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Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island, Michigan

weeklong getawayMichiganarchitecturebeachbikingboating/water sportsfor history buffsfun for kidshikingpeace and quietshoppingstargazing

Mackinac Bridge at sunset
The Mackinac Bridge spans the Straits of Mackinac to connect the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. Courtesy of Pure Michigan/Brandon Bailey
Mackinac Island, Michigan

If you’re traveling by car to Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan, know that Google Maps won’t be of much use. The app will tell you it “cannot calculate driving directions.” That’s because this car-free island can be reached only by boat or by plane – or, in the winter, by traversing the ice on a snowmobile.

It’s a little confusing, in part because so many images taken on the island feature the iconic Mackinac Bridge. When it opened in 1957, the five-mile-long bridge with towers that reach 50 stories was the longest suspension bridge in the world. But it doesn’t go to Mackinac Island. It connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan across the Straits of Mackinac.

horse-drawn carriage in Mackinac Island
A horse-drawn carriage waits for passengers on Main Street on Mackinac Island, Michigan.

The absence of cars does not mean that the island is one big untouched nature preserve, although that exists here, too. In fact, most of Mackinac Island is a state park, with more than 70 miles of (still car-free) roads and trails, used mostly for hiking and biking.

There’s plenty of hustle and bustle on the main drag that wraps around the harbor. It’s lined with historic sights, charming hotels, and quaint shops to keep visitors entertained.

The bikes and horse-drawn carriages that locals and visitors use to get around the island are just one element that makes it feel like a step back in time. The historical interpreters are another. Fort Mackinac, originally built by the British during the Revolutionary War but handed over to the Americans in 1815, has 14 restored structures, all of which are open to the public. Costumed interpreters lead frequent demonstrations and tours throughout the tourist season, including ear-splitting cannon and rifle demonstrations offering a window into the history of the island and its inhabitants.

Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, MI
The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Photo by Erica Gunderson

Several of the Victorian resorts built here in the late 1800s when the island became a hideaway for wealthy industrialists have also been preserved. The largest and most famous among them is the Grand Hotel, built by the railroads and cruise lines in 1887. Today, it is a luxury resort with a strict dress code and an 18-hole golf course – the only one in America, they claim, with a horse-drawn carriage ride between nines.