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Mackinac Island, Michigan Travel Guide Hot
Last Updated: Nov-08-2011, Hits: 26,429, Rating: 0, Reviews: 0, Votes: 0 Bookmark and Share
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Mackinac Island, Michigan Travel Guide Restaurants (25)
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Attractions (16)
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Location: North America
Geography: Island, Forest
Vacation Type: Family, Romantic, Relaxation
Popularity: Moderate Tourism
Costs: Moderate, Expensive
Attractions: Golfing, Historical Sites, Scenery, Boating, Fishing, Hiking

Facts and Stats:
Island Population: 459
Land Area: 4.4 sq mi
Government: Constitution-based federal republic
Country Dialing Code: +1
Area Code: 906
Languages: English
Electricity: 110V
Currency: United States Dollar
Time Zone: EST (UTC-5/-4)
Current Time:

Mackinac Island is a small island in Lake Huron that is a popular summer travel destination. The Victorian charm and lack of motor vehicles make this a place where time has seemingly stood still. It is also home to Mackinac Island State Park that offers scenic beauty and many hiking trails.

Mackinac Island (pronounced Mackinaw) is located in Lake Huron in Mackinac County, Michigan. The city of St. Ignace on the upper peninsula of Michigan is about 3 miles to the west, and Mackinaw City on the lower peninsula is approximately 7 miles to the southwest of the island. St. Ignace and Mackinaw City are spanned by the Mackinac Bridge which boasts the world's 3rd largest suspension span in the U.S. at 3,800 feet. To the south is the uninhabited Round Island that is managed by the U.S. Forest service.

At the end of the last ice age (around 13,000 B.C.), the Great Lakes were formed by melting glaciers. Wind and receding waters formed the island as they eroded soft limestone leaving behind steep cliffs and several limestone formations such as Arch Rock and Sugar Loaf Rock.

The island has a circumference of about 8 miles and the highest point is Fort Holmes at 320 feet above lake level or 890 feet above sea level.

Brief History:
Archaeologists have dated a Native American Indian presence on the island as far back as 900 AD, long before European exploration to the area. Some of the earliest inhabitants of the area are believed to be the Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) tribe who considered the island a sacred place. The area was also occupied by Ottawa and Chippewa tribes. Some say that the Ottawa tribe befriended a hapless tribe that was repeatedly attacked, and eventually wiped out, by the Iriquois Indians. The story says that the island was named in memoriam of this tribe known as the Mi-shi-ne-macki-nong. Others say that the name came from the Chippewa word Mi-she-mi-ki-nock which means large turtle.

It is believed that the first European to discover Mackinac Island was Jean Nicolet in 1934. In 1670, Father Claude Dablon founded a mission on the island for the Native Americans. Dablon stayed through the winter and was replaced by Jacques Marquette, who moved the mission to St. Ignace shortly after arriving. The establishment of the mission served as a base for French fur traders.

After the French Indian War, the British moved from what is now Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island because of threats from native tribes and French-Canadians during the American Revolutionary War. Fort Mackinac was built on the island in 1780 and the Chippewa tribe sold the island to the British in 1781. After the war ended, the Treaty of Paris in 1783 officially gave ownership of the island to the United States.

During the war of 1812, the British captured Fort Mackinac and built Fort George on the highest point of the island overlooking Fort Mackinac. In 1814, Major Andrew Hunter Holmes was killed during a failed attempt to recapture the island. At the conclusion of the war in 1815, the British were forced to cede the land to the U.S. Fort George was renamed Fort Holmes in honor of the fallen major.

The village of Mackinac was incorporated in 1817.

During the 1820s, the island became one of the most valuable trading posts in John Jacob Astora's American Fur Company. Some say he was the first millionaire in the United States.

In the 1830's, commercial fishing began to replace fur trading as the chief economic industry. After the civil war, tourism replaced fishing as the island became recognized as a beautiful vacation destination.

In 1875, Congress designated much of the land on the island as Mackinac Island National Park. This was the second national park created in the United States, Yellowstone being the first 3 years earlier. In 1895, the military left and the island's land was turned over to the state of Michigan. Mackinac Island State Park was Michigan's first.

During this time, Victorian hotels and houses began popping up and more tourists flocked here. This is often referred to as The Victorian Era.

Problems with automobiles and horses coexisting together, led to regulations in the 1920's banning motor vehicles on the island. This regulation, with exeptions provided for emergency vehicles, remains in effect today.

People & Culture:
Mackinac Island gets around a million visitors per year, which is amazing for a place that only has around 500 permanent residents. In addition to the locals, there are around 3,500 seasonal laborers that flock to the island from all over for summer work. Many of these people come yearly.

In the winter, when the tourists are away, small town life takes over. A place where everybody knows almost everyone else. A place where people help each other out, and survive the harsh winters together.

Around 80% of the island is part of the Mackinac Island State Park, horses play a large role in transportation and recreation, and many establishments are pet friendly. What does this all mean? The locals tend to be animal lovers, and many visitors bring their dogs with them.

