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Thursday, May 23, 2024 at 5:33 PM



Ferry boat ride from St. Ignace

Historic Mackinac Island, a short, scenic ferry boat ride from downtown St. Ignace, is a place that time forgot, but one you will always remember. In a mere 25 minutes, you will step off the boat into a bygone era when horses reigned (no pun intended!), ornate Victorian cottages were in vogue, and bicycles were the preferred method of transportation – and still are. In the matter of a short time, you’re sure to find yourself shifting gears to a slower pace as you wander the narrow streets of Mackinac taking in the great natural beauty and rich history of this unique little Island in the Straits of Mackinac – the “Jewel of the Great Lakes”. Travel + Leisure magazine even named Mackinac Island the “Best Island in the Continental U.S.”

Before Mackinac Island became the premiere vacation destination that it is today, the Island was home to the Anishinaabek People. For hundreds of years, long before the Europeans arrived, the Island was a place of gathering for their seasonal fishing and trapping and a regular stopover while traveling by canoe in the region. It was also a sacred burial ground – a place of reverence and honor. The Island’s name, Mackinac, is derived from the Ojibwa word “mitchimackinac”, which means great turtle. The Indigenous Peoples thought the Island looked like a large turtle emerging from the water.

Mackinac Island’s economic and strategic significance was first noted by the French and then the British who used the Island as a base for the lucrative fur trade that existed from the late 1600s into the 19th century. The British built Fort Mackinac in 1780 to control the waterways, but after America won its independence from the British in the American Revolution, Americans took possession of the Island and Fort Mackinac. When the War of 1812 broke out between the U.S and Great Britain, the British again took possession of the fort, and it wasn’t until the end of the War of 1812, with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, that Fort Mackinac was reclaimed by the United States.

As the fur trade began to wane, so did the military and economic significance of the Island. However, by the late 19th century, a booming tourism industry began, and the personality of the Island began to change from military outpost to tourism hot spot. Stately hotels were constructed, elegant Victorian summer cottages began to appear on the Island’s shoreline and scenic bluffs, and a few motor vehicles made their way to the idyllic Island. But, after a brief foray there, they were permanently banned owing to the terror they created amongst the Island’s horses. The ban went into effect in 1898 and remains in effect. In fact, to mark the 125th anniversary of the ban, the mayor of Mackinac Island, state park director, and even the Governor of Michigan held a re-banning ceremony in July 2023. The primary modes of transportation on the Island today include walking, bicycle riding, and horse and carriage. Residents and visitors alike frequently choose bicycles to run errands and get around the eight-mile-in-circumference Island.

Several favorite Island destinations include the iconic Arch Rock, a natural limestone arch formation on the southwest end of the Island. The 207 step climb up to the arch is well worth it! The view makes the location one of the most photographed sites on the Island.

Other things to do while on the Island, most of which is part of Mackinac Island State Park, include taking a carriage tour where you can learn the history of the Island and see some of its most iconic sites and attractions. Visit Fort Mackinac and experience what life was like for soldiers and their families during the late 1800s. The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum is a great place to immerse yourself in images of the beauty and uniqueness of Mackinac Island. Stop in at the Biddle House, which features the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, and learn the history of Agatha and Edward Biddle. Agatha was an Anishnaabe businesswoman on the Island – a rare occupation for women at that time. And before stepping off the dock and back onto the ferry to the mainland, be sure to buy some of the world-famous fudge found in many shops on the Island – a sweet reminder of your special time there.

A wide variety of programs and special events are held on the Island throughout the summer, including Music in the Park on Thursday evenings, bicycle rides and guided walks led by naturalists, and Shakespeare in the Park. Perhaps one of the most anticipated events on the Island is the annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival, which honors the history and uniqueness of the lilac on Mackinac Island. The 2024 festival runs from June 7-16, with the Lilac Festival Grand Parade Sunday, June 16. You won’t want to miss it!

For more information about Mackinac Island, its points of interest, bicycle and carriage rentals, lodging options, shopping, dining, and a listing of special events and festivals, visit www.mackinacisland.org, Facebook, or call (906) 847-3783.


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