Mackinac Island Travel back in time to a Victorian fairy tale
Mackinac Island boasts a rich history—as American Indian summering grounds, as the center of the North American fur-trading business and as a colonial fortress—but it’s the gilded Victorian era the island preserves like a living postcard that is the most striking. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clop down vehicle-free streets. Pedestrians stroll and bicyclists pedal past Main Street shops and cafés. Million-dollar Victorian ‘cottages’ climb up hillsides, and storybook resorts like the world-famous Grand Hotel gaze out over sparkling lake views.
It can seem a bit touristy at first blush, but there’s no denying that Mackinac (pronounced MAK-i-naw) is also irrepressibly charming, especially if you venture away from the downtown area’s snarl of fudge and trinket shops, linger awhile and succumb to the relaxed island vibe as if a holidaying mogul of yesteryear.
Mackinac Island lies in the Straits of Mackinac, where Lakes Michigan and Huron meet, and where the immense Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan are linked by the man-made tether of the Mackinac Bridge. (One of the world’s longest suspension bridges, the four-mile-long bridge is a marvel in its own right.) The clean lake air began drawing wealthy urbanites in the late 19th century by steamship and railroad. As the island’s popularity grew, farsighted locals banned the automobile almost as quickly as it arrived, and today more than 500 horses are stabled on the island all summer to pull carriages and haul freight.
All ferries arrive downtown, where you’ll be greeted by a bustling Main Street filled with shops selling ultra-rich, ultra-delicious fudge, the island’s specialty (and hence the reason locals refer to tourists as ‘fudgies’). There are dozens of flavours to choose from—try the turtle, cranberry or maple syrup. Walk off those calories on a hike up to Fort Mackinac, a military outpost built by the British in 1780 to ward off upstart American colonists.