It is said that locals refer to tourists as "fudgies" as the island is home to numerous fudge shops that are frequented by them.

Food & Nightlife:
For a small island, there is a good selection of restaurants, however, a limited diversity of cuisine. The most common fare on Mackinac is American food. This ranges from burgers and hot dogs, to classic steak and seafood, to "New American" cuisine featuring European influences.

Nearly every menu on Mackinac Island features the Lake Whitefish, locally referred to simply as whitefish. Lake whitefish, a pale, deepwater member of the trout/salmon family Salmonidae, has long been a mainstay of the commercial catch in the Great Lakes because of its exceptional flavor, convenient size, and habit of schooling.

Their are under a dozen bars on Mackinac Island, but they offer something that most destinations of this size do not. Late hours. Most small towns shut down between 10pm-12am, but there are several bars here open until 2am.

Money & Costs:
Overall, lodging on Mackinac Island is slightly above average while dining is pretty average. The standard U.S. tipping rate of 15%-20% applies at most restaurants, although there are a couple of places where this is not recognized. Tips for carriage drivers, bell hops, and housekeeping staff also apply in most situations.

Since the main attraction on the island is the state park, this portion of your stay shouldn't amount to too much unless you plan to rent horses or take carriage tours. The other attractions available are very affordable.

The state of Michigan has a 6.0% sales tax with exemptions for food and prescription medications. Michigan has the highest bottle deposit in the United States at 10 cents per can or bottle. This law was designed to increase recycling and reduce litter.

Getting There & Around:
While there are several ways to get to Mackinac Island, none of them are particularly easy, and you will most likely have to use multiple methods. Below are the various options:
  • By car - Cars are not allowed on the island, so you will need to drive to St. Ignace or Mackinaw City and use one of the other methods below to complete the trip.
  • By plane - Great Lakes Air (not Great Lakes Airline) provides year-round flights from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island for $27 each way at the time of this writing. Air Services Inc. and American Business Airways also provide charter flights to the island. Larger airlines service Pellston, Michigan which is only an 18 mile shuttle or cab ride to the ferry dock in Mackinaw City.
  • By ferry - There are 3 ferry lines that run to the island. Arnold Transit Co., Star Line, and Shepler's all have departures from Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. Tickets run at about $25 per person round-trip.
  • By boat - You can take your private or charter boat to the island. There is plenty of dock space available.
Below is a driving distance table from various cities to Mackinaw City. St. Ignace is only 6 miles north of Mackinaw City, so you can just add that to the figures below if that is your destination.

St. Ignace, Mi 6 mi
Cheboygan, Mi 16 mi
Pellston, Mi 18 mi
Sault Ste. Marie, Canada 59 mi
Traverse City, Mi 103 mi
Grand Rapids, Mi 232 mi
Green Bay, Wi 264 mi
Ann Arbor, Mi 274 mi
Kalamazoo, Mi 282 mi
Detroit, Mi 289 mi

While Mackinac is not completely off-limits to visitors during the winter months, transportation is limited. The Arnold Ferry Line runs for the early winter months until the strait freezes, charter flights are available. Most years, the strait freezes creating an "ice bridge" that locals can drive their snowmobiles over to the mainland at St. Ignace. The ice bridge can last for a few days up to 2 months depending on the weather. Residents save their Christmas trees which are then "planted" along the ice bridge in order to mark the path. Tourists are not brought to the island this way.

Once on the island, there are a few ways to get around. The town is very small and you can easily walk from one end to the other. Many choose to venture out into the state park on foot as well. It is an 8 mile walk/run around the entire island. There are many bicycle rental shops which makes for more convenient transportation. Bikes typically rent for $4/hour. For about $40/hour, you can rent a horse. Finally, you can take a horse carriage tour, or hire a carriage taxi to take you where you want to go.

See the services section of this travel guide for more information about transportation services.

The best time to visit Mackinac Island is between the spring and fall when mild summer temperatures are typically in the 60's and 70's. Winters feature bone-chilling temperatures that are typically below freezing, and often accompanied by snow. Throughout the year, there is very little variation between daytime and nightime temperatures; usually a 15 degree swing or less.

Below are the monthly temperature and precipitation averages for Mackinac Island:

Month Avg High Avg Low Average Rainfall
January 25 12 1.68"
February 26 12 1.01"
March 35 20 1.60"
April 47 32 2.00"
May 60 43 2.44"
June 69 53 2.51"
July 75 60 2.72"
August 74 60 2.58"
September 66 52 3.09"
October 54 42 2.89"
November 41 32 2.39"
December 30 21 1.62"

Tips & Additional Information:
  • There is a surprising number of injuries resulting from the combination of pedestrians, bicyclists, and horses on the island.

  • Lock your bike when unattended. Do not leave it in the town overnight or it may be confiscated so the street cleaners can do their job.

  • Watch out for "horse apples" when riding your bike, or you may wind up with it sprayed up your back from the tires.

  • You can bring your own bike, but the ferries will charge a fee for transporting it.

  • Camping is not allowed on the island.

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