Friends and acquaintances are forever asking for an insider’s view of Mackinac Island. I have summered there for almost 35 years, but I still learn something new each time I visit. Here are few things I’ve learned over the years:
1. Check the ferry schedule and be flexible. There’s nothing worse than missing an event because you misread the schedule or miscalculated the time you would wait on line. While the boats run every half hour in season, there is still bound to be plenty of waiting.
2. If you are staying the night, line up reservations early enough to ensure a good room and a reasonable rate. Like vacation hot spots elsewhere, Mackinac Island hoteliers modify rates to reflect availability and access. If you can modify your dates, the best time to go is midweek during the spring or fall when rates are best and the streets are less crowded.
3. Get off Main Street. Though there are plenty of interesting sites to see, and people watching is best between Marquette Park to the east and the Mackinac Island Public School to the west, there are plenty of interesting and historic sites away from downtown. Venture on foot to Arch Rock and Sugar Loaf. Hike up to Fort Holmes, recently renovated to look like it did during the War of 1812. Head out to Stonecliffe for some bowling too.
4. Stay past 5 p.m. Long lines of day travelers queue up at the end of the day, filling boats and trying folks’ patience. Stick around until after the dinner hour and the lines are shorter, the elbow room more abundant, the atmosphere more relaxed.
5. Ride bikes along the lakeshore, but pedal up past Grand Hotel as well, or along the East Bluff, where the views of the harbor are perfect and unlike anywhere else in town. Ride out to British Landing, but then head up through the middle of the island, past the Wawashkamo golf course, the oldest Scottish style links course in Michigan. Veer to Hubbard’s Annex or the West Bluff as well to see those big homes up close.
6. Visit the churches. Little Stone Church was erected just down the hill from Grand Hotel in 1904, while Ste. Anne’s Catholic Church dates to the 18th century. Mission Church, near Mission Point Resort east of town, falls somewhere in between and does not hold regular services, but is certainly worth a stop.
7. Visit the butterfly houses, both of them. And while you’re visiting Wings over Mackinac near Surrey Hill, stop at the carriage museum, a collaboration of Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island Carriage Tours. Admission is free and you will see buggies you will not spot on the street.
Folks often return from Mackinac Island only to complain about the long lines and the high prices. This is of course because these people stay where the crowds are. Now you know better.
If you need more information, check out www.mackinac-island-insider-tips.com