There are no motorized vehicles allowed and no places to camp but this beautiful island in the Straits of Mackinac between Michigan’s two peninsulas has been calling Jennifer and me for nearly half a century. We took all our kids here starting when they were babies and we keep coming back year after year, now with our grown kids and their babies.
So it was on our trip this year, bringing our son Jeff, daughter-in-law, Aimee, and our our 18-month-old granddaughter, Jovie.
Above is a little video of some of our compiled photos from the weekend getaway that had us staying at the island’s crown jewel, the beautiful Grand Hotel, a place famous for the many movies made there and and known as “America’s Summer Place” since 1887.
It’s an expensive place, to be sure, but we always book our stays here in the late fall, just a week or two before it closes up for the season, when great package deals are available. We usually pick the weekend dedicated to ballroom dancing, with big bands playing in two ballrooms.
Guests must dress up after 6 PM, there’s high tea every afternoon in the lobby and the 660 foot Grand Hotel’s Front Porch is the world’s largest, providing the perfect overlook to the place where Lake’s Michigan and Huron meet in the Straits.
It was so much fun this trip watching Jovie as she discovered the island. At the Grand, she loved to stand in the window and watch the horse drawn carriages clip clop up the drive. She’d squeal with delight when she saw them and wave “Bye Bye Horseys” as they departed. We played hide and seek in the wardrobe in our room and I even let her jump on the bed for a few minutes until Jennifer put a stop to that.
The rooms at the Grand are always an delight to discover. Each Grand guest room has been individually decorated by NY Interior Designer, Carleton Varney. Upon entering one of 390 rooms you will find a unique style of patterns and designs,with no two rooms the same. Our room this year was done in greens. Jeff and Aimes’s in pink.
We love to explore the island and ride bikes around it’s eight mile shoreline. This year, it was cold, with temperatures in the low 40’s. We bundled baby Jovie in a Burley, wrapped up like a baby burrito in blankets. About half way around the island, at a place called British Landing where the British Army snuck up on the Americans in 1812, we stopped to play on the shoreline. There’s a little snack shop there and it’s been a tradition of ours to stop for hot chocolate and fried pickles. It sounds worse than it is.
And the downtown shops are lined with fudge shops. They blow the smell of rich, chocolatey warm fudge out to the streets and I swear you can gain two pounds just walking the sidewalk and breathing.
You get to the island by ferry boats, either from Mackinaw City on the Lower Peninsula side, or St. Ignace, across the bridge in the UP. All of the ferry boat operators have secure and safe parking, plenty big enough for RVs.
Most of the island is a State Park and most of the development is on the island’s south side, with the shops clustered along two main east-west streets, an historic fort perched on a bluff above the harbor, and stately Victorian mansions doting the east and west bluffs. The interior is crisscrossed by trails, biking paths, and lots of historical sites.
The island was home to an Odawa settlement before European exploration began in the 17th century.
The Jesuit priest Claude Dablon founded a mission for the Native Americans on Mackinac Island in 1670,
The island served a strategic position as a center on the commerce of the Great Lakes fur trade. This led to the establishment of Fort Mackinac on the island by the British during the American Revolutionary War. It was the site of two battles during the War of 1812.
In the late nineteenth century, Mackinac Island became a popular tourist attraction and summer colony. Much of the island has undergone extensive historical preservation and restoration; as a result, the entire island is listed as a National Historic Landmark.
Besides the Grand, there are numerous hotels and resorts and a few bed and breakfasts.
The only way to get around here is on foot, by horse or bicycle. And Halloween week, it shuts down for the winter.
Once the snows come, the 400 or so locals are allowed to travel by snowmobile. We’ve yet to visit in winter. One hotel is always open for visitors and the venerable Dowds Grocery Store – which claims to be the oldest such store in the US – also is open. But when the ice freezes the surrounding waters, the only way in is by small plane or the so called “ice bridge,” which locals use to snowmobile the five miles across to St. Ignace.
Some day, we’re coming in the winter to explore the island in one more season.