huron and putted a few rounds on the nine-hole putting green. Families and couples dotted the lawn as they flew kites, lounged on chairs and blankets, and walked the waterfront paths with their pets, which also are welcome guests at the resort.

Meanwhile, at the outdoor Bistro on the Green, I listened to live beach music and sampled ahi tuna, grilled asparagus, and shrimp and crab martini appetizers. I also tried the fine dining of the Chop House in the resort, where chefs prepare locally-raised meats and locally-grown produce. The restaurant’s specialties such as the 36-ounce Cowboy Filet, braised Thimbleberry Farm lamb shanks or tasty butternut squash raviloi with hazelnuts and Michigan apples. The resort’s two other restaurants offer a more casual atmosphere, serving pulled pork, barbecued ribs, fried chicken and sandwiches.

Among the many spectacular views, maybe the best is the from the mess hall-turned-Tea Room high atop the bluff where Fort Mackinac once protected trade routes in the Straits of Mackinac. You can enjoy a casual lunch on the terrace under bright yellow umbrellas and afterward stroll around the fort furnished in the style of the day when officers and their families lived there.

Another great view is from the bow of a sailboat. As I rocked on the deck of a catamaran, a freighter made its way through the straits in front of us, proving that trading is still an integral part of the Great Lakes and that freighters still have the right of way over sailboats.

Exploring the island by bike is the best way to see more of the island up close. The eight-mile trail around the perimeter follows the rocky shoreline. Bikers make frequent stops to dangle their feet in the refreshing water or picnic in the state-park property along the way. They also can stop to climb the steep wooded path to Arch Rock where the curved rock formation offers a frame of the straits seen below.

So, if good food, outdoor fun and interesting history are your pleasure, this fantasy of an island will not disappoint. For more information on Mackinac Island, visit