In the age of the information superhighway, Mackinac Island still relies on horses and carriages.
However, this ban on motorized vehicles is exactly what makes it so attractive to so many who travel to this idyllic retreat looking for a respite from the rat race and the summer heat.
From the point when I boarded Shepler’s Ferry at Mackinac City and left the mainland for the fifteen minute ride to the island, to the moment when I stepped on the wharf and first heard the clip clop of horses’ hooves, I suddenly felt like I had stepped back in time and been transported to yesteryear.
First utilized by French fur traders as a trading post because of its strategic location on the Great Lakes, Mackinac (pronounced MAK-in-aw) Island sits at the top of Lake Michigan and the western edge of Lake Huron.
The narrow Straits of Mackinac where the two lakes meet is now spanned by the Mackinac Suspension Bridge- affectionately called Mighty Mac- connecting the Upper Peninsula of the state of Michigan with its lower section.
Ask the locals (known as “Uppers”) and they’ll tell you the “Trolls” live “under the bridge” on the mainland.
The vast majority of tourists arrive at the ferry docks at the harbor on the south edge of the island but there is a 3500 foot paved runway for small, private planes only.
Immediately upon arriving your sense of smell will be confused by the smell of horse manure and the sweet waftings from fudge shops everywhere. It is one of the delightful contradictions of the island culture.
My recommendation for first time visitors (affectionately dubbed “Fudgies” by the islanders) is to immediately take in the panoramic view of the island offered from historic Fort Mackinac which commands an elevated view of the harbor.
Now administered by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, Fort Mackinac was founded in 1780 during the Revolutionary War and saw action during the War of 1812 against the British. Costumed historical interpreters provide visitors with information as well as conducting educational programs for adults and children.
Below it is Marquette Park named for Father Jacques Marquette, the same Jesuit priest who would eventually paddle in a canoe down the Illinois River in his mission to convert Native Americans to Christianity.
Near his statue is the new Mackinac Art Museum located at the historic Indian Dormitory on Huron Street which just opened this July. For complete information go to www.mackinacparks.com.
My host for my visit to the island was Mission Point Resort, a quiet, family friendly complex located a short carriage ride away from the hubbub of the harbor.
Upon entering the main lobby, the soaring ceiling in the shape of a teepee made from local Norwegian pines honors the Native Americans whose Mission House still stands on the grounds. Fireplaces and large cushioned sofas make guest feel cozy and welcome immediately.
Page 2 of 3 - Guest rooms are spread out between the Main Lodge and Straits Lodge and special ballrooms and luxury suites are available for weddings and conferences. Excellent restaurants tempt guests with casual to fine dining (more on that later).
After relaxing over a drink at the bar and gazing out over the blue waters of Lake Huron, it was time to enjoy the large lawn space and tapas (appetizers) at Bistro on the Greens. Between bites of succulent scallops and grilled asparagus, I found time to play a few holes on the real grass, 18-hole putting course.
The next day I climbed the eight story Observation Tower on the grounds to explore the Maritime Exhibits and visit the Spa. Each floor offered a glimpse of history with themes like “Lighthouses of the Straits”; “Building of the Mighty Mac Bridge”; Straits of Mackinac Shipwrecks”; and “Water, Wind, Waves & Wakes”.
The Spa features a variety of treatments including the hot stone massage where smooth, rounded stones from the island shoreline are heated and placed at pressure points on the back literally providing island stress relief.
After enjoying a sampling of local chefs culinary treats at the Taste of Mackinac, it was time to board the catamaran “Mackinaw Breeze” to sail on a picture perfect sunny day.
The gentle breezes blew just enough to provide us with a quiet view of the island from just off Mission Point and the sound of the lake lapping at the bow gently gave us all a sense of peace and tranquility before a huge ore boat passed us on its way to Lake Michigan.
Dinner that night was at Mission Point’s new upscale restaurant Chophouse. The Chophouse provides fine dining utilizing local ingredients whenever possible. I chose the Pan Roasted Local Chicken with Wild Morel Mushroom Ragout, Summer Vegetables, and Michigan Cherry Chutney.
The chicken was seasoned with herbs grown by the chef right outside his kitchen door in his personal garden. That’s as fresh as it gets!
Of course, steaks and chops are the specialty of the house but other items like Lake Huron Whitefish and Butternut Squash Ravioli with Michigan Apples, Sage, and Mascarpone Cheese offer guests fresh, seasonal choices.
While I ate at both the Bistro and the Chophouse during my stay, there are two other restaurants for diners' pleasure, Island House and Lakeside.
The next morning my companion and I tried out a tandem bike (bicycle built for two) for fun but decided on individual bikes for our 8.2 mile circumnavigation of the island.
The ride along the shoreline is completely paved (actually a Michigan state highway) and with no threats of cars zooming by proved to be quite relaxing.
After about a mile, we parked our bikes and climbed to the top of Arch Rock for an impressive view of Lake Huron before pedaling another 3 miles to the undeveloped back edge of the island to rock hop and dip our toes in the cool waters.
Page 3 of 3 - As we rounded the Point aux Pins, we were met by civilization again with private homes and horse and carriages slowly trotting by. You can actually rent a horse and carriage and drive it yourself if you choose but we found the pace of the bikes to be just right as we zoomed past the Grand Hotel and through the busy harbor district back to Mission Point.
As we climbed aboard the ferry and saw what now seemed like Fantasy Island slowly disappear behind us we were thankful to know it had been real. For more information on Mackinac Island visit www.mackinacisland.org.
For specific information on Mission Point Resort go to www.missionpoint.com.
About the author: Mark Bradley is a tour director and currently resides in Chillicothe. He is a 1973 graduate of Illinois Valley Central High School and 1977 graduate of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a degree in radio/TV.