Family Vacations to Mackinac Island, Michigan

View of Mackinac Island from Fort Mackinac, Michigan
View of Mackinac Island from Fort Mackinac (courtesy, www.mackinacisland.org)

Mackinac Island Family Travel Tips

  • Sample a piece (or two) of the island's famous fudge (May's, Kilwin's, and Ryba's Fudge are some of the best-known shops).
  • Stroll the front porch of the historic Grand Hotel.
  • Experience living history—including the boom of cannon fire—at Fort Mackinac.
  • Hike the serene quiet of Mackinac Island State Park's 70 miles of trails-and take in some Northern Michigan wildlife.

Native American tradition states that Mackinac Island is a sacred place, populated by the first people and once home to the Great Spirit Gitchie Manitou (who, legend says, fled the island to live inside the Northern Lights once Europeans settled there). Known as a peaceful haven with serene natural habitats and miles of shoreline, the Mackinac area has a rather bloody past: the island switched hands between French, British, and Colonial American control during the 18th and 19th centuries and became a battleground during the War of 1812. After being reclaimed by American forces after the war of 1812, the island became a hub for fur trading and fishing, and eventually evolved into the tourist attraction it's known as today.

The island is situated less than a half-hour ferry ride from the mainland in the Straits of Mackinac, the body of water separating Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas. Landing on Mackinac Island is like stepping back in time. The first thing you'll notice (besides the tantalizing aromas coming from the island's many sweet shops like Ryba's Fudge) is that there are no cars: Automobiles (except for emergency vehicles) are prohibited on the island. Instead, the gentle clip-clopping of horses' hooves from the Mackinac Island Carriage Tours create a peaceful ambiance for the rows of tourist shops, museums, quaint inns, and restaurants that line the main shopping district. You'll also find unique museums and attractions like The Original Butterfly House, where visitors are surrounded by hundreds of colorful live butterflies.

Though the island is known for its business district, more than eighty percent is reserved as parkland. The Mackinac Island State Park was only the city's second national park and Michigan's first state park. You'll find plenty of natural scenery: fields and forests, bogs and marshes; eight miles of rocky shoreline, perfect for skipping stones; and attractions like Sugar Loaf, a 75-foot-high rock formation,; Skull Cave, and Arch Rock, a limestone arch formation towering 146 feet above the water. Manmade attractions include Fort Mackinac, a British base built during the Revolutionary War that's now an interactive museum with a children's area and costumed performers; and the Grand Hotel, the famous turn-of-the-20th-century luxury lodging featured in the Christopher Reeves movie Somewhere in Time.

The pace is easy on Mackinac Island. Rent a bicycle and head for the forest, hike the 70 miles of trails, take a guided carriage tour, nibble fudge on a bench along the downtown area's charming streets, and eat a meal in one of the island's many restaurants or cafes. However you spend your time on the island, make sure to learn a little more about the rich and important history of this special northern getaway.


Published: 3 Feb 2009 | Last Updated: 30 Mar 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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