History comes alive at Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is so small…

How small is it? Well, by the middle of summer, the number of horses matches the number of year-round residents. That would be 500.

However, during the peak of the tourism season during July and August, thousands of people will visit the island. One person told us it gets so crowded that it’s like an ant farm with people bumping into others.

We visited about a week before peak season started. I thought there were quite a few tourists there that day.

Mackinac Island

The island, about a 15-minute ferry boat ride from both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City, is about 8.5 miles in circumference. You can rent a horse, bike or carriage taxi to take you around. Or, use your feet.

Our trip to the island started with a bonus. We took the 9 a.m. ferry from Shepler’s cruise line. The boat ride included a ride to and under the Mackinac Bridge. The 5-mile long bridge is the nation’s longest suspension bridge.

Mackinac Bridge

It was actually cool to see the bridge from water level.

Motorized vehicles are not allowed on city streets or the island’s lone highway, except for the fire truck and ambulance. We saw a police officer on a bicycle.

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island has a long history. Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the island. The Native Americans lived on the island until European settlers forced them off.

Realizing the military importance of the island, the British established the fort in 1780. Following the American revolutionary war, the British maintained the post until 1794, when it was turned over to the Americans.

Mackinac Island

Later, in the War of 1812, the British conquered the fort and held it until the end of the war. The United States maintained an active fort at the site until 1895. It became the second national park in the US.

Now, the fort is open for visitors to get a look at what life was like in the days of the soldiers. Re-enactors offer demonstrations on anything from cannon firings to British occupation.

Mackinac Island

It was a fun learning experience touring the fort. Strolling through officers’ quarters, public schoolhouse, as well as guard houses gives a person an idea of what life was like then.

Just below the fort was Marquette Park. Catholic priest Jacques Marquette used a wigwam to “educate” and “convert” natives to his religion. The park recognizes his role in the island’s history.

Mackinac Island

Fort Mackinac is one of the many attractions on the island.

Main Street is an attraction unto itself. Tourists walking around everywhere – zipping in one of the many souvenir shops or seven fudge shops.

Mackinac Island

Bicycles, horses and carriages fill the streets.

Instead of seeing cars parked along the curbside, you see bicycles or carriages.

UPS has to deliver packages via a horse and wagon. It was humorous (at least to me) to see a UPS delivery person have his scanner strapped to his side and then pull up in a horse-drawn wagon. Modernization meets history.

Mackinac Island

A couple blocks off Main Street, a mom and son learn to ride horses they rented by the hour. I believe the going rate was $40/hour per horse.

Quite a few craft stores dot Main Street. We actually found a nice one off of Main. We ended up buying some nice things there. IMG_4347

We took a carriage tour of some of the island’s attractions. It was recommended to get a Starbucks to enjoy on the carriage ride. Yep, there IS a Starbucks on every corner in America. We grabbed our lattes and went to the carriage stand.

IMG_3528 We met our initial carriage on Main Street. The guide drove our group around Main Street and beyond, giving insight on the history of the island and the attractions. The two horses pulling our carriage were Orville and Wilbur. They were named after the Wright brothers.

As we passed the Grand Hotel, he told us of the only time cars were allowed to be driven on the island. Hollywood made the movie “Somewhere in Time” at the Grand Hotel. The 1980 movie starred Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour in a time travel fantasy. In it, Reeve travels back to 1910. Thus, the studio had to get state approval to have antique cars driven over a couple of blocks for a few scenes.

We ended our first half of the tour at the Surrey Carriage Museum. In it, exhibits of different types of carriages, four-wheel, as well as sled carriages. A hearse carriage is on display. It is taken off display when needed for a funeral.

Next to the carriage museum was the butterfly conservatory. We have a nice one in Omaha, but the Mackinac Island conservatory seemed more open and just a tad nicer.

Butterfly conservatory

Butterflies of all colors fluttered about. It was a nice break from the carriage ride and walking we had done. The butterflies seemed content to spend ample time on flowers and plants. That allowed for quite a few photo opps.

Butterfly Conservatory on Mackinac Island

One butterfly we liked was one that seemed like its wings were transparent. Not sure of the breed, but it was interesting to watch. Butterfly Conservatory on Mackinac Island

It seems so relaxing to kick back and just watch them fly around and land.

Afterward, we headed back to the carriage museum to catch the second half of our tour. A three-horse wagon pulled up with a larger wagon. I can’t recall the names of the horses. Great blogging, huh?

Horse ride on Mackinac Island

The guide drove around parts of the island, mainly in the wooded area, and advised of the history of the area, including certain tree types and wildlife.

While Michigan is called the Wolverine State, it hasn’t had a wolverine in the state for decades. The last known wolverine is believed to come from outside of the state.

Military Cemetery on Mackinac Island The tour took us past the three cemeteries on the island. Two were civilian, while the third was the post cemetery for the fort. The flag is flown at half-staff daily at the military cemetery.

We stopped at a popular attraction – Arch Rock. The arch allows a great view of Lake Huron.

Arch Rock on Mackinac Island

Then, we headed back to the museum to switch carriages back to the town.

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island

We disembarked at the Grand Hotel. We were having the buffet lunch at the hotel. The buffet costs $40 per person.

But, wait; it includes the $10 entrance fee to the hotel. Sounds better, huh? No? The hotel charges visitors $10 to tour the property. It’s supposed to keep non-guest visits to a minimum.

Buffet at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island

The buffet was in a nice restaurant. It was long and wide. Hundreds of people dined at the same time. During the day, you do not have to dress up for dining. But, in the evening, guests do have to abide by a nicer dress code. I always dread places where I have to wear a jacket and tie to eat. So, I was cool with the polo shirt and shorts.

Mackinac Island

The buffet was OK. I think for $30 (admission excluded), I sort of have had higher expectations. The fresh beets were delicious. In fact, the best beets I’ve ever had. The mac and cheese was good, too.

Beyond that, it seemed like another buffet. We were glad we did it, since it was our first time there. I would not discourage anyone from trying it, if you were so inclined. But, if you asked me if you should, I’d probably recommend passing on it.

Next time, I would grab lunch at one of the many restaurants along Main Street.

Following lunch, we did a self-guided tour of the hotel. We stopped by a couple of historical rooms. One room recognized the winner of the 2010 Best in Show at the Westminster dog show.

The Great Porch is well-recognized at the hotel. In fact, it’s the largest porch in the world – at 660 feet. Rocking chairs, small tables and flowers stretch the entire length.

Longest porch at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island

Large American flags hang from each column. It just smacks of patriotism. Watching the flags wave in the wind with a blue sky above was breathtaking.

Mackinac Island

After the hotel, we walked through Main Street. We admired the shops and got out of the way of other tourists coming and going.

We stopped at a lakeside park to watch people flying kites. IMG_4351

The whole island just smacked of Americana.

Mackinac Island

We had a wonderful day on Mackinac Island. We weren’t sure what to expect, so we had made alternate plans in case we finished the island tour early. We ended up spending 9 hours there. We forced ourselves to take the ferry boat back when we did. Once we got back to St. Ignace, we were exhausted. Any thoughts of other activities went by the wayside.

We relaxed the rest of the evening.

Mackinac Island needs to be on everyone’s bucket list. For more information on visiting check out http://www.mackinacisland.org/

The island allows for so many photo opportunities: