Today, modern travelers can literally turn back the hands of time with a visit to Mackinac Island, where horse-drawn carriages are the primary mode of transportation—no cars allowed! In fact, the 600-year-round residents only outnumber the horses by 100.
Known as the jewel of the Great Lakes, Mackinac Island is enchanting. If you love traditional architecture, vintage homes and period-correct renovations, this is the place for you. The streets are lined with stately regal homes, a few even looking like miniature White House replicas, many boasting gingerbread-house detailing and fantastic, lush floral landscapes.
The town itself is a pedestrian delight. See the sights via bicycle, surrey or a horse-drawn carriage for four that you can drive yourself via Rent a Buggy. History comes to life at Fort Mackinac, a former military outpost where you can even fire the iconic cannon. And you can easily spend the afternoon exploring Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.
Mackinac Island is also known as America’s Fudge Capital, so be sure to sample some and take some home as a souvenir (we recommend Murdick’s Fudge Shop). Shepler’s Ferry takes passengers from the mainland and deposits them right on the most touristy Main Street of Mackinac.
So much of what you want to see is within walking distance of the historic Grand Hotel, which opened in 1887 with rates of $3 to $5 per night. For the first decade, Edison’s phonograph demos graced the longest hotel front porch in the world along with talks by Mark Twain. Later, movies starring Jimmy Durante, Esther Williams, Christopher Reeve, and Jane Seymour would be filmed against the majestic backdrop of the white, wooden hotel.
Upon arrival, turn-of-the-century upholstered furniture and ornate wallpapers transport you to an era gone by. If you arrive in the late afternoon, you’ll see ladies dressed for high tea in the parlor and tuxedoed wait staff serving Champagne and tea sandwiches on vintage china. By night, the hotel’s dress code is formal and dancing in the ballroom is a daily affair.
Every guest room is uniquely designed by interior designer Carleton Varney of Dorothy Draper & Company in New York in bright, summer-vacation colors, and several are named after First Ladies including Mrs. Kennedy, Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Ford, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Reagan, Mrs. Bush (both 41st and 43rd), and Mrs. Clinton.
If you can, splurge for the four-bedroom Masco Cottage, which includes dinner service in the cottage, nightly happy hour hors d’oeuvres and wine, breakfast, and a gorgeous patio of its own that allows nightly relaxation to the sound of horses making their way past the hotel. A fully-stocked kitchen and jacuzzi for the entire group adds to the stay.
Photo by Laura Novak
Your trip to Mackinac Island should also embrace the richer offerings that happen off Main Street and after the last ferry departs from the harbor. See below for our top tips.
Bike the island. It’s a complete loop to Arch Rock through Mackinac State Park through town and back to the hotel. The loop is an easy, flat ride, except the detour up to Arch Rock, which is a steep bicycling climb perhaps not for everyone, but worth the challenge.
Haunts of Mackinac Walking Tour
The history of Mackinac is rich with military forts, historic churches, and lots of old homes and hotels, ripe for ghost stories and rumors of current-day sightings. You’ll learn some history and enjoy the lively tour guides on the Haunts of Makinac nighttime walking tour.
Enjoy a lunchtime, afternoon, or sunset sail by SailMackinac with Captain Dave and his first mate Sam on their 50-foot racing sailboat. Captain Dave formerly raced the sailboat, and now enjoys the life of touring guests through the Straits of Mackinac.